As a minister, I get the question (or various forms of it) “Do I really have to go to church?” I rarely find that question being asked of the Sunday morning gathering, but more often than not referring to Sunday morning Bible class, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night.
This is a question I’ve wrestled with. As church leader it’s frustrating when people don’t show up. However, I don’t want to make it into a legalistic issue either. So how should we proceed?
Perhaps a good place to start is our understanding of “church” in the first place. The New Testament tells us the story of the birth Jesus’ church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). That day, the Holy Spirit explodes on the scene and the church is born. The rest of the New Testament fleshes out the theology of the church, but not in terms we’d think.
For instance, the church is never once referred to or related to a place or building. the early church would have a hard time with our saying “I’m going to church” because in their view, how could you go to something you already are?
Scripture paints a picture of a living organism, not a static institution as manifestation the church. The Apostle Peter says this:
5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5, ESV)
Paul writes this:
9 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22, ESV)
Paul’s famous “body” analogy of 1 Corinthians 12 concludes like this:
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor. 12:27, ESV)
So we can see that the Church is a place that exists anywhere the people of God, who make it up, are gathered.
That begins to change our view of things, because that means that we are the Body of Christ, and Christ is present when we are gathered, and we can see in a bunch of Scriptures (too long to go into here) that we get together as a people on Sunday morning.
Typically when someone misses church, folks with throw out this scripture to condemn them for missing:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25, ESV)
But lest we proof text someone to death and make assumptions that Scripture itself isn’t making, perhaps our view of church must return to the original intent of God.
When we gather together on Sunday morning, or any time, for that matter with our brothers and sister to encourage, lift up praise, pray, and commune, something incredible happens: We experience God.
Typically this is called “sacramental theology” and if we boil it down, the point of coming together is to dwell in unity in the Presence of God…and you really can’t get that any other way than getting together with other Christians.
Some will argue that Scripture doesn’t extend that to Sunday evenings and Wednesday nights. To that I say, “You’re right!” However, I will ask this question:
If assembling together with other Christians to learn, to study, to laugh, to pray, to sing, if that gathering helps us experience God’s grace and draws us closer together, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of it?
What could be more enticing or more important than that? What could make you NOT want to come and be with your spiritual family? What could be more pressing than that?
So I leave the ball in your court.
If you find yourself discouraged or tired of, disenchanted or bored with, annoyed or too tired for and of your congregation…i’ll bet my last hotdog on a stick that you’ve probably disengaged and really only attend Sunday mornings. If that’s true, then you’re probably spiritually starving to death and those are all the symptoms.
It also shows a skew in our personal priorities – a lack of self-control even, that we are so fickle and quick to put other things in the place of our spiritual life.
Instead of viewing church as another item to check off the list of pretend perfunctory piety, perhaps we need to remember what we are doing when we get together: being the visible manifestation of Christ on earth and experiencing God together.
I’ll see you Sunday,