Why I Go To Church

This Sunday I had to miss church. It is the second Sunday I have missed because I have been sick. Recovering now, but I so hate to miss church. Somehow the week is just not the same when I have not been able to meet with my church family and join in praise of God and hear His word.

Many times I have heard the statement “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” And the one I love is “Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”

While I agree with those statements and sadly realize that many people think going to church makes them a Christian without any real commitment to the Lord or any attempt to follow His word, I question why we would say that.

Of course, there are many who cannot go to church because of health issues or work issues. With the Covid-19 this past year many of us could not go to church because our churches were closed. But I have to wonder why anyone who calls themself Christian and can go to church would choose not to.

Oh I know. There are many stories of people who have been hurt by the church. Members who were judgmental, personal rejection, people who acted one way in church on Sunday and lived differently the rest of the week and the list goes on and on.

I have been hurt – badly hurt – more than once by church people.

So why do I still go to church?

  • First, because I believe the church was God’s plan for spreading the Good News.

In Matthew’s gospel we are told that Jesus declared “you are Peter (which means rock) and upon this rock I will build my church.” I know different denominations disagree on exactly what that meant for Peter, but putting our differences aside, I think we can see that Jesus had plans to use men to build the church. Notice that He did not say “build the church” but rather “build my church.

However, in today’s world the definition of “church” has lost its original meaning.

Look in a dictionary and you will find “church” explained this way:

  •  A building for public Christian worship.
  • The public worship of God or a religious service in such a building
  • The whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.
  • Any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a Christian denomination.

But the word “church” is not actually in the original manuscripts of the Bible. The word that was used (and was translated into church) was “Ekklesia.” In the time of the Greek Empire the word was used to describe the assembly of free citizens to discuss, debate and express their thoughts on the community, the government. Many say it was the beginning of a democratic society.

This word is a compound word. “Ek” means “out of.” “Kaleo” mean “to call.” So the church is supposed to be people who have received the call of God and the outcome of their answer to that call.

Simply put, ekklesia means community.

Just before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father for this community. In that prayer He said,

I ask not only on behalf of these (that’s the disciples), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word (that’s us), that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

  • Most of the New Testament is addressed not to an individual, but to a community of believers. Many of the Psalms talk about praising “in the congregation” or “in the sanctuary” indicating there was a place for worshipping God with others. The Revelation given to John was for the seven churches. When Jesus left His disciples His instruction was to gather together in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. The book of Acts shows that they were in a group praying together – in unity – when the Holy Spirit came. Later as Peter preached a powerful sermon we are told that “the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved”. As people came to faith in Jesus Christ it followed that they were to be a part of this community of believers.
  • In the Apostle Paul’s writing he referred to the church as a body. He talked about we all are a part of that body. The body is made up of many different parts – but if we remove a part from the body, that part will die. And although the body may go on living, it will not be as good as it had been before. From that illustration I understand that to remove myself from my church family has a great danger that I will spiritually begin to die. And even if I am so strong, so spiritual, have such a great knowledge of the Word of God that I would be fine without being a part of a community of believers, that is all the more reason for me to attend. The church needs me just as I need the church.
  • The example of Jesus when He was on earth. Luke’s Gospel tells us that “And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”
  • To set an example for my children and grandchildren. In our society today our youth are being hit with false ideas and dangerous teachings. While the church is not supposed to be the only place our children learn of God (in fact the Bible is clear that main responsibility belongs in the home with the parents), faithful attendance sends a message to our children. It tells them belonging to a community of believers is important.

This community of believers is far from perfect. Why? Because it is made of people just like me – and I am certainly not perfect. I fear that we view church like a consumer. “The church doesn’t meet my needs.” Sorry, but the point of being a part of a community of believers is more than having your needs met. It is to also help meet the needs of others. The New Testament is full of calls for us to minister to others. While we can do that outside of church – and we should – I think it again speaks to the idea that Jesus had when He prayed to the Father that we would be one. Here are some of those “one anothers.”

“…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)

“…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)

“…Love one another…” (John 13:34)

“…Love one another…” (John 13:34)

“…Love one another…” (John 13:35)

“…Love one another…” (John 15:12)

“…Love one another” (John 15:17)

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)

“…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

“Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)

“…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)

“…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)

“…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)

“Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)

“…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)

“…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)

“…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)

“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)

“…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)

“Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)

“…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

“Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)

“…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

“…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians

“Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)

“Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)

“…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)

“Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)

“Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)

“…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)

“…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)

“…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)

“…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)

“…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)

“Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)

“…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

“…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)

“…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)

“Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)

“Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)

“…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)

“…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)

“…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)

“…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)

“…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)

“Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)

“…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)

“…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)

“…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)

“…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)

“…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)

“…Love one another.” (II John 5)

Final point is this verse in Ephesians:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

If you have been hurt by the church, do not give up on it. Find another church. We have doctors/hairdressers/restaurants that we have difficulty with. We do not stop going to a doctor, getting our hair cut, or eating out. We just move on to find another one. I am not advocating moving around from church to church like a consumer. But if you have been hurt, the answer is not to ignore the plan of Jesus as we are told that Jesus not only loved the church – but gave Himself for it.

Ephesians 3:19 – “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”

Church – Simple and Fun?

Recently I saw a church sign that invited people to come because their church was “simple and fun.”

That sounded great! Who would not want to go to a church that was “fun” and keeping things “simple” in the chaotic times we have been experiencing sounds like a good idea.

But is it? Is that the purpose of the church – to keep things fun and simple?

I grew up in a very legalistic church. The furthest thought then was for church to be fun. Often I joke when I wondered if some activity would be sin I just had to ask myself, “Would I have fun doing it?” If the answer was “yes” then clearly it would be sin.

Of course I am exaggerating a bit, but church was never simple. There were many man-made rules to follow. Those of us who questioned were considered in danger of losing our salvation.

So, believe me – I never want to go to a church that is not fun or that makes the message of the love of Jesus Christ complicated.

But seeing this sign that seemed to be attempting to appeal to people as a place that would be fun and simple, I could not help but wonder if we are moving too far away. Have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?

It seems churches, like political parties, social norms and fashion all move like a pendulum.

Webster defines pendulum as:

a body suspended from a fixed point so as to swing freely to and fro under the action of gravity and commonly used to regulate movements (as of clockwork); something (such as a state of affairs) that alternates between opposites.

As I have watched my church it seems like it started swinging away from the legalism that was so wrong toward a practice and teaching that was based more on the Word of God rather than man-made laws. That is good.

I cannot help but wonder if the pendulum is swinging too far in the opposite direction. In the desire to free us from the rules of man and to make the gospel of Jesus Christ appealing to others, are we moving too far once again from the Word of God – in a different direction – but still away?

On the one hand, the message of salvation through Christ is simple. Acts 16:31 sums it up very simply.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

However, any reading of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would tell us that following Jesus Christ is anything but simple. Jesus called his followers to a much higher standard than any they had heard before. To be a true believer requires much more than a simple “I believe.” It calls for a change of heart. That is not easy or simple. On the one hand following Jesus can be fun. There is no greater joy than having a heart filled with God’s joy.

However, again I do not think the death of Jesus was meant for me to have fun. Listen to His words:

Matthew 16:24 – Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Luke 14:28-30 – Don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.  They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

Perhaps I am being too hard on this church sign, reading more into it than was meant. Still, I wonder – are we swinging too far away – are we more interested in what is “new” forgetting that while much of what was “old” should be discarded, there was much there of great value.

Where is the Evidence?

This past Sunday I missed the service at my own church filling in at another local church for the organist that was out of town.  The pastor’s sermon really spoke to me and reminded me of a song I heard years ago.

Since that time I have seen one line from that song on church’s signs, in church bulletins and even on Pinterest.

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

The pastor spoke about the need to be more than a “churchy Christian.”

He shared the story where Jesus had fed a multiple on a few fish and bread.  He was drawing large crowds and the people were ready to make him their leader.   If a poll had been taken then his popularity rating would have been high.  Now was the time to begin setting himself up as a great rabbi.

But Jesus did something that in the natural really seems illogical.  He began talking about his body and blood being the source of eternal life.  (I will not try to get into any theological discussion about the meaning of all this.)  The point is – what he did was unreasonable to the natural mind.  If you were wanting to increase your following, this was not the way to do it.

At that point many of his followers turned away.  Jesus even questioned his twelve closest followers if they too would leave him.

The pastor then pointed out that truly being a follower of Jesus Christ may often require us to do things that seem unreasonable, things that go against all that our culture tell us is the right thing to do.

Is it really reasonable to love your enemies?  To pray for those persecuting you?  Is it really reasonable to put others before yourself?

He then asked the congregation if we are more than “churchy Christians.”  People who go to church, support the church with our finances, even do “good” deeds to others.  But when it comes to being passionate about our faith, when our commitment to God calls us to do the unreasonable, where do we stand?

Got me thinking today.

If I were arrested for being a Christian and my neighbors, family, friends were called as witnesses, what would they say about me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Worshipers or Art Critics?

Today we sang a song in worship and it started me thinking.

When we go to church, are we coming as worshipers or art critics?

We often hear people complain about the church.

  • It’s too formal
  • It’s too informal
  • The preaching is too long
  • The preaching is not long enough
  • They are too many hypocrites
  • It does not meet my needs
  • They only sing old hymns
  • They never sing old hymns

On and on it goes.

Now I know church is important for us as individuals.  We need a place where we can find answers to our questions, where we can feel loved and accepted, where we can be challenged and encouraged.

Church should be a place that meets our needs.

But I wonder if we have become so focused on ourselves, we forget what true worship is supposed to be about.

This song reminds me:

It’s all about you, Jesus!

I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is not what You have required You search much deeper within…

 

 

 

Made for Community

Reading the story of creation recently I was struck once again by the one thing that God said was not good.  Each day He created something and then said it was good.  Until the sixth day when he created man.  He stood back, looked at the highlight of all His creation and noted that there was something not good about it.

Man was all alone.  God said:

“It isn’t good for the man to live alone. I need to make a suitable partner for him.”

That verse has been used many times to teach that marriage is designed of God and that a person is somehow incomplete without a spouse.

While I agree God was clearly establishing the marriage relationship, I think it was about much more than that.

God was establishing our need for community – for others.  Not just a spouse but the many other relationships that would grow from this unit of man and woman.

  • children
  • aunts/uncles
  • cousins
  • neighbors

In other words, community.

We were designed to need others.

Sometimes living in community can hurt.  We have all had family, friends, co-workers who have hurt us.  After being hurt our natural tendency is to withdraw, to decide to not trust others again.  But when we do that we are living in opposition to the design God has for us.

One trait most Americans highly value is our independence.  Being self-sufficient often is preferred beyond other abilities.  We feel “I don’t need you” or even “I don’t need anybody.”

But is that really true?

God said it was not good that man should be alone.  Again, I think He was talking about more than a marriage.  If that is all it was, then what were His plans for those who do not marry.  Would it then be good that they were alone?

Jesus spoke about building the church.  Almost all of the New Testament is addressed either to a church group or a leader of a church.  It is not a book written for independent relationships.

The writer to Hebrews said:

“…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another….

Today as I met with my small group after morning worship I realized how thankful I am that Jesus established the church.  Moving to a new state where we had no friends, after less than four months I have many new friends.  Where did I meet them?  At church.

Since church is made up of imperfect people I have been hurt by the church.  I have had some terrible experiences with people from church.  But those bad times are far outweighed by the blessings and wonderful relationships the church has given me.

When we live isolated from others, both we and others are poorer.  We lose the benefits of the gifts their friendship could bring us – and we rob them of the benefits our gifts could bring to them.

When I think of this need for community I am reminded of one of my daughters who was afraid to love again after she had experienced a painful hurt.  My first husband had been killed in an accident and my daughters had been the ones to find his body.  It was a horrific experience for them.  When I decided to marry again my daughter told me she would never love the man I was marrying.

Concerned about that statement I asked her why.  She said she liked him, was glad I would be happy again.  She was not against the marriage.  But she was never going to love him because she was never going to allow her heart to be hurt again.  If she loved him, he might die and then where would she be?

I assured her she did not have to love him or anyone else.  If she shut him or others out of her heart she would probably never experience the terrible loss that death brings.  But in the process, she would also shut out all the joy that loving others brings.

Thankfully, she grew to love him and open her heart to love.

Looking back at my life and seeing how much I have moved from place to place I thank God for all the “community” I have experienced and I realize just how much heaven is going to be great when I am reunited with those I have been blessed to call my friends.

Thank God for all those who have filled my life with joy.

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