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Only Three Legitimate Reasons Not To Be at Your Congregation on Sunday Morning

January 19th, 2009
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My pastor, David Smith, has a way with words, that is to say, he is one of those rare birds who does not mince words when he has something important to tell his congregation. Yesterday, he informed us that we are to be present for Divine Service on Sunday morning, unless we are "providentially hindered" from being there, and then he explained what it means to be "providentially hindered."

"There are only three legitimate reasons for not showing up here on Sunday morning: you are out of town, you are sick, or you are dead."

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Categories: Christian Life
  1. January 19th, 2009 at 12:22 | #1

    Well, that wouldn’t sit well with our antinomian friends in the LCMS, who say going to church is optional. After all, we’re free in the Gospel, right?

  2. George A. Marquart
    January 19th, 2009 at 12:56 | #2

    At his mother’s funeral, the late Prof. Kurt Marquart told the following story: “My mother was not able go to services every Sunday, because of transportation problems, and it was much too far to walk. She did not drive herself, and depended on others, who did not always oblige. One Sunday, on which she had not attended services, she said to herself, ‘if He wants to see me today, He will have to come to me.’ Shortly afterwards, there was a knock on the door. Her pastor had come to bring her the Sacrament.’”
    Does the Gospel of the Kingdom allow a pastor to “lay down the Law” about church attendance? Not the Gospel of my Lord, who took on Himself the form of a servant. But then, there is so little of the Gospel heard in our churches that it is not surprising the misguided laity applauds this kind of a statement. At least the ones who were there to hear the pastor. Why not? It makes them so much better than those who were not.
    McCain: It is interesting how quickly Lutherans leap, breathlessly apparently, to find ways to find the exception, the caveat, the loophole. Sad. Of course, those who are incapable of coming for reasons beyond their control are precisely those who are “providentially hindered.” In the case of our congregation, we have over 2500 members but barely 50% manage to come on any given Sunday. And there is little doubt the vast majority of those folks are not there due to circumstances beyond their control. George’s remark reminds me that there are those who do not have much room for the Law in the life of the Christian. Perhaps Kurt Marquart’s, “Aversion to Sanctification” might be the anecdote?

  3. Craig J
    January 19th, 2009 at 14:41 | #3

    I just can’t imagine *not* being in church on Sunday if I were not out of town, sick or dead. In fact, a few weeks ago I was pretty sick and had to miss, but I felt compelled to call in sick so my pastor and adult Bible Study group wouldn’t be concerned by my absence. It was the only time I missed in the 3 1/2 years at this parish.

  4. Rev. Tom Fast
    January 19th, 2009 at 14:54 | #4

    From Luther’s Small Catechism
    The Third Commandment
    Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
    What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
    That seems pretty clear.
    To use the Gospel as a tool to make some space between me and Jesus doesn’t strike me as an evangelical use of the Word of God. “Give me my inheritance! I’m outta here!” Ugh.
    It your pastor’s statement is misguided, then color me another misguided clergy member.

  5. Pr. Jim Roemke
    January 19th, 2009 at 20:04 | #5

    Is it a sin not to be in church, not to gather around God’s Word and His sacraments joyfully any and every time they are offered?? Yes.
    Are there good reasons not to be at church? No.
    Any thing that keeps us from God’s Word and His sacraments is a sin. We live in a sinful world and sometimes the results of sin (i.e., sickness) occur and we have to deal with them. While we have to deal with them, we must never excuse them. And Craig, I always appreciate it when members call or e-mail to let me know they are sick, or to just apologize for not being in church.

  6. Craig J
    January 19th, 2009 at 20:22 | #6

    “you are out of town, you are sick, or you are dead.”
    I still go to church when I am oot, and if I am sick my pastor will most likely offer to visit, and if I am dead, they will carry me into church one last time.
    It is all good.

  7. Larry
    January 19th, 2009 at 21:16 | #7

    I do agree that we need to be in church every week, or more often if we can, there’s no law about the day Sunday though. I usually attend Thursday nights because I almost always have to work on Sundays. I’d have to quit my job otherwise. I thank God that our church has a weeknight Eucharist every week, it is a great blessing.

  8. Ted Gullixson
    January 20th, 2009 at 10:55 | #8

    The law stings the conscience and shows sin. The three reasons NOT to be in church need to be followed by three reasons why believers WANT to worship in Church—God the Father has created them and preserved their lives, God the Son has won forgiveness by the cross, and God the Holy Spirit has created faith in their hearts and continues to preserve that faith through Word and Sacraments; and by three reasons for our worship—to hear the Gospel; to receive the Sacraments; and to pray, praise, and give thanks. I am confident that your pastor covered these Gospel-motivated reasons in the rest of his sermon.

  9. George A. Marquart
    January 20th, 2009 at 15:21 | #9

    Forgive me, but this is not about being for or against sanctification. Now that I have caught my breath after all that metaphorical leaping about, I can tell you in a normal tone of voice that I am for it. This is about how to make sanctification happen. Since, in my second paragraph, I rejected your thesis in its entirety, I really have no need for a loophole. At least that was not my intention. I told the story only as a reminder of the fact that those who do not come to church on Sunday are of two kinds: those who want to be in church, and those who do not. I am now speaking of baptized Christians, not unbelievers. Certainly the “dictum of three reasons” does not apply to those who want to be in church but are “providentially hindered.” It does not help those who do not want to be in church either: first, because they are not there to hear it (but the preacher feels better, having vented, and the listeners also, because they are there and therefore among the good guys), and secondly, because even if they heard it, it is not likely to motivate them to come.
    But you are right, Prof. Kurt Marquart stated the crux of the matter so simply in “Aversion to Sanctification,” when he wrote: “The royal priesthood of believers needs to recover their sense of joy and high privilege in their daily service to God (1 Pet. 2:9).” My question, to all of you is, if you agree with Prof. Marquart’s formulation, how do you make that happen? Does the “dictum of three reasons” help or hinder?
    When someone objects to legalism or compulsion being used in the Kingdom of God, they are immediately accused of aversion to sanctification or antinomianism. Please look again at what the Formula of Concord has to say about the “Third Use.” They have it right: sanctification is a function of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. What makes the use of the Law acceptable among believers is the fact that it has “lost its coercion,” so the Formula. We tend to think that the “Old Adam” in us shows up only in the ordinary sins of daily life. But the vastly greater problem is that we remain opposed to the Gospel by our very nature even as new creatures in Christ. Is that not what our Lord tells us in Luke 5: 39 “No man also, having drunk old wine, straightway desireth new; for he saith, `The old is better.’”

  10. Bert Greenway
    January 20th, 2009 at 15:46 | #10

    “Yesterday, he informed us that we are to be present for Divine Service on Sunday morning, unless we are “providentially hindered” from being there, and then he explained what it means to be “providentially hindered.”
    “There are only three legitimate reasons for not showing up here on Sunday morning: you are out of town, you are sick, or you are dead.”
    Let me say at outset that I am not trying to be coy and cute, or even a smart___ you know what.
    I have struggled with this issue as a Pastor with my members and personally. And though I realize that it is impossible, and ripe for much misinterpretation, to judge a sermon based on one sentence, I have questions about this one quote. While I agree with the sentiment, and certainly lament the lack of attendance by any number of my own church members, and preach against the despising of God’s Word and preaching, I wonder how far we really wish to go with this. I hope I will not be automatically labeled an antinomian for asking some questions, but here goes.
    I think we would all agree that “providentially hindered” would include being sick or dead, but I’m not so sure what to do with being “out of town.” But before I get to that particular category of hindrance, does working on a Sunday really fall under the “providentially hindered” exception? We all know that nurses, doctors, policemen, firemen, hotel employees, airline pilots, store workers, and more are all required at times to work on a Sunday. One could argue, I suppose, that our people should choose vocations that would not cause them to do this, but that is not the world we live in these days.
    And what about the “out of town” exception? What about being out of town for vacation? Am I sinning if I go camping on a weekend, and because of the distance away from any church, I celebrate our Sunday morning with Morning Prayer or Matins with my family in the tent? What if I tour Europe and on a Sunday am found at at place which I cannot receive the Sacrament? Is that wrong? Is that sin? I don’t know.
    What about Boy Scouts? Belonging to the Boy Scouts will inevitably require a scout to take a weekend away from church? Should we tell our boys – no scouts? What about sports? I don’t know any sport played at a high level these days that does not require some Sundays away from home? Soccer, baseball, basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, etc. Is that a legitimate excuse for being out of town?
    [[McCain: Just to clarify...this was NOT a sermon. It was a pre-service announcement, informing us that one of his goals for the year is to work at increasing among our membership regular church attendance. You have to know Pastor Smith to know how well loved he is at our congregation and thus how his remarks were received. Everyone knew he was speaking for dramatic effect, but...he is right, and anyone with a modicum of God-given common sense would know, of course, if your attending to the needs of others on Sunday morning, you are "providentially hindered." etc. It's kind of sad to see, even pastors, jumping quickly to find loopholes when it comes to obedience to the Third Commandment, not to put too fine a point on it, or anything. Maybe it would not be a bad thing to examine our cherished priorities with our time.]]

  11. January 21st, 2009 at 08:25 | #11

    I have occasionally skipped church because I couldn’t face another terrible sermon.

  12. Steve from Montana
    January 21st, 2009 at 11:27 | #12

    “When someone objects to legalism or compulsion being used in the Kingdom of God, they are immediately accused of aversion to sanctification or antinomianism.”
    Of course, the opposite is true as well: whenever someone laments the lack of sanctification or suggests a spirit of antinomianism, they are immediately accused of legalism. (I think this is Paul’s main point here in his comments about the seeking of loopholes.)
    Rather than debating the three reasons for not being in worship (or 10 reasons or 100 reasons), I think it would be far more profitable to discuss why anyone would not *want* to be in worship since sin orginates in the heart, not the action.
    My experience has been that when a person truly wants to be gathered around Word and Sacrament in the fellowship of God’s people, almost no excuse will prevent him. When a person doesn’t want to be there, almost any excuse will do.

  13. Patrick Kyle
    January 22nd, 2009 at 13:20 | #13

    In order to fulfill my vocation as husband and father and provide food, shelter, and clothing, I am forced by my other vocation as employee to work on Sundays for six or eight months of each year. Where do the three reasons listed above leave me and those like me?(Note: Corporate America no longer gives a rip about our religious convictions or obligations.)
    [[Obviously, you are providentially hindered if your work requires you to work on Sundays and there are no other viable options for you.]]
    Also, in this part of the country, the state of our churches is not conducive to regular attendance if you take the Confessions seriously. There are some notable exceptions,(and we are members of one) but to drive 40-50 mile across the greater LA/Southern California area, if you don’t happen to live closer to one of these churches, isn’t a realistic expectation. I honestly won’t expose my children to the circus masquerading as Lutheran Christianity in many churches in my area.
    Another question: How does the New Testament’s admonition to not forsake the assembling together of the saints morph into ‘sinning by not attending every time the doors are open’?
    Other than the aforementioned passage from the book of Hebrews, the NT Scriptures are silent on frequency of attendance. The above discussion is now in the realm of “should or ought” I wish I had a dollar for every time these arguments have been used on me in an effort to subject my family and me to some schlock or poorly done worship service, placing sole responsibility on me and absolving themselves of any responsibility to preach well and make an effort at an edifying worship service.
    Before I am derided as an antinomian, I will list my minimum requirements for a church to be seriously cosidered by my family.
    1. A reasonable effort at doing the liturgy.
    2. Basic Law/Gospel Sermons

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