[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.]
On Monday, we began discussing a biblical response to the sin of non-attendance. We said that we must first start by looking at our own attendance and confessing where we may fall short (Matthew 7:5; 1 John 1:9). Now that we’re done looking in the mirror, it’s time for us to take a broader look at the how we should respond to the sin of non-attendance. It helps to begin by determining what type of non-attendance we’re dealing with. In his commentary on Hebrews 10:23-26, John Owen helpfully distinguishes between two types of forsaking the assembly:
“There is a twofold forsaking of these assemblies: (1.) That which is total, which is the fruit and evidence of absolute apostasy. (2.) That which is so partially only, in want of diligence and conscientious care in a constant attendance unto them according as the rule and their institution do require. It is the latter that the apostle here intends, as the word in part signifies; and of the former he speaks in the following verses." (1)
In other words, there are some committing the sin of non-attendance who need instruction and correction. These are men and women who do not prioritize the assembly as they should but have not forsaken it entirely. At our church, our elders consider this type of non-attender to be those able-bodied members who are absent more than they are present. (2) These men and women need to be pursued, confronted, and encouraged.
But there’s another type of sinful non-attender. This is the person whose non-attendance is “total, which is the fruit and evidence of absolute apostasy.” There are those whose absence from God’s people is so egregious that it seems to be an indication that they are not truly born again. To put it bluntly, those able-bodied members who rarely or never darken the doors of the church are probably not saved. This is what the Apostle John means in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
Discerning which type of non-attendance you’re dealing with may not always be simple or clear. Those in the first category should be approached with more patience and a willingness to instruct and encourage. Those in the second category should be approached with a more serious attempt to warn. But regardless, those who are committing the sin of non-attendance should be subject to the discipline of the church.
That last sentence is worth repeating. Those committing the sin of non-attendance should be subject to the discipline of the church. Does that surprise you? If so, it may be because you’ve misunderstood what the Bible teaches about church discipline.
1. Owen, Hebrews, 23:522.
2. By able-bodied we mean those who could attend but choose not to for illegitimate reasons. This is not referring to deployed military personnel, homebound saints, those away at college, or those taking reasonable precautions during a serious health crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic.