In the first two installments of this series, we addressed questions related to God’s command not to do “work” on the Sabbath; not to pursue our own “pleasure”; not to engage in “business”; and whether it is permissible to eat out in a restaurant on the Sabbath. With this third installment, we will begin to address God’s teaching on Church attendance, and we will focus specifically on God’s command to attend Church services. In the next installment, we will address guidelines for proper appearance and conduct in our worship services.
We will start with quoting from previous articles on the issue of Church attendance, while adding explanations regarding questions which have arisen.
In a previous Q&A, we asked, “Does the Bible command regular personal attendance of Church members at weekly Sabbath and annual Holy Days services?”
We answered as follows:
“Barring extraordinary circumstances, such as health issues or very long distance, which would prevent us from attending Church services, the answer is clearly yes. Not to attend Church services because of lack of convenience or interest is clearly sinful in the eyes of God. And if in doubt, it is always better to attend than to use ‘excuses’ for not attending…
“Turning first to the Old Testament, we will see God’s explicit commands to the people of Israel to assemble on each Sabbath and on each annual Holy Day, as well as for the entire eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day.
“Leviticus 23:3 refers to a ‘holy convocation’ on the weekly Sabbath. A holy convocation is a meeting or gathering for a holy or sacred purpose. Leviticus 23:4 speaks of all of the annual Holy Days or feasts as ‘holy convocations’… Leviticus 23:7 states that the first day of the Days of Unleavened Bread includes a holy convocation [compare Numbers 28:18]… Leviticus 23:8 says that the seventh or last day of the Days of Unleavened Bread ‘shall be a holy convocation.’ [Compare Numbers 28:25. Deuteronomy 16:8 describes it as a ‘sacred assembly.’]… Leviticus 23:21 commands that on the day of Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks or the ‘day of the firstfruits,’ a ‘holy convocation’ is to be held [compare Numbers 28:26]. Leviticus 23:24 addresses the Feast of Trumpets and states that ‘you shall have a sabbath-rest’ and ‘a holy convocation.’ [Compare Numbers 29:1.] Leviticus 23:27 states that the Day of Atonement ‘shall be a holy convocation for you.’ [Compare Numbers 29:7.]
“Leviticus 23:35 says that on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, there shall be a ‘holy convocation’ [compare Numbers 29:12]. Leviticus 23:36 states that on the eighth day ‘you shall have a holy convocation.’ Numbers 29:35 describes it as a ‘sacred assembly.’… all the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles are described as a ‘feast to the LORD’ which is to be kept for the entire time (Leviticus 23:41). We read in Nehemiah 8:18 that ‘day by day, from the first day until the last day, he [Ezra] read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.’… Summarizing the annual Holy Days, Leviticus 23:37-38 concludes: ‘These are the feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations… besides the [weekly] Sabbaths of the LORD.’
“The command to assemble before God in holy convocations included men, women and little children… Nehemiah 8:1-12 reports that on the Feast of Trumpets, Ezra read the words of God to ‘all the people gathered as one man,’ and that he brought God’s words ‘before the congregation, of men and women and all who could hear with understanding.’ This included little children, as we read in Joshua 8:35: ‘There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.’ 2 Chronicles 20:13 adds: ‘Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD.’
“Turning now to the New Testament, we find that the command to attend Church services on the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days is still binding for us today… We read in Luke 2:41 that Jesus’ parents—together with Jesus—’went to Jerusalem EVERY YEAR at the Feast of the Passover…’ Christ and His parents went up year by year to keep the Feasts in Jerusalem. Christ, when He was grown, would never deviate from this practice, either. Notice, as examples, John 4:45; 5:1; 7:8, 10, 14, 37; 12:12, 20. In addition, Christ, as His custom was, went each Sabbath day to the synagogue (Luke 4:16, 31; 13:10; Mark 1:21; 6:2).
“Paul and the other early apostles and disciples did the same, by assembling together on the Sabbath day and the annual Holy Days. We read that the disciples (including the apostles, the ‘women,’ the brothers of Christ, and Mary, the mother of Christ, Acts 1:14), were together ‘in one place’ on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), and that they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread—having meals together—and in prayers (Acts 2:42). Members of early New Testament church congregations would assemble and meet together in the private houses of some of their brethren (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19).
“As his custom was, Paul also kept the weekly Sabbath in fellowship with others. He and his party went into the synagogue at Antioch on the Sabbath day to teach (Acts 13:13-15). While the Jews did not like his teaching, ‘the Gentiles begged that these words be preached to them the next Sabbath (verse 42). ‘And the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God’ (verse 44). Paul did so on other occasions as well (Acts 17:2; 18:4)… In addition, we read that Paul was very anxious to go to Jerusalem to keep certain annual Holy Days there (Acts 18:20-21; Acts 20:16).
“Today… we need to worship God together, in a sacred assembly and a holy convocation, which is authorized by God, and where God has placed His name. Christ is the Head of His Church, and we are to follow Him wherever He goes and leads His Church (Revelation 14:4)…
“As Christians, we are to assemble, as much as possible, in person… on the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days in holy convocations or sacred assemblies… God’s Church has consistently taught that parents are to attend weekly and annual Church services with their small children…”
Why does God require that our babies and young children attend Church services? The Bible instructs parents to train and teach their children in God’s Way of Life from early on (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; 32:46; Genesis 18:19; 1 Timothy 2:15). We are told that when certain habits are instilled in a child—including the right observance of the Sabbath with regular Church attendance (Exodus 20:8-11)—then he or she will not depart from it at an older age (Proverbs 22:6; 20:11). There is no guarantee, of course, as teens will make their own decisions (and sometimes very bad ones), but parents ought to do what they can do to help their children grow up in the right way.
We are warned NOT to neglect attending Church services.
In a Q&A on Hebrews 10:25, warning against “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” we stated the following:
“Hebrews 10:24-26 reads, in context: ‘And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.’…
“The Berkely Version of the New Testament says: ‘… not neglecting our own church meeting.’ J.B. Phillips writes in The New Testament in Modern English: ‘And let us not hold aloof from our church meetings.’ The Living Bible states: ‘Let us not neglect our church meetings…’ The Jewish New Testament, by David H. Stern, renders it in this way: ‘… not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing so, but, rather, encouraging each other…’ These renditions state correctly that we are not to forsake assembling for CHURCH SERVICES…
“John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible explains that ‘assembling’ describes ‘their act of meeting together in some one place to attend his [God’s] worship, word, and ordinances. Now to ‘forsake’ such assembling, signifies a great infrequency in attending with the saints, a rambling from place to place… It is the duty of saints to assemble together…’
“[Note] one important ‘human justification’ for forsaking Church services–the wrong idea that we don’t need the Church; that we can stay at home on our own, doing our own Bible studies and gaining thereby the same kind of knowledge which we might have received by attending Church services. This wrong concept is dangerous. It also ignores the fact that we are not only to assemble to be instructed, but also to fellowship with and encourage and help other members… assembling with other members at Church services demonstrates our love to God and to our neighbor–to God, as we DO what He instructs us to do, and to our neighbor, as we show him or her that we care enough for them to assemble and fellowship with them…
“The Life Application Bible gives the following and most helpful analysis: ‘… Difficulties should never be excuses for missing church services. Rather, as difficulties arise, we should make an even greater effort to be faithful in attendance.’…
“Upon the founding of the Church, Jesus Christ established the ministry and holds them strictly responsible to continue guiding His people in obedience to God’s commands–including, ‘…the assembling of ourselves together’ (compare Ephesians 4:11-16).”
We realize that for some brethren, it is impossible or very difficult to attend our Church services in person. They might be scattered; they might be too sick or handicapped; or there might be other valid reasons preventing them to attend in person. Since they cannot physically join with other members on the Sabbath, they listen to sermon CDs, or they sit in and listen to live Internet worship services. In passing (this will be explained in more detail in the next installment), if scattered brethren have Sabbath worship services “in their home,” while listening to CDs, to our sermonettes and sermons which are posted online, or to live Internet Church services, they still appear before God during that time in a SACRED assembly, and we don’t want to appear before God uncombed, unshaved and unwashed, or by just wearing our pajamas.
The requirement of proper attire does of course not apply to somebody who is sick and in bed; or to those who might be listening to CDs or tapes during the week or after the Sabbath is over. Nor does it apply to those who might be listening in to live services from overseas, after the Sabbath has already passed for them. We are strictly addressing live Internet services for those participating in Sabbath services in lieu of attending in person, simply because they are scattered or are suffering, for example, from a flu, which would not prevent them from being dressed appropriately. (Please note our comments below regarding the issue of Sabbath service attendance and temporary sickness.)
In the Q&A on Hebrews 10:25, we addressed the purpose for listening to Sabbath services via tape, CD, our sermons and sermonettes which are posted online, or to live services via the Internet:
“There may always be [so-called] ‘legitimate’ reasons to the human mind for not attending worship services regularly and in person–reasons such as inconvenience, just not feeling like it, feeling too tired, staying with visiting relatives or friends, persecution, high costs of transportation or distance, as well as the idea that we don’t really ‘need’ to attend. Rather, as the reasoning may go, we might as well stay home today and listen to sermon tapes or live services which are broadcast over the Internet.
“However, based on the PURPOSE of PERSONAL CHURCH ATTENDANCE with other members, the means of broadcasting services of the Church of the Eternal God (CEG) over the Internet was developed for those brethren who are scattered, or who might be sick, and who therefore cannot attend regular CEG Church services. It was never meant to be a replacement for personal attendance. Listening to live Internet Church services or listening to sermon tapes [or CDs] does NOT constitute an equally valuable alternative to personal CEG Church attendance. Those who can physically attend CEG Church services are commanded by God to do so, for their own good and for the benefit of other Church members. Listening to Internet services and participating in the chatlines before and after services may only be the second-best option; personal attendance is always the preferable course of action.”
Of course, we realize that there are legitimate reasons for not attending Sabbath services, on occasion. Temporary contagious sickness would be such a reason. We state in our flyers which we publish for our annual Feast of Tabernacles services (but the principle applies for every Sabbath service):
“Although no one wishes to miss any part of the Feast due to illness, please be considerate of your brethren. If you have a fever or other easily transmitted illness, please refrain from joining the group until the illness has passed.”
It is certainly permissible to occasionally go on vacation even if this prevents us from attending Church services in person. In such cases, we might want to make sure that we can have access to live Internet services, or to take with us sermon tapes or CDs to listen to them on the Sabbath. But we would recommend keeping those occasions to a minimum (it would certainly not be appropriate to go on camping trips or on vacation every other month, thereby preventing personal Church attendance.)
We must realize that there is a grave danger in not attending, and we must be honest to evaluate our personal circumstances to determine whether they allow or justify our non-attendance. It would generally not be permissible to forego Church services in order to be able to attend a birthday party of a friend or relative; and we do not feel that it is normally a legitimate excuse to attend a wedding of a friend or relative on the Sabbath, preventing us from attending Church services (Please review again our previous two installments on attendance of birthdays or weddings on the Sabbath.) Since we understand that unforeseen and unexpected circumstances might arise, it would be advisable, if in doubt, to consult with a minister of God on those issues
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link