[The following is excerpted from the book, Gather: Getting to the Heart of Going to Church, Copyright © 2021 by M. Hopson Boutot. Click here to download the entire book for free.]
In the preface of this book, I mentioned the case of Poquoson Baptist Church. This is the church I currently pastor, filled with saints I deeply love. And yet, as I’ve labored to shepherd them towards a more meaningful understanding of church membership there have been some challenges. One of the most difficult challenges in recent years is related to the sin of non-attendance. Specifically, as our church’s elders have recommended church discipline for members committing the sin this book is directed against. But is this the right response to the sin of non-attendance? How should we respond?
Let’s Start With You
Theology professor and author Andrew Naselli rightly points out that not all the Bible’s commands are the same. Some commands are quite binary, you’re either obeying or you’re disobeying. But there’s many commands in Scripture that are not pass or fail. Often obedience is a matter of degrees. He puts it this way:
In the New Testament there are over 1,400 commands directed to “you” (i.e., second-person imperatives). Most of them appeal to your will and assume that you can obey the command. And most have a black-and-white nature; you either completely obey them or don’t. But some commands that the New Testament addresses to Christians are not all-or nothing. Obeying and disobeying these commands are not always like flipping a toggle switch but may be more like moving a dimmer switch. (1)
I believe the various commands related to our relationship with the local church are more like dimmer switch commands. Even if you have a perfect attendance record in your local church, the odds are there’s still areas where you fall short.
So before we talk about how we might respond to the sin of non-attendance in others, we need to begin with a look in the mirror. How are you doing? Is your attendance what it should be? If you can honestly say, by the grace of God that you’ve been faithful to gather with God’s people, where might you still be falling short? Are you faithfully and consistently using your spiritual gifts for the good of the body? Are you obeying the “one another” commands? Where has the light of your covenant membership grown dim?
If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that any area where we’ve fallen short is a sin that must be confessed and forsaken (Proverbs 28:13). But here’s the good news: God promises to forgive all who truly come to Him through faith in Christ (1 John 1:9). Come to Him. He is gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29).
1. Andrew David Naselli, No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 66–67.