“I was glad when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Ps.122:1)
Now I am a dispensationalist through and through and am aware that this psalm of ascent was chanted in chorus as the faithful ascended to Jerusalem on their trek to the temple to offer sacrifices of praise (three feasts each year). But I love to make a New Testament application of this great affirmation of faith and recite it to myself, and occasionally to others, as we prepare to assemble with God’s people in the local church meeting of His Body with those of like faith, where we too offer sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, and songs of worship. Peter used the term “House of God” when referring to a local church when he said that judgement must begin at the House of God. (I Pet. 4:17)
God’s people have always rejoiced in the prospect and privilege of assembling in the “House of God,” the place of praise, prayer, Bible teaching, and communion around the table of the Lord. A deep price has been paid to enjoy this treasured time through the ages, and men and women have been burned at the stake for having gone “outside the camp,” to worship their Lord and Savior as their consciences dictate.
Students of 21st-century church-growth patterns report that church attendance is on the wane. Less than 20% of Americans attend church regularly, and only one in four attend services three of eight Sundays.
J. Frank Norris was a church-building pioneer in the 20th century, one of the founders of the World Baptist Fellowship. He was a controversial figure, but no one would take issue with what he saw and said in 1939, with the background of an ever-encroaching modernism infecting mainstream denominations of the day: “What is needed is a school that teaches the whole English Bible. What is needed is a school that will take men from the engine cab, from between the plowshares and teach them the Bible. What is needed is a school that is free from modernism. What is needed is a school that will teach a man how to go out with the Bible under his arm, faith in his heart, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, begin in a vacant lot and build a church to the glory of God.”
What Norris no doubt envisioned was what he, T.T. Shields, and Luther Peake established in Ft. Worth, Texas, in the World Baptist Seminary. In the early 1970s, I attended a church in Dallas, Texas, pastored by Dr. Peake. He could expound the scriptures par excellence. I asked him three times to visit our home so I could get to know more about him and the church he pastored, and he never did visit. But on the strength of his preaching, Ellen and I joined anyway. We loved to attend those services to hear an old- fashioned preacher preach the old-fashioned Book in his own inimitable way. We have always loved attending church services!
When I was young in the ministry, I met an old-fashioned evangelist who went from village (town) to village in northeast Missouri, where in most cases there was a town square but not always an active Baptist Church. The evangelist rented a space on the town square and spent weeks preaching in the open air to anyone who would listen. In the course of time, he would attract some good people who had once heard that kind of preaching and had an affinity for it. More often than not, after a few weeks, the nucleus of a local, New Testament church had come together, and when the old preacher and his wife picked up their belongings to go find another town square in which to preach, a newly formed church was left behind. Kind of reminded me of a couple of evangelists I had read about in the book of Acts. Their kind has been a dying breed for decades now, but with or without the latest technology, their method did work—both in the book of Acts and in 20th-century northeast Missouri.
No community, large or small, has ever outgrown its need for a Bible-preaching church. A buddy of mine (from northeast Missouri) and I (from southeast Iowa) picked up on that fact and visited several of those small Missouri towns, where it was not unusual to see an old framed church with a white steeple and maybe a bell in the tower, long since closed and full of cobwebs and dust. We had the privilege of going into some of those church buildings, where we could imagine that in years past the gospel went forth from the pulpit with power. We could imagine revival meetings, sometimes protracted, that saw scores of people on their knees in penitent praying. With those thoughts in our hearts and heads we knocked down the cobwebs, having secured permission to use the abandoned facility, swept out the dust, and announced a revival meeting nightly with a VBS during the morning hours. We were able to witness spiritual life renewed in the hearts of some, and were able to see some children come to know more of Christ, too. It was a mission field ripe for the harvest. We did not have to convince many that a church—open and alive—was vitally needed in their rural communities. Of course, our hearts were torn when we had to move on to find another “dead” church to attempt to revitalize it.
Church attendance is a privilege. Some people are physically hindered from attending regular services, but for those who are not and can be faithful, the blessing is theirs. Nothing can compensate for the one-on-one interaction with members of the family of God; the singing as a body, the praising and the praying—all are incomparable. Mrs. Ella Craig thought so. The Nashville Banner featured her in a story some time ago. Mrs. Craig had perfect attendance in Sunday school for 20 years, or 1,040 Sundays! The article asked, “Doesn’t Mrs. Craig ever have company on Sunday to keep her out of church? Doesn’t she ever have headaches, colds, nervous spells or tired feelings? Doesn’t she ever take a weekend trip, or sleep late on Sunday mornings? How about rain or snow, do they not hinder her from attending church? Or, has she never gotten her feelings hurt by someone at church?”
How is it with you, reader friend? What does it take to rob you of the blessed privilege of rejoicing because “this is the day the Lord hath made?”
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)