My last post ended with… “Just a few thoughts from North West Alabama… (That are open to modification under the Lord’s leadership).” Well, guess what… God gently showed me something. Let me explain…
I’m a Palliative Care Chaplain for a hospital. Today I had two patients to see, in side by side rooms. The first was dark with the blinds closed… with the patient in the bed and the spouse sitting in a chair. After introducing myself the spouse explained they were Christians but didn’t go to church because the minister was “unfit for ministry,” instead they watched church on TV each Sunday. The spouse affirmed “You don’t have to go to church to be saved.” However, there were no signs of hope, faith, or trust in God in anything that was said. There was a lot of bitterness, hopelessness, and hurt. The spouse went so far as to question if salvation was real.
In the next room it was the same situation medically, BUT, the room was bright and open with the lights on and sunshine streaming in. The spouse was “Sorrowful yet rejoicing.” There was peace, contentment, joy, and hope. They talked fondly of their faith and their family of faith AND their pastor. There were evidences of a vibrant faith everywhere.
The difference was literally daylight and dark between the two rooms and people in them. Then it struck me. One had hope, the other didn’t. One had joy, the other didn’t. One had peace, the other didn’t. From my interactions with them (Which admittedly were relatively brief), a MAJOR difference was that one had a strong faith family they interacted with regularly and the other didn’t… and it showed.
Salvation is possible without having a local church membership, but that is not God’s will for His people. It is right and normal for believers to congregate with each other as often as possible (AKA: Priority #1 each weekend). Those who think they can joyfully live in this world without regularly meeting physically with other believers are mistaken. God uses His people to encourage, build up, strengthen, and mature each other. To ignore that truth in practice is to refuse to dig for a gold bar when it has been pointed out to you where to dig!
My conclusion comes from Hebrews 10:23-25…
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.
PASTORS! Do the church a favor… next time you preach about local church membership, would you please be merciful, gracious, and loving in your words? Would you please not be condemning in what you say, but be winsome so that people who are searching and seeking will WANT to come rather than being guilted into local church membership? And when you talk to them individually, consider talking to them as one who may have been hurt and needs patience from you rather than submitting to your “superior” theological position and intellect.