By Chad Napier, Crosswalk.com
As we approach Easter Sunday, the local church will be visited by many families. The church usually enjoys its highest attendance on Easter Sunday and the Sunday closest to Christmas. The traditional increase will possibly be even more visible this year as we ease into normalcy following many absences from the pandemic fears for over two years. Those in attendance will include the regulars, visitors from out of town, holiday visitors, and those merely just visiting. The holiday visitors are those who have a membership or familial attachment to the church, but for whatever reason do not regularly attend other than Christmas and Easter. These “irregular regulars” make it a point to make the biannual visit to the local church on Easter Sunday and/or around Christmas. They are commonly referred to as “Christmas poinsettias,” “Easter lilies,” or the “Chreasters” – Christians who only attend on Christmas and Easter.
Even though we attach such labels, we must be mindful that God does not love the Easter lily any less than those who warm a pew every Sunday. However, we as the church must prepare for the presence of the unchurched and the backslidden on Easter Sunday. In anticipation for any church service, the regular attendees are to be in prayer for attentive hearts and receptive ears of those present Easter Sunday. Further, much prayer should be offered for the pastor that he is given a convicting message to the lost who are visiting and for those who have strayed away from the church. The Easter Sunday message is important as it may be the last message many will hear for another eight months. It is too easy for the regulars to take the Easter Sunday service for granted and become distracted by the dresses, suits, egg hunts, and family gatherings to follow. This feeling of misplaced comfort gives us a sinful confidence that this service is merely a bonus and a Super Bowl coronation for us since we have been present all year long.
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Our Reaction to These Attendees
It is easy for the regular attendee to have awkward or mixed feelings when a sporadic member attends on Easter Sunday. We are excited to see the familiar faces, but in the back of our minds we instinctively say to ourselves, “where have you been?” This mindset can manifest itself into an unwelcoming sinful spirit by considering ourselves above or holier than the visitor. The regulars of the church naturally feel forsaken by those who only attend services for special holidays. Paul wrote of a similar feeling of Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10 that he “hath forsake me, having loved this present world.” The irregular church attendee, absent a providential hindrance, certainly has a “love of the world” by not making the house of worship a priority. We do not want to make such a big deal of the Chreaster’s presence in a manner that would cause undue embarrassment. However, we need to acknowledge their presence and our excitement for seeing their face.
God’s Word teaches us to love and have compassion toward those who need a closer relationship with the Savior. It is helpful to recall the reaction of the father and the elder brother toward the prodigal son upon his return to the family. We are well-versed on his glorious reception after wasting his inheritance by “living his best life” in the world. However, recall the father met the returning son as soon as he caught sight of the prodigal in the horizon. The elder brother, however, reacted in jealousy for the prodigal’s treatment and regretted his own continued faithfulness to the father. The last verse tells us of the reasoning for the placed importance. “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”
Some Chreasters attending church on Easter Sunday will boldly acknowledge, “this is my one Sunday of the year.” However, others genuinely have a desire for the fellowship and time of worship. This Sunday could be the day they are returning to the spiritual family and are not just using it as an appeasement of the physical family. We pray they have a renewed desire to restore fellowship and worship with the local assembly. So how should the church biblically treat Chreasters?
1. With Love
A Christ-centered spiritual church is a loving church. Paul in his greeting to the church at Philippi in the first chapter wrote, “grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our love toward the visitor wishes grace and God’s peace be upon them. It treats the regulars with the same loving spirit as the Easter-only visitors. It loves the saint with the same spirit as the sinner.
The apostle in 1 John 3:14 identified the “love of the brothers” is a mark of having “passed out of death into life.” Imparting a spirit of love is not an option. Jesus commanded it to his people. The degree of love we must bestow is described by Jesus in John 13:34. We are to love “just as [he] loved [us].” Jesus bestowed much grace and mercy upon the sinful and downtrodden in his earthly ministry. So how does the church act in love toward the Chreaster? We can pat ourselves on the back for greeting the visitor with a warm smile and a firm handshake, but consider telling them that you love them and miss seeing them and their family. Tell the Chreaster you saw where their son made the basketball team last fall, their daughter made the Honor Roll last semester, the death of a family member, or even mention an old memory that you once shared when they regularly attended services.
In 1 Peter 1:22, we are taught to have a loving spirit “having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” This “sincere brotherly love” is something more than a “hello” and “good to see you”. It is a deep and personal heartfelt affection not dependent upon faithfulness or obedience.
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2. Show of Care and Concern
In Philippians 1:7-8, Paul told the church “even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart.” The church is compelled to have this same care and remembrance for its people whether they are regulars or visitors. Professing Christians or church members who are satisfied with seasonal, sporadic, or rare church attendance are in great spiritual need. 1 John 2:19 speaks of a group of professors who left the assembly. The apostle explained “they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” We are warned in Hebrews 10:25 to “not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” “Forsake” is a strong term referring to leaving or abandoning while “exhort” is “to strongly encourage.” Anyone who does not desire to have a strong bond or desire for the local church has forsaken a vital part of spiritual connection for growth and dedicated service in Christ for Christ.
3. In Prayer
Paul assured the church in Philippians 1:3-4 that he “thank[ed] my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” Paul prayed that the members of the church would continue with a deep reliance upon the dependability of Christ. Similarly, we are to pray for the irregulars to develop this spiritual reliance. Spiritual neglect was the cause of the rebuke of the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16. The Laodicean church was largely characterized by being lukewarm spiritually and self-satisfied with its worldly riches and “have need of nothing.” It is easy for the regulars of the church to consider those who sporadically attend to be the Laodiceans. However, the church that does not fervently pray for the lost and the backslidden are just as guilty of the reproach of lukewarm spirituality. Holiday church attendees are at best lukewarm spiritually. They evidently have no need of the church other than during the religious holidays. It was a heart for others that was a key in the restoring of Job. In Job 42:10, we see that “the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
4. With Gentleness
We must not treat the Chreaster with heavy hands and a cold-hearted spirit. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesians 4:2, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” God in his lovingkindness, mercy, and grace has bestowed much gentleness on us all. The tender approach taught by Paul to the church goes hand in hand with humbleness and humility.
God’s great mercy delivered us all out of a season of sin, times of spiritual departure, and a lack of a desire for closeness with our Savior. We must admit to ourselves when asking the question, “are we really any better in the eyes of God for attending 50 more Sunday services?” Similarly, in Psalm 18:35, David wrote, “thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.”
We are strong not by our ability and provision to attend worship services regularly. We are strong by the power of our God. It is by His hand we are restored and by his strength, we are enabled.
5. With Humility
The church should be a source of humble encouragement to its entire people irrespective of spiritual age or frequency of church attendance. Humility is a fruit of the spirit and comforts those around us while it strengthens our own closeness with Christ. Paul in Philippians 2:1-4, wrote “if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
We are to make much of our Savior and not in our worldly identification labels. Our union with Christ is not trumped by our union with the brethren. Our dealings with humanity, however, are a reflection of our walk with Christ. We cannot comfort ourselves by resting upon our own obedience to the physical church. Paul spoke of great encouragement by being united with Christ, his love, his Spirit, his tenderness, and his compassion. Accordingly, he taught we should share each of the attributes we have in Christ with those around us.
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Our Welcoming Compassion
It is incumbent upon the church to look upon all of the visitors who come its way with love, in prayer, with gentleness, and humility. Whether we saw the visitor last Sunday, back in December, or even Easter 2019, we must reflect the love of Christ by showing our welcoming compassion irrespective of their supposed lack of faith to our assembly.
In closing, remember two important figures following the crucifixion of our Savior and prior to that first Easter. In John 19:38-39, we read of Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus who would be defined as Chreasters by today’s church. Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, “but secretly for fear of the Jews” and Nicodemus who “at the first came to Jesus by night.” However, they valued both the body of Jesus and the importance of his burial. Accordingly, they “positioned” and “prepared” the Savior’s body in the new sepulcher in full anticipation of that Easter morning.
Our hope and our prayer is that all of the attendees of our church whether they are visiting on Easter Sunday “in secret” or “in the nighttime hour” are “positioned” and “prepared” for the coming of our Savior. We are thankful for the opportunity to worship with them on this glorious day of celebration. We praise in him knowing His love and our salvation are not dependent upon our church attendance or any of our actions. The Heavenly Father did not see His son upon the cross. He saw all of humanity lost without any hope because of our sins. Now because of Jesus, he does not see us in our dirty rags of sin. He sees His son and His righteousness. This is the task of the church in its treatment of anyone coming into the fold on Easter Sunday – look at each of them in the love of the Savior.