January 23, 2015

Why church?

by Lyndon Unger

I’m not that old, but I remember a few decades ago when Canadian culture was far different.  I remember when most people described themselves as “Christian”, even though that meant “confused theist” at best.  I remember when almost all businesses were closed on Sunday because it was “the Lord’s day”.  I also remember when most people were at least affiliated with a church.  None of those things are true anymore but for the most part, that’s not because too much has actually changed.  The people who pretended to be Christians are no longer pretending, on multiple fronts.

mask

Still, a whole lot of my personal friends have abandoned the faith over the years and I’ve watched hundreds leave the church and several even go from “Bible geek” to “raging atheist”.  A while ago, I ran across an article that talked about the importance of Christians being part of a church and it brought this topic to mind.  The writer listed several reason why people might be part of a church and several reasons why people might remove themselves from a church, and didn’t cast any judgment on their biblical validity…but this was his comprehensive list.

His list of reasons why people would attend church were the following:

1. Family.

2. Social network/friends.

3. Centering (slowing down and taking time to be with God)

4. Freedom from the “bondage in their lives” (?!?).

5. Satisfying hunger for God and experiencing worship.

6. Moral re-orientation/moral assurance.

7. Tradition.

His list of reasons why people would leave the church was the following.

1. Apostasy

2. Sloth

3. Fear of conflict/encountering enemies.

4. Judgmentalism/hypocrisy.

5. Pride in their maturity (people think they no longer learn anything in church)

6. Pain and fear of repetition of painful experiences.

7. Lack of desired care/entertainment.

8.  Frustration with politics.

9. Fear of the opinions/judgment of others.

Amused

We were not amused because the article was written by a graduate of an evangelical Bible College (my own alma matter, in fact) and it reflected the shallow “Christian” tradition from which I have emerged.  If those were the reasons why someone would go to church, or if even one of them was a reason why someone should be part of a church, I was slightly underwhelmed with conviction.  I found that the author didn’t include any of the reasons why I go to church and I found that strange and confusing.

So why do I go to church?  Here are fourteen reasons that I could think of:

1.  I want to please Christ and he’s commanded me to not forsake the church (Heb. 10:24-25).

2.  It’s the only place where I can fulfill all the “one another” commands in scripture (Mark 9:50; John 13:14, 13:34-35, 15:12 & 17; Rom. 12:10 & 16, 13:8, 14:13, 15:5 & 7, 16:16; 1 Cor. 6:7, 11:33, 12:25, 16:20; 2 Cor.13:11-12; Gal. 5:13, 5:26, 6:1-2; Eph. 4:2, 4:25, 4:32, 5:19 & 21; Col. 3:9 & 13 & 16; 1 Thess. 3:2, 4:9, 4:18, 5:11 & 15; Heb. 3:13, 10:24-25; James 4:11, 5:9 & 16; 1 Pet. 1:22, 4:8-10, 5:5 & 14; 1 John 3:11 & 23, 4:7, 4:11-12; 2 John 1:5.)

To  try to fulfill all these commands outside of the church, is impossible. To ignore them is to choose to willfully sin.

3.  I love fellow believers and want to be with them for no other reason than simply being together with family.  It’s just refreshing and invigorating to be around people who love the Lord and to encourage one another.  The Spirit in my heart gravitates towards the Spirit in other hearts.

hugs

4.  I’m part of the body of Christ and it is actually painful to be away from the body all week (see reason #3).

5.  The church is where I sit under the teaching of the word of God and I actually desire that, I need that, and it’s part of my spiritual growth and health to be regularly exposed to the exposition of the word of God (1 Tim. 4:11-16).  The word dwells in me more thoroughly when I sit under it’s right instruction.

6.  I need to regularly face the terror of communion in order to force me to deal with outstanding sin in my life and keep short accounts with God (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

7.  I desire to serve in the church and that’s the proper domain for my extra -curricular labors (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Cor. 16:15-18; Eph. 4:10-12)

8.  I know I need to be protected from false teachers/teaching and I’m NOT the one who protects myself; God has places structures in my life (which involves the church and it’s leadership) in order to guard me from false teaching and I need to submit to those structures and the people who work within them (Titus 1:9-11; 1 Peter 5:5-9).  I may be a decently biblically knowledgeable fellow, but false teaching comes in far more subtle varieties than the “punch in the face” variety that most folks easily recognize and I’m not immune to deception.

9.  The church has been given the ordinance of discipline for the care of the wayward members (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13) and if I remove myself from the church, I also remove myself from God’s appointed system of watching over me when my soul desires to stray from the Lord.

spanking

10.  I go to church because the brothers and sisters around me are the ones who confirm the positive changes in my life that I doubt (i.e. the presence of love in my life that I don’t see), and they’re the ones who give me reason for assurance of my salvation and help me silence my doubting heart (1 John 3:11-24).

11.  I go to church because I need to learn to submit to Christ, and I get practice when I learn to submit to the leadership above me unto which God has commanded my submission (Heb. 13:7 & 17; 1 Pet. 5:5).  One of the most basic habits that a Christian must cultivate is one of submission to the Lord and his word, and the church offers me a caring and safe place to learn to submit because submission is a worthy end goal in itself.  Even if I have a mediocre pastor (and I definitely have had mediocre pastors in my past) or go to an imperfect church (I’ve heard rumor that they’re out there…somewhere…), I need to learn to submit to those that the Lord had placed over me because it’s good for my heart.

12. I go to church because that’s where I find examples of Christian maturity to imitate in the elders who are above me (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Thess. 3:6-9; Heb. 13:7).  It’s one thing to read my bible and learn doctrine and practice; it’s completely different to see doctrine and practice manifest in the lives of believers who are more mature than I am.

copying

13. The church is also full of fellow believers who are difficult to love and church is where I learn to love the brethren. (Rom. 12:15, 14:15; 1 Cor. 4:14-21; 2 Cor. 11:1-12:21, 13:11; Gal. 3:1, 5:13; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22, 2:17; 2 Pet. 1:7; 1 John 2:10, 3:10-17, 4:20-21).  You cannot and should not try to escape fellow believers who are difficult to love; God has placed them in your life so that you can practice patience, love, selflessness, etc.

14.  I go to church because the church has been entrusted with the dual ordinances of Baptism (Matt. 28:19; Acts 19:1-7; Rom. 6:3-11; 1 Pet. 3:18-22) and the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).  Though neither administers grace nor ensures any sort of security in salvation, both are commanded for believers and necessary for growth into maturity.  Baptism is a public identification with and commitment to Christ and the church, and the Lord’s Supper as a continual proclamation of the death of Christ and a continual reminder of dealing with outstanding sin and keeping short accounts with God (see reason #6).  As the church regularly partakes in these 2 ordinances, the gospel is both illustrated and applied in the church.

To sum it up:

I go to church because I don’t want to go to Hell.

I am sure there are several more reasons, but those fourteen are at least a start.

Can you think of any reasons for being part of a church that I missed?

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him somewhere...you didn’t.
  • Gavin C.

    Great post. I will be stealing some of these. Not to open a can of worms, but is church membership assumed in the majority of this list?

    • Lyndon Unger

      Well, if you’re a Christian you’re part of the body…and membership is just publicly stating and recognizing that reality.

      So I guess, yeah. Membership would be assumed.

      I know many churches make membership a rather big step, but it shouldn’t be. I see membership more as an administrative necessity to facilitate the care-related elements of church life. If you know who’s there, you can know when they’re missing and keep track of their needs.

  • James B.

    Outstanding! I understand the good meaning of ‘going to church’… However, because of the times– I actually plead: STOP GOING TO CHURCH! You can go to a ballgame… but you do not ‘go to church’– you ARE the church. You do not ATTEND your physical body- you are a contributing member of your body. So, BE THE CHURCH! And, of course, your article was all about how to Biblically FUNCTION as a member of the local church to which the Holy Spirit has you joined. THANKS!

    • Jeff Schlottmann

      I don’t know. Sounds like a sly way to avoid gathering with fellow believers to me. Don’t cast the body aside. Why would a christian more or less disown other christians, and on top of that willfully disobey the commands of our Savior? If you’re concerned about the times, you should be running to the church, and not encouraging believers to sin.
      Just some thoughts.

    • The whole “go to church” vs. “be the church” thing is a false dichotomy. We don’t pick between the two; we do both. Ekklesia means “assembly.” You can’t “be the assembly” without assembling. In other words, you can’t “be the church” without gathering with God’s people for worship and edification (i.e., “going to church”), and submitting yourself to the accountability of the oversight of a plurality of biblically-qualified elders (i.e., being a member; e.g., Heb 13:17).

      Those who are the church, go to church.

      • Dan Phillips

        Mike Rock-hard-y.

        • Hah!

        • Lyndon Unger

          If Cripplegate were a band, Mike would likely be lead guitar. I’d be backing him up on the suckbutt.

          • LOL. Are you sure you don’t mean the sackbut? I mean, it’s not much of an improvement. But ‘suckbutt’?

          • Lyndon Unger

            My mis-spelling of ‘sackbut’ is further proof that I would be playing the sackbut.

          • Lyndon Unger

      • Jason

        Strictly speaking, wouldn’t that mean that any time you’re not gathered together with other believers you must consider youself no longer to be a member of the church? Based on the logic of assembly being a physical assembling, our membership in the church would be contingent on physical proximity to other members.

        This logic seems to be a stretch that really doesn’t need to be made to make the point that fellowship is necessary, considering how much of the Bible speaks directly about the needs of the body to gather and work together.

        I haven’t “read around” the site to know how solid the rest of it is, but this (rather lengthy) post talks about the problems of the terminology very well:

        http://homechurchhelp.com/going-to-church-is-not-in-the-bible

        I know for a fact I’ve seen the attitudes discussed there in abundance in the church. I myself would have to intellectually wrestle with some of what Biblically classifies as “the church” being identified with that term, just because the false definition is so ingrained in our terminology.

        • Strictly speaking, wouldn’t that mean that any time you’re not gathered together with other believers you must consider youself no longer to be a member of the church?

          No. I obviously don’t mean to suggest that, since ekklesia means “assembly,” you’re not the church any time you’re not assembled. The point is: don’t try to claim that you are the assembly if you never assemble.

  • bill80205

    I would only disagree with your concluding statement in bold. If you go to church so you won’t go to hell, you had better check on your salvation. I’m sure (hope) that is not what you meant to say.

    • Jason

      The part that bothered me about that conclusion is that we of the church should be far more interested in spending eternity with God than simply concerned about avoiding the alternative.

      It constantly amazes me how the Kingdom of God is subconciously treated as a “less bad” alternative to hell instead of the most amazing promise anyone could ever receive.

      Come on people. We are going to be given bodies, be surrounded by others, and live in a world COMPLETELY UNCORRUPTED BY SIN!

      Hell is a necessary event in bringing about the Kingdom but it’s hardly the “main event” for believers.

      • bill80205

        Jason, you’re absolutely right! Thanks for your comment.

      • Lyndon Unger

        Yeah.

        I long for the kingdom too.

        I also equally and inversely fear the Lord.

        • Jason

          I understand, but as it pertains to fellowship I think we’ve missed the mark a lot.

          It’s necessary to have a reverent fear and understanding of his greatness and holyness, but fellowship with other believers shouldn’t be a bunch of people sucking it up to be there because they “need to be”.

          Fellowship now is the best glimpse we have of the heavenly Kingdom. If that’s not enough motivation to get us involved it’s either because we’re not interested in the Kingdom or because the church isn’t being the Kingdom.

          Either way, there’s a serious problem that can’t be fixed simply by “sucking it up” for the sake of not going to hell…

          • Lyndon Unger

            I would never say that fellowship is a “necessary evil” to prevent damnation.

            I’d refer you back to points 3 & 4.

            I love my local family and cannot wait to be with them.

    • Lyndon Unger

      I’m somewhat unclear as to what you’re getting at, though I think I have an idea.

      I don’t think “going to church” somehow ensures that I’m a Christian, or not “going to church” somehow ensures my damnation.

      I do know that severing myself from the church ensures that I’m not going to be where I should be spiritually…and I’m afraid of the deceitfulness of sin in my own heart. I stay connected to the systems and people that God has placed in the lives of all believers as part of the means of “checking my salvation”.

  • Johnny

    This was very good, and timely for me. I’ve been struggling lately with a judgmental eye, being at a church where I fall into the trap of criticism – the wealth displayed by some, the worldliness of others, the gun-obsessions of a few, etc. I need to turn from that judgmental eye and make my focus that of Christ and him glorified.

    This list was excellent, especially #5: “The church is where I sit under the teaching of the word of God and I
    actually desire that, I need that, and it’s part of my spiritual growth”.
    In many ways I’m blessed to have been led to a church where the Word is actually taught on Sunday, as sadly it’s becoming harder and harder these days to find a church where a pastor even opens the Bible.

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  • I am hopeful you will respond to those that question your last statement in bold. I think I understand exactly why you wrote that, but do not want to presume to be correct. My son says the same thing and he says that because he walked a path that was leading directly to hell before he had a Road to Damascus experience that literally knocked him down in his path. He has since been walking the path to Heaven, knows the Bible inside and out and walks the walk. But he will first tell you it is because he doesn’t want to go to hell. But oh it is SO much more than that for him!

    • Lyndon Unger

      Sure Melissa.

      I’d suggest that Christians will always live somewhere between the tension of 1 Cor. 9:24-27 and Philippians 3:7-15.

      We long for the glories to come, but we also live with the real possibility that our hearts can deceive us. We both fear the Lord and long to be with him simultaneously.

  • Brad

    Great list! I agree and resonate with everyone! I thought I would also add…

    1. I gather with other Christians because it is my identity. We are the church. It was powerful to me when I realized that “church” is actually my new identity in Christ, that is who I am.
    2. The church does mission together. How we speak to, live with and love one another is a picture and way of proclaiming the gospel to the world (John 17).
    3. God is pleased to be present in a special way when His saints are gathered for worship together.

    I was wondering if you agree with the statement, “we don’t go to church, we are the church.” I have gone back and forth on the helpfulness of that distinction. Right now, I tend to think of it is a helpful one.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Nope. I’d refer you to Mike Riccardi’s comment up above. I’d suggest that such a dichotomous statement is, as far as I understand the New Testament, a false dichotomy.

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    I have a question that has been on my heart that I hope someone can answer for me. For the last 17 years I have been given the privilege of being a Women’s Christian event speaker at churches throughout the State I live in. When my pastor (an incredibly solid conservative Baptist) found out about this he asked if I would be willing to be a “guest speaker” at our church’s Christmas program. I gave the message and it was well received and now the pastor and elder board are asking me to do this every Christmas as a “guest speaker”. He is not in favor of female pastors by any means, nor am I, but am I in violation by accepting these speaking opportunities?

    • MR

      Hello Jane,
      The context of Paul’s comments in 1 Cor. 14 is teaching and having authority over men. Not having heard the message or knowing the setting, I can’t say for certain, but I don’t believe that a woman being a “guest speaker” at a Christmas program is in violation of Scripture. I hope it helps.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Thank you, that does help.

    • Brad

      This is an easy one. You should talk to your Pastor about this. He is your elder and you should submit to him. If you can’t, you should go to another church.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Brad, I understand the importance of submitting to my pastor, but not if is in violation of scripture.

    • Jane, I think that MR is right in the sense that the context of 1 Cor 14 (and 1 Tim 2, for that matter) is the gathered assembly (i.e., church), and not necessarily the Christmas program. Because of that, I don’t think we can say that your being the guest speaker is a clear violation of Scripture.

      Nevertheless, I think if we ask of those texts (e.g., 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:9-12) what principles of wisdom they have for us, they yield the answer that spiritual instruction of the church (adult men and women) is a task for qualified men. So while it’s not flat-out wrong, perhaps it’s not best. And I think we should always be asking not just, “What’s wrong with this?” but “What’s right with this? Is it the very best thing?”

      As I think about it, one of the hallmarks of the Apostolic church is strong male leadership. And one of the hallmarks of the contemporary church is the lack of strong male leadership. To me, having a lady address a mixed group of adults in a teaching fashion at a church-related event signals that the church doesn’t have the qualified male leadership that it ought to have to discharge the duties of teaching and instruction. That may not be the case, but that’s what that communicates to me. Sort of like how Deborah is delivering Israel because Barak isn’t doing what he should be doing (cf. Judges 4-5). So that’s why I say, Perhaps it’s not wrong, but perhaps it’s not best. If you’re asking me personally, I would counsel you against it.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Thanks for your response, Mike. I will talk to my pastor and decline future requests.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Jane, thanks for the question.

      I pretty much agree with Mike’s comment, but I’ll add something that I use as a “rule of thumb” on difficult situations like this.

      Scripture is clear on teaching men and the office of elder being “off limits” for women, but then there’s all these questions that come up like yours.

      What about giving a gospel message to a mixed group?
      What about speaking at a dinner theater?
      What about leading prayer on Sunday?

      And so on and so on.

      My rule of thumb boils down to 2 questions:

      1. “Is this something where I would be representing the church in a public or authoritative manner?”

      If the answer is “yes”, I’d stay away. You never want to give the indication to visitors that you’re an authoritative spokesperson for the church or wielding the authority of the church. You want to refrain from sending out mixed messages.

      2. “Is this something that would normally be the job of a pastor or elder?”

      Again, if the answer is “yes”, I’d stay away. If someone leaves asking whether or not you were “the pastor”, I’d refrain from the activity.

      Remember that believers want to live the sort of lives that make slanderous accusations seem absurd (1 Tim. 3:2, 5:7, 6:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:12, 3:15-16).

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Thanks, Lyndon. Those two questions were very helpful and further convinced me that I must decline.

    • Dee Carol

      I believe that this teaching is in response to episodes in the early church, in particular, the church at Corinth. The failure of the church to learn from episodic, cultural response as intended is the root of many of the divisions for the modern church. Converting the lesson to an out-of-context mandate in direct contrast to the teachings of Christ results in the hypocrisy so oft cited for the defection of former Christians. Jesus does not condemn women or send them into the background. He embraces those who have been relegated to lesser roles by the society in which they live. My lifelong reading of this passage is that women were behaving badly, disrupting worship. Just as I ask my daughter to stop screaming my name from the back seat of my car – I expect her to modify her current behavior but I never mean to silence her forever. She understands the instruction. Why can’t we?

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Dee, I don’t believe Jesus is condemning women, sending them into the background or silencing them forever by determining their roles in the church. I know this is a controversial issue, but I would rather error on the side of obedience to the scripture than be reproved for mishandling it.

  • Jeff Schlottmann

    Great post Lyndon. I agree with all fourteen points. I have always found that church is my favorite physical place to be. Especially now that I’ve gained a greater love for Christ, hymnals and the people in that building.

    I do sometimes get bummed when the service is over and it seems everyone only wants rush off, or only talk about hobbies and whatnot instead of God. One church would start shutting off the lights while people are talking. Almost as if saying fellowship is only allowed at designated times. I know people are busy these days, but come on.

    • Lyndon Unger

      I suggest you re-establish the lost art of “having someone over for lunch after church to talk more about the Lord.”

      That’s something that I really enjoyed as a kid, and I hope to have in my home as my kids grow up more.

  • jeff

    http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=912071916550

    It has been a while since I listened to this sermon by Mark Dever. At the time I was not involved with any church; I knew I was in the wrong for this. After being more thoroughly persuaded and convicted by this message I finally did join a very solid(not perfect) Reformed Baptist Church. Praise God! I don’t recall everything said in the sermon but what really stuck with me and what was new to my mind at the time was the fact that you need to “go to church” for unbelievers in order to be a good and credible witness. So that would be one reason to add to your list. Thanks for the article Lyndon; it was well done.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks Jeff. What I was getting at there is that the grace of God is not delivered to believers by means of fellowship or communion. God doesn’t “need” those things to lavish grace on someone, and if you miss communion one week, you’re not “missing the maximal amount of grace” for the next seven days.

      That’s all.

      • Jason

        Voted up for the “maximal amount of grace” comment, which is an amusing and useful terminology.

  • Karl Heitman

    Stupendous. Thanks, brother.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks Karl!

  • 4Commencefiring4

    I was right with you until the end: “I go to church because I don’t want to go to Hell.” That would imply that all those who don’t will. And I trust you don’t believe that. I would submit that MOST saved people probably have a church home, but attendance and salvation are two different things.

    I attend a church, but I’m not permitted to join it because they require that I agree with their eschatology…and I don’t. But the day may come when, if they adopt other stances I can’t abide, I’ll have to say goodbye. In fact, it would appear to me that more and more churches will degrade over time and we’ll be left with home fellowships–or less. Hard to say.

    But I would not make one dependent on the other.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks Commence.

      I’m certainly not making one dependent on the other.

      I’m definitely not suggesting that don’t (or more likely can’t) attend church will automatically somehow lose their salvation.

      That being said, I’ll just quote Mike’s comment above:

      “The whole ‘go to church’ vs. ‘be the church’ thing is a false dichotomy. We don’t pick between the two; we do both. Ekklesia means ‘assembly.’ You can’t ‘be the assembly’ without assembling.”

  • Dan Freeman

    Excellent as always. A few of the challenged me that I should love the fellowship because of them .

    Sadly, his list of reasons to attend church looks suspiciously similar to my list of reasons why an unconverted person would attend church.

  • Kareen Gangell

    I go to church to be with God, and God filled people..I couldnt imagine not going. It is a beautiful, fulfilling and spiritually rewarding thing to have in my life, particularly as we obey the saturday sabbath.

    • Matt

      Hello Kareen,

      I understand feeling the way you do about the Sabbath, I grew up in a cult that believes that the church must gather on Saturday, because it was the true Sabbath. I’ll point you to an article on the subject because I can’t explain it better than they do. I would urge you to also study John chapter 5 and ask God to speak through His Word.

      http://www.gotquestions.org/Saturday-Sunday.html

    • Lyndon Unger

      Why “particularly” that?

      What about the Jewish sabbath makes church more “beautiful, fulfilling and spiritually rewarding”?

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  • Vinod Anand S

    Excellent Post. Thanks Bro.

    • Lyndon Unger

      You’re very welcome!

  • Lyndon Unger

    Well, if anything, I throw a good left hook at the end that gets people posting comments…right?

    • Dan Freeman

      I knew what you meant! I can see why some folks reacted to it, but I think that it does provide an excellent summery.

      BTW, I love your new avatar. Curious George with a pineapple grenade aptly describes your writing style (in a good way of course!)

      • Lyndon Unger

        I’m glad someone got the grenade.

        People prefer it when someone states a positive truth positively, but stating the negative reciprocal of a positive truth gets people ruffled fairly quick.

        I’m glad you like the avatar. My wife agrees with you quite a bit. She is my #1 comment lurker. She finds most of my posts and resulting comment threads highly entertaining!

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