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Summary: The believer's relationship to their local church depends upon whether they see their church service as the place where they arrive empty and expect to leave full, or arrive full and expect to leave empty.

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Empty Or Full?

The Believer’s Relationship To Church

by Dr. Andrew Corbett

There are some places where it is good to turn up empty and leave full. If you’re a customer, this includes the supermarket, the gas station, or a restaurant. There are other places where it is good to turn up full and leave empty. If you’re an athlete, a competitor, or a performer, this includes the arena, the court, or the stage. But which should it be if you’re a believer going to church?

I may be a lone voice on this issue, and I am certainly going against the general direction of culture when it comes to this issue, but it is my conviction that it is better to turn up to church on Sunday full and to leave empty, than it is to turn up empty and expect to be filled. In fact, if any believer takes their walk with Christ and their preparation for eternity seriously, they will be denying themselves one of the greatest blessings they could ever receive if they turn up to church empty and hope to be filled.

If God hadn’t called me to full-time pastoral ministry from a young age, I would have chosen to have become a professional athlete. From an even younger age I had an aptitude for tennis. I was playing in the senior club events when I was still a young teenager. It was my dream to be a professional tennis player. But God had other ideas.

I think about the similarities between playing sport and doing life. Apart from tennis, I take a keen interest in AFL football, particular the team of which I am a member, Geelong. At any particular AFL game where Geelong is playing, there are people who turn up somewhat empty and leave somewhat full. These people are called the spectators. There are also about forty people though who turn up full and leave utterly empty. These are the players.

Church is not meant to be a spectator sport. This idea has nothing to do with the size of the church even though it seems that more people might attend mega-churches because they prefer spectating than participating, as there are many mega-churches that work hard at not simply being a great Sunday show. In fact, I have seen relatively small churches that have succumbed to the idea that “church” is about empty people leaving their services as full people and have dismissed one of their potential advantages (for greater participation from its congregation) and try to make their church service into a spectacle that fills rather than providing worshipers the opportunity to empty.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

First Corinthians 12:7

Does Worship Empty or Fill Us?

Believers have their devotion to Christ informed by the Scriptures which has the testament of two covenants - the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant. The New Testament (the record of the New Covenant) reveals that what was written in the Old Testament was written to instruct, inspire and give encouragement to followers of Christ.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

Jesus declared that the New Covenant was not less than the Old Covenant, but was actually the raising of the bar (not the lowering of it). Thus, while we are not saved by works of the Law (Rom. 3:20), the New Covenant reiterates all of the Ten Commandments (with the exception of the Sabbath, see Hebrews 4). In fact, Jesus actually said that the New Covenant goes further and higher than the Old Covenant.

ΒΆ “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:21-22

The Covenant that Christ established does not lower the standards or the requirements of the Old Covenant, on the contrary, the New Covenant fulfils and therefore raises the standards established in the Old Covenant. Note Christ’s, “You have heard that it was said …” statements in the beatitudes. The New Covenant not only raises the moral standards, it also raises the standard of devotion to God, that is: worship (Rom. 12:1), and in particular, corporate worship (as distinct from private or individual worship). And one of the most significant advantages of the New Covenant over the Old is that the true follower of Christ has been given the Holy Spirit to enable them live a fully devoted life to God.

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