These are some follow up notes on the sermon from Hebrews 10:19-31. 


Some background on the billboard on I-65.


If you want the Sunday School version of the sermon , go here. If you want the youth Bible study version, go here.


Here’s thumbnail sketch of the argument:

Why go to church?
*The desire of the psalmist to meet with God’s people is normative for us: “I rejoiced when they said unto me…"
*Hebrews 10 commands it — go to church and go to heaven; go to church or go to hell; I-65 billboard: “go to church or the devil will get you"
*In church we experience the presence of God and God’s people in a unique way; we receive gifts we cannot get anywhere else — we meet God where he has promised to be present (in word and sac)


And to supplement the argument for church attendance, here is a sketch of an argument for church membership:

Why join a church? (parishes/geographic location used to be basis for church membership; that is no longer the case in an age of denominations)
*Hebrews 13 — obey your elders — who are your elders? If they told you to take membership vows, would you obey? They are “soul accountants” who must keep track of you, and to do that, they must know who is in and who is out
*There is no such thing as an “unchurched Christian” or “lone ranger” Christians — outside of the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation; you cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your mother; church as Noah’s ark; Christians are sheep which means we belong in flocks with shepherds
*Acts 2 — the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved; the Christian life is impossible apart from church; body illustration — you need the body, the body needs you; Petersen quote: “There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian”


Another way to approach the necessity of gathering for public worship is to focus on the 4th commandment. The chief way we sanctify the Christian Sabbath/Lord’s Day is to gather for public worship.


The hymn, “To Your Temple I Repair” (also known as “To Your Temple I Draw Near”) is a wonderful summary of many truths I preached in the first part of the sermon. It focuses on what it means for the church to enter God’s heavenly home when we gather. The hymn is an excellent description of what happens in public worship, how we enter the true temple, how God gives us his gifts, etc. Here are the lyrics with some of the most relevant lines highlighted:

1 To your temple I repair;
Lord, I love to worship there,
when within the veil I meet
Christ before the mercy seat.

2 Thro' him I am reconciled,
through him I become your child.
Abba, Father, give me grace
in your courts to seek your face.

3 While your glorious praise is sung,
touch my lips, unloose my tongue,
that my joyful soul may bless
Christ the Lord, my righteousness.

4 While the pray'rs of saints ascend,
God of love, to mine attend.
Hear me, for your Spirit pleads;
hear, for Jesus intercedes.

5 While I listen to your law,
fill my heart with humble awe,
let your gospel bring to me
life and immortality.

6 While your minister proclaims
peace and pardon in your name,
by your grace, through faith, may I
hear you speaking from the sky.

7 From your house when I return,
may my heart within me burn,
and at evening let me say,
"I have walked with God today!”
Going to worship each Lord’s Day is more foundational than having a daily “quiet time,” despite the fact that the latter tends to receive more attention in modern evangelicalism. In Psalm 87:2, God says he “loves the gates of Zion [the place of corporate temple worship] more than all the [family] dwellings of Jacob.” In other while family worship times are good and necessary, God prizes the gathering of the covenant community to a higher degree. He loves the public worship offered to him more than private devotions.
The Federal Vision controversy is largely in the rear view mirror now, but I believe it had a salutary effect on Reformed evangelicalism, especially in raising awareness of the importance of church, public worship, and the sacraments. The Federal Vision was all about recovering an understanding of the visible church as the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (WCF 25.2). When the controversy was at its peak in the early 2000s, I had an email exchange with a PCA pastor who I respected but who was on the other wide of this divide. He had a rather large church but only 40% of those on the membership roster showed up for worship on the average Sunday. I pointed out that my liturgical and sacramental theology allowed me to make a much stronger case for church attendance than his very thin ecclesiology. At the time I was an assistant pastor at Auburn Avenue (AAPC). Here’s a portion of my response to him:
Whatever the case, you have to admit that I have a much better argument to give to your 450 no-shows as to why they ought to be in church every Sunday!
Seriously, though, I think you have the whole solution backwards.  Have you stopped to ask why 40% of your congregation believes that church attendance isn't that important?  Could it be that some of them are content with their membership in the "invisble" church, and see the visible community as adjunct to that, at best?  Could it be that they really don't understand the special efficacy of the means of grace, of Word and sacrament, in the gathered community?  And I certainly don't think that further prying apart the church and salvation is going to solve your problem!  If anything, from what I can gather about your ecclesiology, you won't be able to give them very strong reasons for showing up on Sunday mornings since salvation and church membership are separate issues. If I'm already saved and I think I'm doing fine in my walk, why bother with church?
Compare your situation to AAPC, where a high ecclesiology and sacramental theology has been touted from the pulpit and in Sunday school for quite sometime.  We have about 230 members.  I can count on one hand the number of people missing on just about any given Sunday -- and even those virtually always have a good excuse.  We have about 90% of our people back for a Sunday night preaching service -- even on the night of the Super Bowl!  I've NEVER heard of someone missing church "just to sleep in" or to play golf or to go fishing.  Perhaps it's happened, but our people know why they really need to be there when the saints gather.
Now whose ecclesiology is bearing better fruit?
But instead of just letting those results speak for themselves, I'll add a few more thoughts.  I think the problem you're facing is precisely the one the "AAPC theology" (for lack of a better name) is so well equipped to answer.
As far as I can tell, you view soteriology as our relationship with God and ecclesiology as our relationship to one another.  They are on separate axes, and not related in any direct way.  In other words, the church is merely a collection of people (albeit, rightly related to God) who have come together because God commands them to.  To put your views in a framework you'll recognize,  church attendance is a matter of law, not gospel (and I know you wouldn't want to put it that way -- but that's roughly the way I've seen church membership and attendance characterized in broad evangelicalism).  You go to church because you have to.  And, yes you may be helped in your personal walk with Jesus, but the church itself is not the agent and instrument of salvation.  The church (ecclesiology) and salvation (soteriology) have to be held apart.  You get saved; then, as an after effect, you (might) begin going to church regularly "because it's a good thing to do."

But that's not what we AAPCers understand the church to be.  In our view, the church is part of the gospel in the sense that the gospel creates the church and the church administers the gospel. Being part of the church itself involves a relationship to God because it is precisely in the church that He is to be found.  Christ makes himself available to us in a special way in the gathered service -- and that special presence and blessing cannot ordinarily be found in any other place.  Christ is present and active in the preaching of the Word, in the administration of the sacraments, in the corporate prayers of the covenant people, and in our relationships one to another.  All of that, taken together, constitutes our relationship to God.  Ecclesiology is soteriology, and vice versa.  There is no salvation (ordinarily) outside the community.  If you want Christ, as our people here well know, you better come and get him on Sunday mornings.

None of this promotes the presumption you so (rightly) fear.  In fact, I think it strongly counteracts it.  To be part of the church apart from faith -- like hearing the Word  apart from faith and receiving the sacraments apart from faith -- only brings greater condemnation.  But that's because the church is where we find on offer the grace and blessing of Christ through the outward, visible ministry of the gospel.  People need to be regularly warned about the dangers of forsaking the church (cf. Heb. 10:19-31; v. 25 has to be read in its wider context) because to do so is to forsake Christ.  Apostasy from the kingdom, house, and family of God is a live possibility (and Calvin rightly viewed forsaking the church as tantamount to apostasy).  As the confession says, genuine faith trembles before those scriptural threats (a hard thing for faith to do if those threast never get mentioned from the pulpit!)
The bottom line is that however much you may see yourself as challenging revivalized Calvinism and evangelicalism, so long as you share their basic presuppositions about the church, the means of grace, and salvation, you will be unable to combat the very problems that so concern you.  A high, reformed-catholic ecclesiology is the answer.