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Is Your Church Attendance Biblical? A Resolution To Consider For The New Year

As we start the New Year, what better resolution to consider than one involving our church attendance. Obviously, if you’re not attending on a regular basis, then the resolution becomes very straightforward – take the advice of the scriptures and meet together regularly in church with fellow Christians.

not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10: 25 [ESV]

If you are attending, however, it may be time to consider whether or not the place you choose to worship and serve fits the Bible’s guidelines. And what are the Bible’s directions in this regard?

We know something was close to Jesus’ heart if He was praying about it in the hours before He was arrested. After praying for His earthly disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus turns His attention to those of us who would believe down through the ages. And what He specifically prayed for is very telling.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17: 20 – 23 [ESV]

In His last earthly prayer, Jesus is asking God to help Christians down through the ages to be (perfectly) united with one another. And this wasn’t just some whimsical wish on His part, it had a very distinct and important purpose – that the world will come to believe that God sent Jesus and that God loves them.

I would paraphrase what I believe Jesus was praying for this way.

I am not only praying for my current disciples, Father, but for all the Christians to come. Help them to be united as you and I are. Father help them to overcome the natural divisions that would otherwise cause them to segregate. I pray they will attend integrated churches. I pray that under my Lordship, Christians will choose to worship together regardless of their differences and this harmonious worship will help to heal divisions in society and draw people into the church.

If churches were fully integrated – along racial lines, economic status, party affiliation and age of attendees – it would be a strong catalyst for societal harmony, by setting a powerful example for the rest of society. And as the church’s divisions disappeared, it would promote evangelism, helping nonbelievers to see that God sent Jesus because He loves them.

Because of the importance of this message, after Christ had ascending back to the Father, the inspired biblical writers continued to teach this idea of building Christian unity by breaking down natural, human barriers. Jesus’ brother, James, warns in strong terms in his letter (James 2:1-13) against showing partiality in the church, with a particular focus on socioeconomic status. And in the middle of Colossians chapter three, the Apostle Paul, in what translates to only 21 words in English, slices and dices up almost every conceivable excuse for division in or the segregation of the church.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3: 11 [ESV]

Paul literally says here that in the church there is to be no racial division (Greek vs. Jew), no division related to religious upbringing (circumcised vs. uncircumcised), no segregation by language (barbarians were those in the Roman Empire who didn’t speak the common language of Greek), no separation by cultural differences or personal preferences (contrasting the Greeks, who considered themselves to be the epitome of culture, with the Scythians, about whom the Jewish historian Josephus said “were little better than wild beasts”), or economic status or societal power and connections (slave vs. free).

The early Christian churches in the Roman Empire to whom Paul was writing were the original melting pots, creating and prospering in an intentional diversity the world had never seen. Those early churches were the first (and for a long period of time the only) places where people from different backgrounds considered each other equals and the first and only places where indentured servants taught and had (spiritual) authority over those to whom they were indebted. The Apostles taught about and built fully integrated churches and, as the world witnessed it, two things happened: The church exploded in growth as evangelism was fueled and the cultural norms of the society at large were impacted and positively transformed by the church’s example.

If the Bible’s teachings are so explicit on these points and if in modeling these guidelines the early churches were so successful in evangelism and cultural impact, what happened? Why are we plagued with division and segregation in the modern church, which places a limit on our healthy growth and spills out into and perpetuates division in America? Because “I” creeped into our faith where it doesn’t belong. Too many Christians seek churches that fit their preferences and too many church leaders fight for the opportunities to provide church consumers what they seek.

If you are in a church where everyone looks like you or thinks like you or comes from the same background, is roughly the same age as you and lives in a similar neighborhood as you, your church attendance may well be unbiblical and you should take a hard look at whether you are serving yourself or serving your Lord. Nowhere does the Bible teach that our faith is to be centered around our own personal preferences. In fact, scripture teaches just the opposite, with multiple calls to deny ourselves.

We can be assured that the circumcised and uncircumcised came from very different cultural backgrounds, that indentured servants and those for whom they worked came from radically different socioeconomic backgrounds, that Jews and Barbarians and Scythians all preferred different styles of music and that Greeks and Jews had different views regarding government and what they thought was important in society. Yet Paul explicitly commands that none of those elements were to divide God’s church.

In the modern age, great Christian leaders have continued to carry the torch of unity and integration. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., in a frequently quoted comment from 1958, said “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning”. King was appalled by it because Christ would be appalled by it. Race often draws the main spotlight in the discussion of church segregation (and it is still a major issue today) but it is only one of the many lines of division Christians have used to segregate themselves into little homogenous pockets where they are most comfortable. Here in Metro Atlanta, Millennials are far less likely to segregate by race than their parents but much more likely to segregate by age, income, preferred music style and the types of societal problems they feel are most pressing.

Of course, attending a fully integrated church does not imply that every person must assimilate to some standard. Just the opposite. Differences can and should be celebrated. But the people who incorporate those differences must be perfectly united as are the Father and Son. Differences should be a cause of celebration, not an excuse for division. When you and I bring our different background, cultural experiences and important causes to church it helps us to better understand, influence and appreciate each other. That is surely one of the reasons that Jesus prayed we would all worship together.

Who is responsible for the full integration of churches in America? That takes us back to that New Year’s resolution. Church leaders and pastors must make biblical diversity the pressing priority it was made in scripture. If your minister preaches in an us versus them fashion, run! If your church isn’t integrated across multiple dimensions and can’t or won’t change, perhaps you are at the wrong church. If your church isn’t diversified but is ready to adapt, then make your New Year’s resolution to work with the leadership to help make it so.

Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.

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