December 2015

December 2015

Church Attendance and the Christian Life

Part IV: The Holy Sacraments

So far we have learned how God requires church attendance according to the Third Commandment; how Jesus founded not an individual reading plan but a Church, that is, a community of believers who actually gather together; and how every Christian is placed under the care of a pastor who will be answerable for his soul at the Final Judgment. This month, we’ll end our series on Church Attendance and the Christian Life with a look at something you can get in church and nowhere else: the holy sacraments.

The single most important thing to every Christian in this life is the Word of God, for it is God’s Word alone that shall endure forever (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25), even as the rest of the world gives way, and it is in God’s Word that we find eternal life through the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus’ sake. God’s Word is communicated to us chiefly through writing, that is, through the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, and through faithful preaching, which takes the message of the Scriptures and applies it directly to us. The Scriptures we can read by ourselves, and preaching we can hear on the radio or online. But the Word of God is also communicated to us through the visible means of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

One thing about Baptism and Communion is that we cannot administer them to ourselves. To be baptized, we require someone else to pour water over us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And to commune in the body and blood of Jesus, we require a pastor to consecrate bread and wine using the words left to us in Jesus’ last will and testament, the Words of Institution (“Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread…”). Through Holy Baptism we are reborn of water and the Spirit and thus receive the forgiveness of sins. Through Holy Communion we receive the forgiveness of sins and with it life and salvation. These are undeniably important things in the life of a Christian, and one who willfully neglects these sacraments is no Christian at all. And to receive these sacraments, we need to gather where they are administered: with our Christian brethren in church!

Of course, some of our members are physically unable to join us in church. In such cases I bring Holy Communion to them at their own residences. But far from suggesting that church attendance is unnecessary, this only goes to show how critically important are the things that we can only receive when we gather with fellow Christians. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that those under my care can regularly receive the sacraments that Christ has instituted. In the vast majority of cases, that means the public preaching and administration of the sacraments that takes place in our regular gatherings, that is, in church.

If you have strayed from the gathering of saints at Holy Cross; if you have particular hang-ups that keep you from our weekly assemblies; if you have simply fallen out of the habit of getting up on Sunday mornings (or coming on Saturday evenings!) to worship the God who loved you, redeemed you, and sanctified you for eternal life—please consider this your wakeup call. When I call to encourage you to join us in church, please pick up the phone, reply to your messages, and do what you can to get back into a pattern of regular church attendance. Don’t worry about how our faithful members will respond when they see you again after a long absence. If their excitement at seeing you fills you with embarrassment and self-consciousness, don’t let that get in the way of your reception of God’s blessings in Christ. If you’re expecting them to show more excitement than they do, don’t let your hurt feelings keep you from receiving the precious gifts that Christ has prepared for you. What a tragedy for someone to be condemned on the Last Day because he didn’t like the attitude of a fellow Christian one Sunday morning and so renounced the Word of God! It may take some time to adjust to getting back into church, but the rewards are of such surpassing worth that we would die for them a thousand times. Surely we can come to church once a week. I hope to see many of our straying sheep back among us in the weeks to come. I am praying steadfastly for that very thing, and I ask all of our faithful members to pray for the same. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Yours in Jesus Christ our Lord,

Pastor Neuendorf