In rural America, off a country road, on the soft soil of a weathered field, stands a sobering message for every passer-by: Go to church or the devil will get you!
The words are neatly strewn across a homemade billboard adorned with flood lights and a painted silhouette of a red figure, apparently Satan, holding a sling-blade. Go to church, the warning hisses, or be his victim.
As hokey as it sounds, the warning is right, you know, at least in a sense.
Now to be clear, if the sign means (and it likely does) that you’d better attend a weekly meeting or else Lucifer will eat your lunch, then no, that’s not right. That would be Anglo folk religion — more akin to African animism than anything Christian.
But, more positively, if “go to church” means be part of a gospel-shaped community, and “the devil will get you!” means you’re more susceptible to his schemes apart from such community, then the sign is absolutely right. By all means, if this meaning is the case, go to church or the devil will get you. Here’s why: first, Satan is real and he hates you; second, God designs that Christians persevere in faith by means of one another.
I preached about this recently from 1 Peter 5:8-10 which reminds us to be alert and watchful for our prowling adversary the devil. Though we must do so individually we must do this in biblical community as well. Parnell goes on to explain:
God has designed our warfare to include one another. We can’t wield the shield of faith alone. We need brothers and sisters to come alongside us to hold up our arms. More specifically, we need brothers and sisters to speak faith-building words to our souls.
After the warning of temptation, Hebrews 3:12 says “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
You see, the household of God is a talking family. We say things to each other, powerful things to each other about the truth of God and the victory of Christ. We exhort one another — be it encouragement, warning, or counsel — and the Holy Spirit breathes upon what is otherwise babbling to effect real devil-defying faith in our lives. This kind of speaking is a glorious staple of gospel-shaped community. And Satan wants you to have no part in it.
Satan wants us isolated from one another. He wants to find us all alone in the thunderstorm of our own thoughts, when we’re stuck in the sounds of our sinful souls. It is the oldest trick in the book, that he’d catch us when we’re perusing the tree by ourselves (2 Corinthians 11:3). We’ve too often repeated that scene of Genesis 3. But then imagine God’s truth crashing into the picture. Imagine that happening today as we gather together.