by Stan Smith
Why do we go to church? Have you ever asked yourself that? I know I have. When I was a younger Christian, I was quite sure that it was an institutional thing. I didn't see it as some sort of evil (like too many disaffected folks do these days), but I thought it was more of ... an unnecessary good. It wasn't a command, to be sure. You could be just as a good of a Christian without it -- of that I was sure.
Maybe it's the product of years. You know, "Wisdom comes with age" ... that kind of thing. Maybe it's the product of too much experience of my own misguided ideas. You know, "We learn from our mistakes" ... that kind of thing. Maybe it is a product of not allowing my personal preferences cloud my understanding the Bible. Whatever it is, I don't see it that way anymore. Amid an ever-growing number of Christians who are moving away from attending a local church, I am becoming more certain that it is biblically recommended ... nay, commanded.
So, why go to church? There are a variety of reasons, good ones. Some recommend church attendance. Some command it. I'll do the commands first.
The first, foremost, and most obvious command to assemble together with other believers locally ("church") is the command in Hebrews 10. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" is the unavoidable phrase (Hebrews 10:25). The author of Hebrews even offers reasons for why. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering" (Hebrews 10:23). "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24). "Encouraging one another" (Hebrews 10:25). This command to not forsake assembling together is predicated on the need for interaction between believers. If churches today understood this, it might radically change how they "do church", but their negligence does not provide an excuse to disobey the command.
That this is a command should be obvious in the examples we get from Scripture. The first church had this sort of method of attendance: "Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes" (Acts 2:46). It was their habit, you see, to gather. They met for the preaching of the Word, to share the Lord's Supper, and to give to ministry. Paul writes most of his epistles to churches, local gatherings of believers. Going to church wasn't odd or optional; it was the norm.
The second "command" isn't as direct, but neither is it ambivalent. Paul writes to both Timothy and Titus about, among other things, church polity. How do we "do church"? He explains the qualifications for elders and deacons. This isn't a direct command, but it is a command. If you are going to eliminate "church" as a local gathering of believers, an organization, then you would necessarily negate any need for elders or deacons. They are part of the structure that is "church". And they are, apparently, normative. (Paul didn't seem to be offering suggestions of what it might be like if some Christians who already are "the church" decided to gather together as a group. He seemed to be offering the instructions on how it ought to be.) The same is true for instructions in 1 Corinthians 11,14, for instance. Paul gives instructions on how to "do church", a waste of time if church was intended to be some nebulous, entirely optional gathering of believers.
Beyond commands, however, there are really good reasons to go to church. I understand that in many places in our world today, it can be a bit discouraging, even daunting. Still, Jesus establishes His church, we are commanded to gather together, and church structure is explained, so it must be a good idea to do it, eh? So why, besides the commands, would we go to church?
On one hand, there is great personal gain in going to church. We need to hear the preaching of the Word. There is value in fellowship. It allows for accountability. It provides training. It offers support, prayer, insight, correction. It is an absolute part of Christianity. John writes, "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us" (1 John 1:3). Corporate worship plays a big part in the Scriptures and, consequently, in our lives. God Himself has put effort into meeting our needs in the church.
He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastor-teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:11-14).
On the other hand, we are needed. That's not often recognized. According to Paul, each one of us is gifted by the Spirit. Those gifts are largely exercised in the church. We are needed by other Christians to help them maintain stability when they are wavering, to be stirred by us to love and good works, to be encouraged. They need us to pray for them, to support them, to "lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet" (Hebrews 12:12-13).
"It's a relationship, not a religion." You've heard it before. The truth is that it is both. Christianity is predicated on a vertical relationship between God and Man that produces a change in the horizontal relationships between believers. Fellowship is not optional; it is commanded. Church is not optional; it is necessary. Can you survive without church? I'm sure it is possible. Church does not confer salvation. If you were alone on a desert island, you could still pray, read, worship. But is survival the question? I would suggest that it's not optimum. When considering our relationship with Christ, I would think that "optimum" would be our aim. And, frankly, unless you're a shut in, why would you not want to reap the benefits and participate in giving to others of what God has given you? Perhaps the better question here is "Why would you not go to church?"
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I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.
For more writings you can see my blog at birdsoftheair.blogspot.com.
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