Question: "If a family spends three weekends out camping, is it wrong to spend time together instead of going to church, or can they worship God out in the open air just as well as in a church building?"
Answer: Certainly, there is nothing wrong with camping. It can be an excellent opportunity for recreation, which we all need, and a good chance for a family to be together. Even Jesus understood the need to "get away" from the normal routine of things and find some time for rest and relaxation (see Mark 6.30-31). And since families need to worship together, they can do so around a campfire just as well as they can around the dinner table or in their living room.
Thus, we must realize that worship is not limited to a church building or assembly of the saints, so that when we are able to spend some time out in God's creation, we can use it as an occasion to praise Him for His works. Psalm 19.1 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork." On the other hand, those who are Christians need to recognize that they do have other responsibilities in their relationship to Christ and His church in addition to their private, personal worship.
While it is true that as individuals we can find opportunities to worship God on a personal basis out in nature and elsewhere, God has also commanded His people to assemble on a regular basis so that they may engage in corporate worship together, especially on the first day of the week. This is implied when Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16.2, "On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come." It is possible both to enjoy the pleasures of camping and to assemble with saints on the first day of the week if one just makes the effort to do so.
The importance of gathering together on the first day of the week is confirmed in Acts 20.7 where we read, "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight." Notice that the disciples "came together" on this day. We cannot substitute any personal devotion that we might do while camping for the coming together that God commands of His people on the first day of the week, just as we cannot substitute attending church services on Sunday for personal piety in our daily lives. Both are essential to faithful service in God's sight.
In addition, the Bible indicates that fellowship with other believers is a vital reason for assembling together as a local church. That is why we are told in Hebrews 10.25, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching." By being with other Christians on a regular basis we can study together, pray with one another, and encourage each other in our activities and spiritual growth.,
Colossians 3.16 tells us, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." We cannot teach and admonish others when we are not with others. Weekend campers who decide not to attend church services miss this for themselves and fail in their responsibilities to help others. Our obligation is not just to the church or the preacher, but to the Lord. Yet, as we make certain that we please the Lord, we must also recognize our duties to encourage and exhort others in our worship. [From "Search for Truth," Oct. 4, 1998.] Brotherly, Wayne S. Walker
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