By H.E. Phillips
One of the greatest problems facing the church today is that of absenteeism. There are church members present at the Sunday morning worship hour who are not present Sunday night, Wednesday night or for the Bible study period on Sunday morning. There must be some reason for this deficiency in attendance. This author believes it is because due emphasis has not been placed on the importance of attending all services of the church in order to be faithful to the Lord. In some cases encouragement is given to this fault by endorsement to those in the church who hold prominent positions. It makes no difference who is guilty, the sin is the same. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). This is connected to “wilful sinning” (v. 26).
The effect of absenteeism on the preaching of the gospel to the outside world is greater than most of us realize. We cannot expect to convert people to Christ when our lives speak against his religion. The empty seats on Sunday night and at the mid-week services speak loud against the power of God to save. It is the earnest hope of this writer that this little booklet will do much to call attention of the reader to the seriousness of being unfaithful in attendance to services of the church. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Must I Attend Every Service of the Church?
Mysteries confuse us mightily! Of all mysteries, the behavior of men and women purchased by the blood of Christ is the greatest. If any people on earth should rejoice on the Lord’s day to attend public worship and service to God, the Lord’s people – Christians – should. Yet, apparently, they are the ones most indifferent. It is an open sin, as will be shown on the following pages, to neglect the opportunities and blessings afforded in all services of the church of our Lord.
Absenteeism is a term that well defines the conduct of many church members. Various excuses have been offered by those who are guilty of this sin; many not worth a mention, while others sound so “reasonable” as to require attention here.
Absenteeism falls into four well defined classes: (1) The physically handicapped. (2) The vacationers or visitors. (3) The business people. (4) The pleasure seekers. A few words on each of these should be sufficient.
1. The physically handicapped include those who are ill, feeble or stranded. Only those who are so ill that they are unable to carry on the other necessities of life, such as business, play, housework, etc., are released from the responsibility of worship to God. Many have a chronic illness which might be called “Sunday morningitis.” This illness comes on the patient about 9:30 a.m. on Sunday only, and lasts until about 12:00 noon. Then it reoccurs about 6:30 p.m. on the same day and lasts for about two hours. Again on Wednesday about 6:30 p.m. the same illness comes on the patient again, and lasts about two hours. At no other time does the patient suffer. This kind of illness does not excuse one from service to God. The illness that will keep one from work, play, etc. will hinder him from public worship to God, and only that kind of illness.
The feeble are those who have reached the age or have such weak bodies that they cannot go anywhere. If one is not too feeble to go to ball games, parties, visiting, etc., he is not too feeble to go to church. His duty is to be there, and he sins if he isn’t.
The stranded are those who are unable to attend church services for reasons they cannot help. Floods, earthquakes, fires, such weather that would keep one from work, school or play; imprisonment (for the cause of Christ, which is unlikely in this land and day), the care for one who is really ill: one who must depend upon you, and then arrangements should be made so that you could attend one service on the Lord’s day. These hindrances would keep one from one or more of the services of the church.
2. There are many who select the Lord’s day to go visiting or take short vacations. In some cases it may be the only time one could go visit relatives or friends, but to do so at the expense of public worship to God is certainly sinful. If you must go visiting on Sunday, be sure to attend worship. Christ does not mean much to the person who will go visiting and neglect his worship to God.
3. Business keeps many from public worship one or more times each week. The greed for money drives thousands to hell each week. Any man or woman who puts his business ahead of his duty to God is in a bad way. He is just too busy to go to heaven. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). This means just what it says. When one selects his business before his duty to God, he might as well mark this passage out of the Bible; he doesn’t really believe it. Some day you will die, then what will your business mean to you? It is a reflection upon the intelligence of men to excuse one from any service of the church by saying “He was just too busy to come.” Any business, as such, that interferes with public worship to God is too much business.
4. Pleasure seekers include the greater portion of absentees from the services of the church. Many do not have enough love, knowledge, faith and care, to attend to their duties as Christians, thus filling the atmosphere of the church with lukewarmness. Everything that appeals to the lusts of the flesh, or the comfort of the body, entices the pleasure seeker to absent himself from one or more of the worship services of the church. There is not a reasonable excuse under the sun that can be offered by this class of people for their sin. Condemnation hangs over their heads. The wages of sin will take its toll on this class of absenteeism.
Man has three separate obligations: (1) to himself; (2) to his fellow man; (3) to his God. Futile is his attempt to escape either of these three. We want to turn our attention now to an examination of each in order as given above. But first a few remarks.
Most people have the strange idea that it doesn’t make any different whether or not they attend any service of the church other than the service on Lord’s day morning. Many have offered excuses for this idea, varying in extremes, but when the facts are presented we see the utter fallacy of every one of them.
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). In all religious matters the word of God is the standard for proving all things. Whatsoever can be proved by the word of God is good for all to do. What is not proved by the word of God is not a matter of faith, and sinful if practiced religiously (Rom. 14:23). We must hold fast to all that is proved good.
We do many things by habit. The forming of habits is good if the habits themselves are good, but to form habits that are at variance with the will of God is a dangerous thing.
Much of the failure to attend service Sunday night or Wednesday night is due to habits formed by church members. When we learn that any habit is wrong, we should immediately give it up. Some say: “I am out of the habit of going to church other than on Sunday morning. That is the reason I do not come.” But does that excuse you? Will that make it all right because you have formed a habit of not attending services? Certainly not! Would that be said about an immoral sin? Would you say a person is all right because he has formed the habit of stealing? Why no. If that is the only excuse you have to offer, never use it again. Be more consistent.
Christianity is a reasonable religion. Peter says: “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). Paul writes the Romans: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). We, therefore, are obligated to show the reasons for attending all services of the church.
Again, Christianity is a religion of “do” and “do not.” It commands and forbids through divine principles set forth in the New Testament. The warnings are given to all who add or take from the Book. Inasmuch as Christianity is positive and negative, and inasmuch as God is no respecter of persons, we conclude that we are obligated alike to the same standard. If one Christian does right in attending all services, then it follows that it is right for all Christians to attend all services. But if it is wrong for-one member of the church to fail to attend all services of the church, it is wrong for all. The word, of God speaks to all alike. Another thought on this before we pass on. We will all be judged by the same standard on the judgment day. What one is required to do, all are required to do. This, of course, is gauged by the ability of the individual. We all have the same responsibility in service.
To Be Continued
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 22, pp. 686-687
November 19, 1987