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.
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:
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.
His list of reasons why people would leave the church was the following.
3. Fear of conflict/encountering enemies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?