Why go to church?
As I write these words it appears that another snow storm may necessitate the cancellation of our worship services- for the second Lord's Day in a row! Some of our church family have expressed to me that they feel a spiritual void when we are not able to worship together. I understand, and agree.
This break from our routine of meeting together provides an opportunity to consider an important question, "Why do we go to church?" Let me make it more personal: Why do you "go to church"?
Too many professed believers in Jesus Christ have never seriously considered why they go to church. When they go to church, they "go to church." (and when they don't -they don't). Or they go to church because they have a sense they should, but if pressed they might not be able to give a clear or compelling reason. Others may have a range of answers that while biblical in part, are not aligned with the overarching teaching and burden of Scripture. Still others have very personal reasons -"I need to, it's good for me," or "It's good for my family."
There is only one ultimate, primary, compelling, and moral/righteous reason for going to church:
In fact, I increasingly think the phrase, "going to church" is unhelpful. First, if we are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are the Church! True believers saying they are going to church is like me, Gabe Rogers, saying "I am going to Gabe" (yikes!). The Church might be going somewhere (for better or worse), but can the Church "go to church?" Think about it.
Secondly, I fear that the phrase "go to church" may be unwittingly used by most of us because it is neutral; it is safe; it is acceptable, it is respectable. Even the most secular neighbor or unbelieving relative likely has little problem with you or I "going to church." Even when we are not living as we should and perhaps have a guilty conscience, "going to church" likely is very acceptable, even soothing, to our proud, wayward soul.
Thirdly, the meeting of the local church isn't always "all that." I happen to love this local church that I am privileged to pastor, but you never know for sure that the assembling of the local church is going to be inherently a pleasant experience. After all, the assembling of the local church is an assembling of saints who are yet sinners, and a number of sinners who yet need to become saints. And then there is the music, the temperature, the sermon, the nursery, the weather(!)... and a hundred other things that can go wrong or be less than desirable.
"So what is the alternative?" you say. Before I answer, let me be clear that my concern in this post is not primarily about the phrase, "going to church." My aim is much higher than mere phraseology (I don't plan to banish the phrase "going to church" from my children's mouths!) My point is that our common language can reveal our hearts and our understanding of why we do what we do.
What might be an alternative phrase that presses us to think more biblically about what we are doing when the church meets together? Here it is: "We are going to worship- to worship God."
We don't need any more people merely "going to church." There are plenty of churches and plenty of people going to them . But few are the churches, and too few are the people who earnestly, reverently, eagerly, longingly, assemble for the singular and preeminent purpose of worshipping God, and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ -crucified, buried, risen, and coming again.
And this expression, "Going to worship God," isn't so neutral, so safe, so acceptable, or respectable, is it? Telling your unbelieving co-worker or relative that you are "going to worship God" has a different impact, doesn't it? And telling our sinful selves, "You are going to worship almighty God today" isn't so appeasing to our flesh, is it? "Going to worship God" means that self might have to get itself together, humble itself, examine itself, stir up itself, yes, even deny its precious self! "Going to church" has potential possibilities for pleasing self. But "Going to worship God?" Not so much.
Last Lord's day, and tomorrow if this local church should not assemble, I will not miss "going to church." But I will miss worshipping God, in the assembly of this local church. Of course I can and ought to worship God alone, and I can and ought to worship God with my family. But there is not a substitute for worshipping God in the assembly; in the company of His people, the Church.
The Psalmists state this truth and longing often:
"I will give You thanks in the great congregation; I will praise You among a mighty throng. (Psa 35:18)
"Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart,In the company of the upright and in the assembly." (Psa 111:1)
"I shall pay my vows to the LORD, Oh may it be in the presence of all His people. (Psa 116:14)
So, don't go to church (yes, this is your pastor speaking!). Worship God. And pray with the psalmist, "Oh may it be in the presence of His people."
Looking forward to worshipping with this local church soon, Lord willing. Or better yet, with all the saints if Jesus should come first!
Gabe Rogers, Pastor
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