I read an article that actually says going to church is good for your health. Among other things, the article revealed that people who had heart surgery and drew comfort from their faith and their church had a higher rate of survival. People who go to church have lower blood pressure than those who don’t. People with faith who attend church regularly experience less depression than non-churchgoers. And suicide is four times higher among those who don’t attend church than among those who do. These are fringe benefits of going to church. The real reason we should come together in worship is because God works in a unique and powerful way when His people gather together in his name. It is in church that we refocus and learn and grow. It is in church where we help one another and use the gifts that God has given to us.
The church exists for three reasons: for the glorification of God, for the edification of the saints and for the evangelization of the world. And Jesus loves the church. I bring this up because there are some Christians today who say things like, “Well, I love the Lord. I just don’t love the church.” Sorry. That is impossible. The apostle John wrote, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too” (1 John 5:1 nlt).
When I become friends with someone, I become friends with their kids, too. If I love them, my love extends to their family. And their kids become like nieces and nephews to me. In the same way, when we love God, we will love his children also. And if you don’t love his children, one has to question how much you really love God.
It is popular today to criticize the church. But understand this: When you criticize the church, you are speaking critically of someone Jesus loves. The best way to offend me is to insult my wife. You might walk up and say, “Barry, I disagree with this, and I disagree with that.” I have had people do that, and I am always willing to talk with them about those things. On the other hand, if someone comes up and insults my wife, that is a different matter altogether. I would take that personally, as any loving husband would. The church is the bride of Christ. The church belongs to him, and he loves her. The apostle Paul used that analogy, saying, “Husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” (Ephesians 5:25 nlt).
Some people claim to be Christians, but they don’t attend church. However, a true Christian should long to be with God’s people. Some claim they don’t go to church because they haven’t found one they like yet. But here is what the Bible says to believers: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Notice this doesn’t say, “Let us not give up meeting together, unless, of course, Sunday is your only day off … or if you have a triathlon … or if it is a sunny day. Then you are excused, because you don’t really need fellowship as much as other Christians do.” No, if you love God, then you will love his people – and love being around them. And if you don’t love being around the people of God, then are you really a Christian? The Bible asks the question, “For if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 nlt).
I think someone’s desire for fellowship with other Christians can be a barometer of their love for God. The more someone loves God, the more he or she will love to be in the church – a part of the church, loving the church. The less someone loves God, the less he or she will want to be around other Christians. Some may say, “Yeah, but I am so over the church. The church is so critical and judgmental. It is so full of hypocrites.” To those who say the church is full of hypocrites, I say, well then, come on. There is always room for one more.
I am not excusing hypocrisy. The church has its flaws, because it is made up of people like me – and people like you. However, Jesus started the church. He loves the church. And He died for the church. To me, a lack of fellowship with other believers is a sure sign of someone who is starting to lose ground spiritually. In the Christian life, we are either moving forward or moving backward. It is either progression or regression. There is no standing still. So if someone is suddenly withdrawing from church, backing off from reading the Bible, and has an almost nonexistent prayer life, they are regressing, whether they want to admit it or not.
Backsliding always begins with relaxing your grip on that which you need before taking hold of that which will destroy you. So when someone says, “I am just too busy for church,” or “I don’t have time,” or “There are other things I need to do,” that to me is an indication that something is wrong spiritually. And it trickles down to the next generation. A study revealed that when parents attend church regularly, 72 percent of their children will remain faithful in their church attendance.
So be a part of the church. Stop critiquing it. Stop downgrading it. Don’t be a church hater. It makes a difference, and it’s important. Be a church family member, and watch how things will change for you. This Sunday at South Side we will continue our sermon series entitled “Upgrade.” We will unpack three things the church needs to do in today’s world! Worship starts at 10:45, and we would love to see you there!
South Side Church of Christ