Not Forsaking the Assemblies of the Saints, (continued)
Once again let us remind ourselves of our aim in this discussion. It is not to formulate some merely external rules and regulations for church attendance, and thus to add line upon line and precept upon precept. Rather is our intention to discuss “in His fear” what our attitude as members of Christ’s church should be toward the assemblies of the saints, and in our discussion to examine ourselves. Hence, we must also beware in our self-examination in this matter that we do not conclude by boasting in the flesh instead of worshipping God in spirit and in truth and glorying in Christ Jesus. Outwardly faithful church attendance in itself is of no avail whatsoever.
From that point of view we have discussed the deviation called oncerism, attempting not to multiply precepts, but to point the direction, first of all, in regard to improper reasons for absence from the meetings for public worship. From that same viewpoint we would like now to discuss proper reasons. And again, it is very well possible that you will be able to add many more reasons. We intend, however, merely to point the direction.
As this is being written, we are reminded in a very concrete way of a proper reason for absence from church. For today, Sunday, we are in the midst of a howling blizzard, the worst of the year, here in northwest Iowa. The little town of Doon is isolated from the rest of the world except for telephone and radio. All roads are blocked in the area. In fact, even in town it is difficult to distinguish the streets from the surrounding landscape, as the wind, in gusts up to 40 miles per hour, piles up the snow, both old and new and still falling, in gigantic drifts. Even for those of us who live in town there is no question of holding services today: it is simply impossible. And for those of our congregation who are tillers of the soil it is simply out of the question even to reach the roads. The only ministry of the Word which we shall hear today is by the Rev. De Boer on the radio.
And thus it has been for the past several days. The present storm is only the climax of the severe winter which has struck this area in the past couple weeks. A previous storm had already cut attendance down to less than half a week ago, and had forced the postponement of Prayer Day services last Wednesday. And people were just digging themselves out when the present blizzard struck with greater fury. Resides the cancellation of services, all activities of societies, catechism classes, etc., are either hampered or entirely eliminated.
This is, of course, no Chamber of Commerce advertisement.
Nor did we refer to this bit of personal experience for that reason.
Nor do we write in order to give the impression that this is an everyday experience in these parts. It is unusual.
But nevertheless, it drives home a point concretely, namely, that sometimes we are placed in circumstances when it is impossible to attend church, and when, therefore, there is a very proper reason for not attending services, whether it be once or twice a Sunday. Correctly stated, there are times when the Lord Himself makes it impossible. And the Lord, we know, has His own good reasons. True, in the instance above, the Lord made it impossible for the whole congregation, and also only for a short time. But the Lord can make it impossible for an individual only, and He can do so for a long period of time also. And we submit that only then, when the Lord Himself puts us in a position in which we cannot gather with His people,—only then may we be absent.
A very ordinary instance of such a proper reason you have in the case of sickness. Through it, which, as we all know, is under the control of our heavenly Father, the Lord may prevent a person,—be it for only a Sunday or two, or be it for months or even years,—from gathering with God’s people on the sabbath. Far different is their position than that of those who for one reason or another have refused to go up unto God’s house. These have a desire to hear the Word of God proclaimed, but cannot. They have a desire to worship the Lord, but are prohibited. They have a yearning for the courts of the Lord, but the way is closed. Instead they must languish on beds of suffering, and must be satisfied with thoughts and mental pictures of the gathering of God’s people from which they must be absent, and they anticipate the day when, if it be the Lord’s will, they can once again assemble with the saints as before.
Another rather difficult problem presents itself in the case of families with little children. The problem has various ramifications. It is a different problem, for example, in a large congregation and a large auditorium than in a small one. It is often possible, or more easily possible, to take little children to church in a small congregation, while it is impossible or impractical to do the same in a large congregation. I remember well the annual occasion when all in our Fuller Ave. congregation took their little children and even babes in arms to the Christmas program of the Sunday school. Those who know will agree that the disturbance caused was sometimes a rival attraction to the program. Imagine that the same thing was done every Sunday in the services. It would become well-nigh impossible for the minister to preach and for the congregation to listen. In a small congregation that probability is much less. There are only a few such little children or babies, and the probability of disturbance is proportionately less. Hence, at the risk of occasional disturbance it may be possible to take little ones to church with us. But even then, it is at best a risky proposition, and of questionable value. Mother or Father, as the case may be, sits on “pins and needles” all through the service, striving to keep the little one quiet and anxiously wondering whether too much disturbance is caused. Even the practice of having a loudspeaker connection from the auditorium to another, separate room, is often of little value. True, in some cases it is profitable, since it allows one parent to remain in church at least, while the other parent can take the disturbing offspring out. But if you get three or four such disturbance in a little room, you may well imagine that the separate “auditorium” is changed into a nursery and that the loud speaker may as well be turned.
To be sure, there comes a time when parents must begin to take their children to church. And we would not deny that time must not begin too late. In fact, we believe that often this is started too late. Even when a child cannot understand a sermon, he can certainly be trained to go to church and to sit still, and he may develop a healthy habit of going to church, may be impressed with the idea that there is something special about the sabbath, which is also for him.
But our point is now that you cannot expect parents with little children, except in rare instances, to both be in church twice on Sunday. It is necessary for father and mother to take turns, or to get a babysitter in some instances, in order that they may at least attend once per Sunday. It is necessary both for themselves and for the rest of the congregation, in order that the services may be conducted decently and in good order. In other words, also in this instant*) the Lord Himself, in giving us little children, makes it temporarily impossible for us to attend church every time services are held. And such parents are certainly not to be classified as oncers.
Also here, however, a word of warning is in place. We must beware that we do not make of our children an excuse to be absent from church. That can be done. We must be careful that we do not postpone too long the day that we begin to take junior to church. We must our obligation, even though it may be unpleasant for a time, until the little one is completely trained to sit quietly and to listen.
Other such proper reasons may be found perhaps, and details might be multiplied. But let this suffice.
And so the conclusion of the whole matter is that as members of His Church we may not, must not, cannot forsake the assemblies of the saints. For the Church is gathered by Christ. It must be and is manifest in this world as the gathering of believers and their children. It therefore also gathers together, in order that it may be manifest as a gathering. And he who belongs to that church certainly does gather with it.
And in that way only is there a blessing. There is no blessing in the way of forsaking the church ever. And to the extent that one is remiss in the Christian calling to assemble with the saints, to that extent one also surely misses the blessed assurance that he is a living members of the body of Christ, and forever shall remain such. That follows automatically. And anyone who claims that he can with impunity forsake in any measure the assemblies of the saints and not at all miss that assurance lies. Life is in itself the assurance of life. And dead works can never result in the growth of that assurance. Rather is the very opposite true, and it always becomes manifest concretely in our walk. He who has no desire for the fellowship of God’s people on the sabbath soon loses, or perhaps has already lost, his taste for the weekly gatherings of God’s people for Scripture study in the societies, and soon becomes remiss in his duty to bring his children to catechism faithfully, and reaps to himself and to his family the reward of his own way.
But in the way of faithful, regular, and spiritually alert attendance of the services for divine worship we receive a rich reward. Establishment in the truth is its reward. Growth in the knowledge of Christ, which is incomparably excellent! Development and cultivation of our spiritual taste for spiritual things is to be had in that way. And the assurance of living membership, which shall endure unto everlasting life, is to be received there, where the Word of God is proclaimed!