We do well to remind ourselves once again of our purpose in this discussion. We are busy with the practical implications of our church membership, or with the activity of our membership. And it stands to reason, that when we discuss this matter we must needs call attention to various errors and weaknesses which creep into our lives as church members. It is thus that we find ourselves discussing the deviation which we have called oncerism.

And it is necessary that we receive these remarks in the proper attitude first of all. That means that we do not read them with our eye on someone else, but that with godly fear we examine ourselves. Furthermore, especially now as we discuss what constitutes a proper or improper reason for absence from divine worship, we must certainly not read with the mental question, “What can I legally get away with?” Hence, it is also not our purpose to add line upon line and precept upon precept in this matter. If that should be done, the whole purpose of our discussion would fail to be reached. The matter is not after all legal, in distinction from ethical. If we merely intend to guide our church membership in an outward and purely formal sense according to certain external rules, we would fall into the error of boasting in the flesh. But they that worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth, must worship Him through the Spirit, must put not confidence in the flesh, and must glory in Christ Jesus. And therefore, let us remember that our calling is not to adhere merely to some external precepts in this matter of church attendance, and that we should humbly and in a deeply spiritual attitude examine ourselves to see if there be any evil way in us.

With that in mind we may also consider this subject of reasons for absence from divine worship.

Improper Reasons

An excuse which is especially proffered frequently in rural districts is that of distance. One finds this to be the case, incidentally, not only with regard to church attendance, but also with regard to the closely related matter of Christian instruction. The reasoning runs somewhat along these lines. We live 25 miles from church. In the first place, we can hardly get ready on time in the morning to be in church by 9:30 or 10 o’clock in the morning. Besides, it is well-nigh impossible to go home and come back to church between the morning and afternoon services. Added to this, we wouldn’t have time to take care of our work in between services as we should. Hence, we stay home in the morning, and we can nicely attend at least the afternoon service.

Now, apart from any practical considerations which may enter in, let us first of all view the matter from the point of view of principle. And then the first question is: Must our place of residence determine our attitude toward the church and toward our church attendance, or must, if at all possible, our life as members of the church determine our place of residence? It can be seen at a glance that the latter is the case. If one should carry to its logical conclusion the principle that distance is a proper excuse for failure to attend church, you finally reach the position that one may move so far away that it is simply impossible to attend church at all. Hence, the principle to be followed is first of all that we must seek the kingdom of Cod first. And the danger is great that only too often when we are forced to move and to rent or buy another place, either in the city or in the country, that we consider only how good a buy we can make, how convenient the new house is, or how much better this farm is than the old one. And when finally we have closed the deal, we discover that we are inconveniently far from church, that it is hardly possible for the children to get to catechism on time, and that the great distance is a strong deterrent for us to join in with any of the congregational life. Sometime such people might wake up to find themselves a couple hundred miles from church too. We certainly must follow the principle that we have no right to place ourselves in such a position that it is practically impossible to be faithful in our attendance as church members, and then offer that as an excuse. And positively, we should always attempt to live near enough to church so that we can conveniently and without too much temptation to be absent attend services on Sunday, join in the weekly functions of the congregation, and have our children in catechism regularly.

Besides, of course, there are many practical considerations, which certainly carry weight in the case of those who do live far from church. First of all, we should be mindful that it belongs to our human frailty that we easily excuse ourselves. And the more difficult a thing becomes, the more easily we excuse ourselves. Against that we must guard. And that means that in case we are far distant from church we must the more determinedly make up our minds to get to church if it all possible. Instead of excusing ourselves, we should diligently bend every effort to gather with the people of God. And we may add: we not only should, but the earnest child of God will do this. He will not be a oncer. To be sure, that may mean that you have to roll out of bed an hour earlier on Sunday morning, which is not pleasant on a cold winter morning,—especially if there are chores to do. But if there is an earnest desire to be present in the services for divine worship, that will be the first consideration, not the warmth of the bed or the unpleasantness of chores on a cold winter’s morning. It may also mean that you find it necessary to forego the trip home between services, and that you must take your lunch along or depend upon an invitation from friends who live nearby church. Why not? It may mean that you must take extra care on Saturday night that you have all things in readiness as much as possible, so that there will be no unnecessary delays on Sunday morning. It will mean that the children are taught to pitch in with household labors on Sunday morning especially, so that mother doesn’t have to do everything alone. It all comes down to this, really: if there’s a will, there’s a way.

There is also the practical consideration which arises from a comparison of our present day attitude with that of the past, even the recent past. Nowadays it must not be too cold, nor too hot; there must not be too much snow, and possibly not even a forecast of snow; otherwise we have to stay home. Some of our parents can tell us of times when they were seldom absent from church, even when it meant traveling several miles twice a Sunday by horse and buggy, or even when they had to bundle up and go to church in the cutter on bitterly cold winter days. And in our time of paved highways and cars which you can heat as well as your own house, we complain much more quickly than they ever did. Again: where there’s a will, there’s a way!

By all means, therefore, if we deliberately or even from force of circumstances place ourselves in a position in which we are distant from our place of worship, let us face the situation earnestly, and with determination place ourselves under the obligation to be faithful before God in attending the means of grace and all congregational functions connected therewith.

A far more serious case of oncerism, however, is that in which there is simply no desire to attend services without even any apparent excuse, or with a very flimsy excuse. There are those, for example, who are too lazy, both physically and spiritually, to get out of bed on Sunday morning for church; those who manage to get to church once per Sunday, perhaps, in order to sooth their consciences, which tell them that they are walking in a wrong way; or those, sometimes, who know that if they don’t attend church at least once, then the elders will surely pay them a visit. There are those sometimes, who openly say that they have need of only one service,—very unspiritually, who openly say that they have need of only one service,—very unspiritually making church attendance a matter of their need, first of all, rather than a matter of desire to worship the God of our salvation. There are those who “just can’t stand to listen to that preacher twice in one day”, even though he does bring the Word of God. There are those who dislike a certain type of preaching, usually Catechism preaching, even though the church has of old and wisely decided that such preaching is necessary for the maintenance of the truth. There are those who far too easily remain at home on account of some minor ailment, when they could as well sit in church as at home. All such excuses are hardly worth mentioning, for to mention them is at once to point out their impropriety.

Yet these things occur in the church.

And to such as are guilty, and whose eyes should fall on these words, I would say: Repent, and pray God to deliver you from this sin.

But above all, let us not mentally judge others and exalt ourselves above them. For, in the first place, you have nothing which you have not received out of pure grace. In the second place, it is also easy to be a oncer in this sense, that we are present in church in body, but absent in spirit. And in the third place, there is not one of us who is not subject to these temptations, and “pride cometh before a fall”.