Categories
attendance church attendance Hebrews worship

Hebrews 10:25 And COVID-19

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

An alarming number of people today are obsessed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly every post on social media is focused on it, stores are selling out of essentials, and it comes up in nearly every conversation. This article is not about Coronavirus-19. I’m tired of reading about it and I’m assuming you are, too.

Because the virus is particularly dangerous for older people or those with underlying conditions (a healthy demographic in the church), many congregations have cancelled or reduced services until something can be worked out. As a result, some have attempted to use scripture to claim that these measures are unscriptural.

Some have pointed to the early church: despite the threat of death from man, they continued worshipping. This is true, but that threat was persistent for years. Even then, many early churches met at extreme hours and in extreme secrecy during the worst of persecution. This is not the case today.

Some have pointed to Hebrews 10.25 to say that cancelling services is the same as “forsaking the assembly.” We will look at this passage closely, but we need to keep something very important in mind: most of writings set after the establishment of the church are focused on Christian living. Our standard of conduct, our speech, our attitude toward the world, our understanding of God, how to employ wisdom, etc. are the focus of the vast majority of the New Testament.

For perhaps more than a few, the sum total of their Christianity is the worship assembly on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship is extremely important to godly living and it would be egregiously false to state otherwise (as some state, “I am dedicated to God, not the church”). However, there is but one fragment of a sentence in all of scripture dedicated to the importance of consistent attendance. It is binding and important, but some place a disproportionate emphasis on this passage to the neglect of the rest of scripture. To use the words of Jesus, “They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.23ff).

Hebrews 10.25 states, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The next verse says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Verse 29 makes it very clear that 10.25 is talking about “trampling under foot the son of God…”

It is important to note that “forsaking” in 10.25 is ἐγκαταλείποντες (eingkataleipontes), which means to leave, abandon, or desert. The word is also a present active participle in this text, which describes a continuous, willful abandonment of the worship assembly. The same word is to describe a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. It is a more or less permanent abandonment, not a temporary one.

What does this mean for Christians in 2020? It means that cancelling a few services to avoid spreading a very contagious virus is not a sin. This does not equal, “trampling the son of God under your foot.” It means that trying to bind Hebrews 10.25 in this case is worse than merely bad scholarship – it is binding where God has not bound. It means that, while worship is vital and important, we must focus just as much on godly living and the whole of scripture as we do this one verse.

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 6.49.56 AM

Categories
church church attendance fellowship obedience Uncategorized

It’s Not Business; It’s Personal

Neal Pollard

Some years ago, when our sons were all teenagers and they were given a cell phone, there were times when they failed to use those to communicate if they got to their destination or answer when we needed to reach them. While I never did it, I was tempted on more than one occasion to contact the cellular provider and suspend their service. Why? Was it because I thought it was wasted cost? No. It was because it reflected a lack of thoughtfulness and responsibility. It wasn’t business. It was personal.

Hebrews 10:25 is a sobering, New Testament passage. It addresses the Christian’s attitude toward the sacred assemblies of the church. What makes it sober is its contextual attachment to the eternal ramifications of abandoning those assemblies. God speaks of “no more sacrifice for sins,” “severer punishment,” “vengeance,” and “terrifying” (26-31) in connection with sinning willfully, of which forsaking the assemblies is a contextual example. But, why is God so exacting about this matter of our meeting together? In a nutshell, it is because these times, to God, are personal. The Bible is full of references to God’s desire to be worshipped and receive our worship. He is worthy. As Creator, He has the right. But, in this passage, it is personal in the sense that what He commands is so helpful to you and me.

Written on the foundation of the fact that our High Priest, Jesus, has given us access to God (19), the writer urges us to do three things: (1) Draw near (22), (2) Hold fast, and (3) Consider. It’s the third one I want to briefly notice:  “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (24-25).

There should be a personal connection. Notice how the writer reveals this. He says “us” and “our.” He says “one another” twice as well as “together.” Christianity is not a solitary condition. We must see ourselves in connection with the rest of the body. Assembling is about seeing ourselves as a vital piece of a more important whole. Forsaking the assemblies is, for whatever reason, selfish and self-centered. It is done blind to the needs of others.

There should be a personal submission. The command is “consider” followed by two participles that tell us how to obey the command: “not forsaking” and “encouraging” (more on that in a second). So, in a discussion about the whole group, there is a command each must strive to obey. As it is a command, ultimately this is as personal as God and the individual. I fail to consider my role, I fail in my relationship with God.

There should be a personal obligation. Each of us is obligated to stimulate and encourage everyone else. It’s not just those who publicly lead worship or teach class. The reclusive saint who dashes out before services are over has missed this. The clammed up Christian who never reaches out to fellow saints but is closed to others misses this. The discouraging and unloving brother and sister rebels against their duty. I should never be focused on how well others are stimulating and encouraging me. Instead, I should be so lost in my efforts to be a blessing to others that I have no or energy to evaluate how others are doing.

There should be a personal anticipation. This is more than social and emotional. It’s spiritual and eternal. Those other aspects are means to that end, but don’t miss the end. Be a blessing to others at “church services” “as you see the day drawing near” (25). Not Sunday. Keep reading. The Judgment Day. I need to remember that “here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (13:14). One of the best places to stay reminded of that is through our assemblies, as our activities in class and worship and our teaching and preaching keep us anchored to that ultimate reality. This world is not my home!

Christianity is not about the business of going through the motions, even doing right things. No, no! It is personal. May that truth permeate our attitudes toward not just God, but His children.

1024px-business_plate_green-svg

Categories
Bear Valley church of Christ church church (nature) church attendance church function church growth church of Christ evangelism soul-winning Uncategorized

Victories Of Our Friends And Family Day

[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]

Neal Pollard

  • There was an air of excitement. We did not meet our numerical goal, but there was a noticeable buzz yesterday. So many new faces milling around and so much focus on that, from Bible class to worship to the sermon, just charged the atmosphere.
  • We were very deliberate and thoughtful about how we approached worship.  Thom Vaught and Michael Hite put together the “explanation slides” for the acts of worship (which would be great to use every Sunday, I think). Doug McNary did a masterful job planning the worship and each man shined in leading us. There appeared to be such enthusiastic participation. Thom’s elder remarks at the end were worth the price of admission!
  • Many of our members got out of their comfort zone to meet and greet visitors. This is a significant area where we need to grow, but where we have grown. While there will always be some who do not step outside the known, so many did!  Some were “pulled in.” Others did the pulling in (Mike Ripperton was almost like a traffic cop in the foyer!). A warm, loving church is merely reflecting the face of Jesus.
  • We got future commitments from invitees.  Many of us invited several people to come, but they did not come or even backed out. Madie Murphy had two friends back out yesterday morning, but one is coming next week and bringing her mother! The Parkers and Maria Thompson invited a wonderful young couple who are searching for a church home. Look for that to bear fruit! I believe we will see people show up in the weeks and months to come because of our Friend And Family Day.
  • We asked people to come to church. Dean Murphy called this the biggest victory of the day, 100 people asking people to come to church. That is who we all need to become if we are not already that. God saw your attempts and was pleased. And if you, like me, had to fight nerves and fears to invite friends, keep practicing! It gets easier with the effort.
  • We planted so much seed. I am convinced that efforts like these will pay off in many ways we do not anticipate. I have never seen an endeavor like yesterday fail to yield return visits, Bible studies, community impressions, and unseen impacts that yield souls won to Christ. What we did in inviting friends and family was right and pleasing to God! He will not let that work produce nothing.
  • There were great, individual victories. Many of us did have non-Christian visitors in the assembly. The Walkers had a neighbor there. Danielle Thompson had her husband there. Guy and Kathryn Lindsay had a guest. The Fleury guys were back. No doubt there were other individuals. Derek Rose tracks our visitors and says that our response was off the chart. But the day would have been worth it if the only success was Janice Edwards. She’s not been a member of the Lord’s church very long, but she had NINE family members come with her yesterday—four children, two in-laws, and three grandchildren!
  • We focused on our “3 P’s.” Our mantra is “devoted to getting it right, inside and out” from Acts 2:42-47. That involves praise (worship), participation (family/community), and proclamation (evangelism). The more we can remind ourselves of our purpose as a church, the more productive and successful we will be at accomplishing the Lord’s work to His glory.

I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.

17352047_1358574034165630_9157918034812969913_n

 

 

Categories
church church (nature) church attendance church growth church of Christ evangelism Uncategorized

Dying Villages (And Dying Churches)

Neal Pollard

Liza Zhakova and Dima Zharov have written an extensive expose of a phenomenon I was totally unaware of—the depopulation of villages throughout the Kostroma region northeast of Moscow, Russia. 200 villages have been abandoned and 20,000 villages have faded away, a remarkable, mystifying fact for a vast region—it counts merely “660,000 residents for its 23,000 square miles” (source). Factors contributing to this include “low living standards, high unemployment, and a lack of housing and public services” (ibid.).  The ones who have remained are an odd assortment who either prefer isolation or cannot see another way.

Appreciation for salvation, the power of the gospel and the beautiful simplicity of the restoration plea, the exalted mission of the church, and much more should cause the church to spread and grow across the nation and throughout the world despite the opposition of the darkest forces against it. But, especially in America, the statistics show a decline in total number of members even as the nation’s population rises. Last Spring, Christian Chronicle reported that over 100,000 fewer souls were members of the church in 2015 than in 1990 (source). The United States’ net population increase over that period was 70 million (source). My experience in visiting churches in various parts of the country and in visiting with brethren from all over is that most churches are not experiencing growth. Some have seen an increase in attendance, almost always as the result of transfer from other congregations (over doctrinal issues, lack of resources and activities, or even churches that have to close their doors). But instances of churches that are taking the gospel into their communities and winning souls should, per the factors cited above, have us growing like wildfire.  In especially “mission fields” and rural areas, the church is often fighting for survival. My parents and brother, for example, work in a ministry called Carolina Outreach. Through their exposure to churches in the Carolinas, they witness and work with tiny congregations fighting to keep their doors open. They lack funds and workers to get the gospel to the souls in need of the truth in that part of this nation. I have spent over 20 years as a local preacher in states that are typically considered a mission field, outside of the traditional “Bible Belt” (i.e., Virginia and Colorado). In these and surrounding states, I have been saddened to hear about churches closing their doors or simply fighting just to “keep their doors open.”

As the Lord looks down at these shrinking parts of His glorious body, His heart must be breaking. Yet, He gave us the blueprint to address this problem and to reverse this trend when He gave us the New Testament. It is not more vibrant youth programs. These are wonderful and beneficial, but many of us faithful to Christ today grew up in small churches with virtually non-existent youth programs (including Kathy and me). It is not big, beautiful buildings. These can at times cause more problems than not. It is not extremism, whether to the right or the left. Building on the foundation of man is sand (Mat. 7:24-27). It is a resource available to everyone, in rural and urban areas, in depressed or booming economies, in north, south, east or west. In a word, it is “commitment.” The first commentary on the first church begins, “They were continually devoting themselves…” (Acts 2:42). Christianity meant everything to them in their daily lives. They were dedicated to seeking the lost, dedicated to helping each other, dedicated to following their Lord and Savior. They were dedicated in prosperous and perilous times. Their living hope was so strong (1 Pet. 1:3), they persisted even in dire persecution (see the rest of 1 Peter).

What a challenge this is to me. My dedication and commitment has room to grow. My complacency and apathy must decrease and His importance in my life must increase. If the church all over catches hold of this, the familiar phenomenon of “dying churches” will be a bad memory. May God grant us the strength and courage to reverse this tragic trend. May it begin with me!

zhakovazharovdesert-16

Categories
attendance church attendance excuses Uncategorized

Allergic To Church?

Neal Pollard

A Christian lady asked her neighbor to attend a gospel meeting with her. The neighbor said neither “yes” nor “no.” He said that he and his wife could not attend church because of her allergies! Apparently, the perfumes of those attending so bothered her that she could not go to a house of worship. He conceded the awfulness of her situation, but he was confident God would overlook their lack of attendance.

This same sister, who knows and loves that couple, had bumped into her sneezy neighbor countless times in the grocery and department stores. The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary with a party they hosted in their home. Many guests attended, most of whom presumably “attended church” somewhere. The sister attended, too, and sorrowfully reported that almost every guest wore perfume. Fortunately, the neighbor survived the party.

Few excuses will outdo getting sick from church. Yet, some of the excuses we give are equally flimsy, if more trite. Truly, God will judge each individual for only He knows the heart and the circumstances (cf. Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 4:12). As that is so, how often is He snubbed and insulted by Christians who willfully intend to miss the assemblies? What does He think of the chronic excuser, who attempts to justify “skipping church” with horribly poor rationale?

True Christians truly seek the Kingdom of God first (Mat. 6:33). Spiritually living Christians hunger for each opportunity to worship God and fellowship with other Christians (cf. Psa. 95:6; Mat. 5:6; Acts 12:12; etc.). Cross-centered saints do not look for “reasons” to miss worship and Bible study with other saints! It is incongruous to think of a spiritual-minded person (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5) battling with the decision (?) of whether or not to attend. May each of us develop the yearning of David and say, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psa. 122:1).

article-2422779-1458af3c000005dc-752_306x423

Categories
Christmas church church attendance Easter seekers Uncategorized

Googling Church

Neal Pollard

Despite Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s fall, 2015, pessimistic forecast in the “Sunday Review” column of the New York Times, where he perhaps wistfully reports Google searches for God down 15% in the first half of this decade and presents data showing Kim Kardashian as at least 10 times more popular than Jesus (if such is gauged by Google searches)(“Googling For God,” 9/15/15), a front-page “USA Snapshot” from last weekend’s USA Today’s front page reveals a different statistic. Google Trends, which has been tracking searches since 2004, says that Google queries for the word “church” peak at Easter and spiked last year at 68% (3/25-3/27, 1A). Looking at Google.com/trends, searches for church in the last seven days spiked in too many categories to list but included “church service” (110% rise), “mass-church” (100%), “churches near me” (90%), and “Catholic Church (near me)” (both 100%).  Good friends of mine who are devout Catholics have referred to such querists and Easter or Christmas-only attendees as “C&Es” (Christmas and Easter), “CEOs (Christmas-Easter Only),” “Chreasters” (Christmas and Easter Christians) and “Submarine Christians” (because they only surface a few times per year). I’m not picking on Catholics, but singling them out since they see the biggest attendance spike and put special emphasis on those holidays as “holy days” with heightened importance over other days of the year.  Protestant denominations experience something similar if on a smaller scale. Many congregations of churches of Christ can attest to a rise in visitors on certain days, whether Easter, Mother’s Day, or Christmas.

While I strongly disapprove of the unpalatable, but predictable, gigging and gauging of those provocateurs with “in your face,” polarizing statements and ensuing debates praising and condemning these religious holidays, I am hard pressed to ignore the hard and anecdotal data. More people come to church services, including our church services, on these days.  While I have preached on the resurrection at Easter and the birth of Christ when Christmas fell on a Sunday (and cannot see how such is wrong) and while I have also preached “educational” sermons about the origin of these holidays and how we celebrate these great truths each Sunday and each day (which I believe is also legitimate), there is a matter of greater importance we must consider.

Yesterday morning, Bear Valley had a big crowd that included several visitors. Mark Hanstein preached on the work of elders. Nothing was said to highlight or downplay the resurrection. There were no awkward speeches about the origin of the Easter holiday and no pageantry to pander to guests. The worship, from the singing to the supplications and the Supper to the sermon and the sacrificing of the salary, was uplifting and encouraging.  As usual.

Every time we assemble to praise God and encourage our fellow Christians, we need to be sensitive to the fact that we are blessed with visitors. If we want to impact and reach those who “come into all the building,” on “special” or “ordinary” days, we need to prove it by doing everything we can to connect with them and take the conversation further. As you warmly greet them and find out more about them, ask them what brought them to church, what questions they might have, what their lunch plans are, if they are members of the church of Christ, and what you might do to be of service to them. Be genuinely interested and prove it with your words, facial expressions, and body language.

Did you know that the top church related search trends include “the church” (up 100%), “Christ church” (up 30%) and “church of Christ” (up 20% and the seventh most popular church related search), according to Google.com/trends? Who knows exactly what that means? But I can tell you what it means when a non-Christian visitor comes to one of our services. They are searching for something bigger than themselves. The real question is, “Are we searching for them?”

google search

Categories
church church (nature) church attendance church function church growth church of Christ Uncategorized

HOW CAN WE ENSURE THE CHURCH WILL NOT GROW?

Neal Pollard

  • Talk Up Big Plans And Follow Through With Inactivity. This will build frustration and discouragement. Satanfears not the plan, but rather the working of it.
  • Make No Plans For The Future: Just Accept The Status Quo.  Just hope that the future will take care of itself. Buy into the “is/ought” fallacy: “The way it is is the way it ought to be.”
  • Do Not Practice Church Discipline. Let the disorderly walk unchecked in ungodliness. Let all members see how nonchalantly bad or grossly negligent behavior is treated.
  • Under-appreciate The Leadership. Do not pray for the elders, actively seek to help them, encourage them, express appreciation for them, submit to their authority (Heb. 13:7,17), or respect them. Just expect them to be without flaw or feelings.
  • Do Not Actively Enlist. Allow a small nucleus of folks to do the brunt of the work. Leave the majority of the members in the dark as to how and where to be involved. Ignore the fact that people must be personally invested to be faithful.
  • Pressure Or Allow The Pulpit To Be Form Over Substance. Make sure the preached message is soothing and non-offensive, fostering comfort and expecting little to nothing. Have the pulpit heavy on the social and light on Scripture.
  • Get Into The “Change Extremes”: “Nothing Is Sacred” Or “Nothing Is Changeable.”  Departing from the left or right will kill the church, whether its identity or effectiveness. Buy into every new fad that comes along or suspect and oppose any change which may scripturally improve the life and work of the church.
  • Make Personal Preferences And Opinions Binding. Equate personal discomfort with doctrinal sin. Take presumptuous positions, supposing there is biblical foundation without finding such. Allow the nay-saying of one or two thwart effective, soul-winning, and needed programs.
  • Have No Follow-up Program For New Christians. Let them make their own way to heaven after the water of baptism dries. Have no Bible study follow-up, fellowship mechanism, or other effort to integrate and educate these spiritual babes.
  • Maintain An Unchallenging Budget. Do not risk offending non-sacrificial members. Make plans by sight, not by faith. Do not make ambitious financial goals as a congregation.
  • Be Distant And Unloving With One Another. Confine association and fellowship to the building, and that in passing. Stay out of each others’ homes. Do not visit. Do not build friendships with those of like faith. Do not be involved in one another’s lives.
  • Take “Christ” Out Of Christianity. Be secular and worldly. Fail to be distinctive to a world desperately seeking something different from itself.
  • Ignore The Small And Voiceless. Be it children, elderly members, or the sick and shut-in, let them fall through the cracks of inattention. Treat singles, new Christians, and weak, struggling members as second-class citizens of the Kingdom.

It is easy to arrange things in the local congregation so that the church fails to grow. But, the Lord wants His body to grow. The early church grew (Acts 6:1,7; 9:31). A growing church reflects a church on fire for the Lord’s mission (Mat. 28:18ff) and in focus with the Lord’s desire (2 Pet. 3:9). May we overcome these church-shrinking tendencies and build a great church!

2908804_1b43e842

Categories
Bible classes church attendance motivation

Bible Classes, Special Services, And P.M. Worship Services

Neal Pollard

  • I attend because I want to honor God in the special way that occurs when the church assembles to worship Him
  • I attend because I want to encourage others and be with them every opportunity I can
  • I attend because I find the acts of worship so meaningful
  • I attend because there’s so much of the Bible I have yet to master, and I want to hear what the teacher and the other students may have to say about it
  • I attend because what I do know and have learned I feel compelled to share when given the opportunity occasioned by the assemblies
  • I attend because I often meet those searching for truth, those new to the area, and those brothers and sisters visiting from out of town during those times
  • I attend because I think it sets a good example for my family, friends, and neighbors
  • I attend because the very exercise of what’s done in assembling, if my heart is engaged, helps me grow in my Christian walk and strengthens me for the week ahead.
  • I attend because I want to rise above the bare minimum expectations

Certainly there are many more and probably better answers regarding the motivation for attending every time the local saints are assembled.  But these are enough to move me, when I am able, to join my spiritual family in both study and worship.  I try to prioritize the assemblies above the unnecessary things and the things that will not endure beyond this life.  The same reasons will draw me to come when we have seminars, gospel meetings, Vacation Bible School, lectureships, and the like.  When I can attend, I want to attend and will attend!  I’m thankful that so many others must feel the same way.  There’s always room for more!