A New Paradigm of Faithfulness

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Paul once said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.”[1] There’s something about having freedom in Christ that actually makes us slaves. We are slaves to righteousness, slaves to God. Christian liberty is more about being free from Satan and sin than about possessing total autonomy. Christ does not free us from sin and the curse of the law so that we can live our best life now or pursue the American dream while knowing one day we will “go to heaven when we die.” Rather, he gave himself to redeem us from all iniquity and purify us for good works.[2] In short, the grace of God enables us to be faithful to Christ’s desire to bring the reign of God, the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in Heaven.

This is all fine and good. But, it does lead us to a simple, yet profound question: What does it mean to be transformed by the grace of God? Or, more simply, what does it mean to be faithful? How we answer that question will drastically impact the way in which we live our lives, and the way in which we view the world.

If you’ve grown up in the South, you were probably given the idea that being a faithful Christian means to faithfully attend church on Sundays. And, if you were exceptionally zealous for faithfulness, you would also attend Sunday night and Wednesday night services. In some circles of the Restoration Movement, church attendance has been so forcefully emphasized that it is not uncommon for me to hear people say they heard a sermon on Hebrews 10:25 once a month growing up. Exegetical problems with that concept aside, it is troubling for anyone to accentuate something that Scripture simply does not.

Attendance, though, is just the beginning for some. There has been a tendency among some believers to assert that the barometer by which we measure the faithfulness of a Christian is by what they do in their hour of worship on Sunday mornings. If they’re not doing everything in the way we think they should, then they’re not faithful. In the same way, this is how many Christians examine themselves to see if they are being faithful to Christ!

The consequences of this paradigm of thought are devastating. We have millions of believers who are examining themselves and coming to the conclusion that they are faithful because they attend church, and ‘do church’ the right way. And so, the salvation of God and mission of Christ have been reduced to creating a people who are zealous for their hour of worship on Sunday mornings, and who anticipate afterlife rewards for doing so.

Don’t get me wrong, I love assembling with God’s people on the first day of the week. I emphatically believe that every follower of Jesus should be seeking to serve others through a local congregation regularly. What’s more, I value doctrine and have my opinions on what I believe Scripture does and doesn’t say regarding corporate worship. My point is simply this: nowhere in Scripture, and most importantly, in Jesus’s teachings, is how we worship on Sunday’s considered to be a measurement of faithfulness. Corporate worship is mentioned by the apostles, but never in the manner described in this article.

It is evident to me that we need a new way of thinking about faithfulness. I believe the Hebrew prophet Isaiah can help us here. In Isaiah 1, we find one of the most sobering passages in Scripture: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of assemblies-I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly…Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”[3] God was not pleased with an Israel who was corporately worshiping him and offering sacrifices while they ignored the oppressed. God was much less concerned with their assembling and their sacrificing than he was how they loved others.

But what about Jesus? What did Jesus expect of his followers? Well, he said blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. He also placed substantial importance on the idea of loving our enemies, and the least of these. In Matthew 25, Jesus depicts a final judgement for us. In this illustration, the difference between the sheep and the goats is not that the sheep have good theology, and the goats don’t. Nor is the difference between the two that the sheep have good church attendance, and the goats don’t. Rather, the difference between the sheep and the goats is that the sheep fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger and visited the sick, while the goats did not.[4]

Do we care for the poor, the sick and the needy? We can have perfect church attendance and perfectly accurate doctrinal beliefs, but if we are not caring for these people, then we are not faithful to the cause of Christ. To have freedom in Christ means to be a blessing to others, for the glory of God.

In light of this, I think it best for Christians when discussing faithfulness to stop asking ourselves and others about church services on Sunday mornings, and start asking ourselves if we are caring for the people who Christ called us to love.

[1]. 1 Cor. 9:19.

[2]. Tit. 2:14.

[3]. Is. 1:13, 16-17.

[4]. Mt. 25:31-46.

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