Monday, February 1, 2016

The Gathering and Garages

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile” (Billy Sunday, 1862-1935).

I’ve heard a dozen variations on this quote. So have you. It’s popular for preachers, youth ministers, evangelists, and unbelieving scoffers to diminish the importance of attending regular gatherings of the Church. I understand why the last group I mentioned does it (I was part of that group); it baffles me why the first three groups do it. I’ve hoped that they don’t intend to do that. The person on the stage says this, gets some souls to walk the aisle (a sign, I suppose, of a “successful” gathering). I’ve never heard them take the time to then explain that those who are truly Christian gather with the Church; it is, in fact, one of the biblical assurances that you are a Christian. Christians gather. It’s what they do. It’s what it means to “be the Church.” If a person doesn't gather with the Church, it's a biblical reason to question the genuine nature of their confession to be Christian (Hebrews 10:25; 1 John 2:19). It would seem Billy Sunday's got it backwards. But the speaker who diminishes the gathering gets his aisle-walker from out of the gathering. Work done. The Great Commission isn’t happening, though (the teaching of disciples to obey all that Christ commanded).

“…if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24,25). Yes, there hopefully are unbelievers in the gathering of the Church. Prophecy, or Spirit-empowered, Christ-centered proclamation of the Bible, must occur in the gathering of the Church. The garage is built to house an automobile. The Church gathers for Christians – and those who might become Christians through the proclamation of the Word of God.

Please stop comparing gathering as the Church with a garage, or Pizza Hut, or anything else. The gathering is of exceeding importance and should not be diminished. If you want regular gatherers to examine the genuine nature of their salvation, don’t question something that is a biblical sign that you are actually a Christian (gathering with the Church). Just use the language of Paul to the Achaian Baptist Association: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you - unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5,6). In fact, a weekly observation of the Lord's Supper gives a biblical and liturgical opportunity for such regular examination of the legitimacy of one's salvation (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). Or just be diligent in preaching the Gospel every time you're on stage. It's "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16), not this diminishing of the Church as a manipulative rhetorical tool.

What does it profit a preacher to get “decisions” if they communicate a deprioritizing of the God-given instrument of discipleship – the gathering of the Church?

Gather. Proclaim the Gospel. Keep on proclaiming that Gospel in the gathering. And when you've done it, do it again. The lost will be saved. The saved will grow in Christ. This is the power of God.

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