FAITH AND FELLOWSHIP
It appears that an increasing number of Americans professing to be Christians do not attend church on any regular basis. This seems inconsistent with Scripture, which portrays persons following Jesus into community. As for confirmation, "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship" (Acts 2:42).
Nevertheless, there appears to have been exceptions. Accordingly, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25). Soliciting several observations. (1) Persons may have feared persecution as a result of meeting together. This obviously continues to be a concern in many parts of the world. As a recent case in point, while Europe has exhibited a decline in Christian activity for some time, some of this has recently been offset by the conversion of immigrants from the Middle East. As such, they no longer have fear of retaliation should they embrace the Christian faith, and give evidence of this by assembling together.
(2) Conversely, reference to the Day approaching may imply that some have been discouraged by the failure of Christ to return. In retrospect, it appears that Christ declared that his return was eminent, in that it might occur momentarily. Recalling the saying, "Only God knows when more time will serve no constructive purpose.
(3) Of course, these might be coupled with the so-called second generation syndrome, where those a generation removed lack a comparable zeal. In another sense, there are no second generation Christians, since faith is renewed from one generation to the next.
(4) In any case, the rationale given is to encourage others, rather than benefit oneself. Although, the latter can be assumed. This brings to mind the practice of foot-washing, as emblematic of the intent to serve one another.
As I have mentioned on other occasions, I made a commitment to follow Jesus while serving in the military during World War II. Having done so, it seemed appropriate to fellowship with persons of like faith. However, I was not certain as how best to accomplish this. For instance, I observed a couple of my fellow soldiers with crosses hung from their necks. I readily recognized the cross as a Christian symbol, and so listened to their conversation. This proved to be disappointing, since they were discussing their sexual ventures when on leave. So that I did not carry my investigation further.
Then something more striking occurred. I was showering when a fellow began to sing hymns. Consequently, I inquired of him concerning his faith. He turned out to be a lay preacher, and so we were bonded together. Not that this was an entirely satisfactory association, recalling C. S. Lewis suggestion that we should pray that nice people become Christians, and Christians become nice.
When deployed overseas we had a group which met weekly by the flight line for Bible study, prayer, and sharing. I was especially impressed with how the flight crews were able to function as a result of their faith. One pilot observed that God must have a work for him to accomplish. Whereas, it seemed to me that this could be said of each of us. But a fellow seated next to me asked if I was aware of what had transpired that day for the pilot. I had not, but when I learned that he had escaped unharmed from a crashed landing, I more appreciated his witness.
Still, I have difficulty explaining why some seemingly devout Christians do not attend church. If for no other reason, than to encourage others. So it was that I inquired of a very articulate Christian why he did not attend. Upon which, he answered: "I know I should." Thus are we reminded that knowing and doing are not the same thing.
While granted that the results are not always ideal. What then? I was impressed by a person who attended a struggling church, when asked if he would transfer to another fellowship. "No," he replied, "the only occasion when I would consider a change, would be when the church is functioning well." Otherwise, he would feel drawn by a consumer mentality.
In conclusion, faith should lead to fellowship. Since it is meant to be shared, and in that manner enhanced. So trust Jesus, and work through the problems. Even though this is more easily said than done.