Is attendance at the meetings of the local assembly essential or optional?
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
There are so many attractions and pressures impinging on Christians today that many seem to find it difficult, and at times almost impossible, to fit the meetings of the local assembly into their busy lives. Some are staying away because of the lack of a conviction about the importance of them anymore, others feel they have something better to occupy their time or maybe they sense there is nothing much gained by them going anyway.
However, for Christians who wish to be loyal to the Lord and to please Him in their lives, there can be no choice. They know that everything in life must be seen in relation to the local church to which they belong. Attendance for them is not an optional matter. Giving priority to other activities not linked with the assembly and its life, no longer feels the right thing to do.
Sadly, some Christians are not contributing fully to the life of the local church as a result of their spasmodic attendance. The reasons they provide for their lack of attendance are often unsatisfactory.
Having laid the above foundation, let us now answer the question. Firstly, there is a need for us to appeal to the Scriptures and so make our obligations in this matter clear to us. 'And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching’, Heb. 10. 24, 25. These two verses should satisfy any honest believer as to as to what the answer to the question is.
How much more true it is of a local church when members are missing than it was of Saul’s court, when Jonathan said to David, ‘ . . . and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty’, 1 Sam. 20.18?
Secondly, a local church cannot function correctly if members are not regularly present to contribute. Thus, their vital participation to its life is missed. The Lord, the Holy Spirit clarifies this issue when He says, ‘For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?’, 1 Cor. 12. 14-17. If even one member is missing, a body can’t function properly and that's how vital each believer is to the function of the local assembly!
Thirdly, we do need the particular help of God in our culture of Laodicean church attitudes, not to become lukewarm about attending the meetings and making our full contribution. To build anything for God can't be done if believers come and go as they please without any real concern for the prosperity of God’s work or testimony in the locality.
Fourthly, there will be occasions when we may have legitimate reasons for not being present. However, if we plan commitments, so that we keep to a minimum any effect these absences will have on the gatherings of the local church, we will not only honour the Lord in so doing, but also receive His blessing, Prov. 3. 5-10.
Lastly, just think that if we were invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, wouldn't most of us make every effort to be there? What then about meeting the Lord as He graces us with His presence at the local assembly meetings?