Saturday, July 3, 2010

Skipping Church and Cheating on your Spouse

It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I think Christians should be in church not just every Sunday but every time the opportunity is available. The only good excuse for missing a Divine Service is that you are physically incapable of getting there—if you are sick or homebound (in which case, I will bring the Divine Service to you).

That’s not just what I think. It’s what God thinks, too. The Third Commandment calls you not to despise preaching and God’s Word but to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. But that’s not the only commandment that tells you to receive the gifts God offers in the Divine Service as often as you can. There’s the First Commandment, too. You shall have no other gods. We should fear, love, and trust in God alone.

Whatever could keep you from church is a false god. Work and the desire for money, recreation, vacationing, camping, resting, sleeping in, time with family or friends, laziness, anger at the pastor or other parishioners, selfishness, shopping, and more are all false gods when they keep you from being in God’s house—where He comes to deliver His gifts—during any Divine Service.

“How often must I be in church?” is the wrong question. It’s akin to asking how often you must have dinner with your family or make love to your wife. Every time the opportunity is there is the answer. Faith never says “no” to God’s gifts.

Skipping church is like having an affair. It’s never permissible. Ask your wife if it’s ok if you spend an occasional night in someone else’s bed. Ask your husband if you can be a good wife by making sure that at least 51% of your sex is with him. Being in church “most of the time” is the same. That’s not my crass illustration. It’s God’s. Want to know what he thinks of breaking the First Commandment? Grab a Bible and read Ezekiel 16, preferably in a translation like the ESV or the KJV to get a good sense of the verb in Hebrew God chose to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness in chasing after false gods. God calls pursuing false gods whoring.

The truth is our sinful selves know no other way than to wander from God, to commit spiritual adultery against Him with false gods. If it were up to us to quit “playing the whore,” we would be hopeless. But it’s not up to us.

Every day you wake up, be thankful you’re not the prophet Hosea. God called many of the prophets to prophesy both in words and in actions, and Hosea was called to be a living example of God’s mercy. The Lord called Hosea to take a wife who would be unfaithful: “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom”(Hosea 1:2). So he did. And then God called Hosea to restore his adulterous wife to himself, to forgive her: “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods” (3:1). God redeems His bride, buys her back from her sins, restores her to Himself, forgives her and makes her pure.

Though God through the prophet Jeremiah at the beginning of the book of Jeremiah called Israel a whore, by chapter 31, a chapter of pure Gospel, God calls Israel “virgin Israel.” You don’t need a sex-ed class to know that once virginity is lost, it can’t be regained. And a prostitute is the polar opposite of a virgin. And yet, all things, even the salvation of sinners, are possible with God. His forgiveness makes our adulterous hearts virgin and sin-free again.

Christ presents His Bride to Himself pure, spotless, dressed in white (Ephesians 5, Revelation 19). She wears His righteousness. She is pure and holy as her Groom is pure and holy. He takes her sin away.

The solution to chasing after false gods is to be found again by Jesus. The gifts He gives in the Divine Service are still here for you. They make you spotless and pure, virgin and sin-free, part of the holy Bride of Christ. Don’t ask how often you must receive them; ask how often you may.

1 comment:

Untamed Shrew said...

My husband (pastor of Village, Ladue MO) and I both really like this post. If I'm skipping church, it's because I have a sick child or just gave birth a few days ago. And yet people who skip church regularly will demand to know where I was. outrageous! I never know whether to say, "Physician, heal thyself!" or "Set a watch before my mouth, O Lord...."