Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “attendance

Why go to church?

If I chose to sleep in, or to watch church online, or listen to a podcast of the sermon, or to catch up on lectures in the Bible College course I’m doing, or to catch up on some other jobs, or was away for the weekend, or to look after visitors, or to go shopping, I wouldn’t have been at church yesterday. But as I didn’t do any of these things, I was able to share this message on the topic of “Why go to church?”.

We will see that going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?

Aspects of life

We can picture parts of our lives as a series of widening circles. First there is our individual life, then our family life, followed by our life in the local church and then our life in the rest of our world. We can have relationships in each of these spheres of life, such as a personal relationship with God, relationships with people in our family, in our church, and in the rest of the world. This post addresses the local church and why it’s good for us to go to church.

What is a church?

The first instance of the word “church” in the Bible is when Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18NIV). As this happened after Peter said that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, it means that the church was built on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. The New Testament uses the Greek word for “church” (ekklesia) 114 times, primarily of the local church, but this passage refers to the whole church rather than the local church.

God is building a global church of believers, which is only visible as local churches. The local/universal and visible/invisible aspects of the church are shown in the schematic diagrams:
– The visible part of a local church is comprised of believers and unbelievers. It’s all who attend the local church. Although the majority should be believers, this includes some unbelievers as well.
– Christendom is a collection of visible local churches.
–  The invisible part of the universal church is comprised of all believers in the world, who will be visible when Jesus Christ returns to reign over the earth. The topic of the universal church is outside the scope of this post.

The Bible says that a “local church” is a gathering of people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and who worship Jesus Christ; who hear the Scriptures together; and who encourage one another in the Christian faith. It’s not the building they meet in. And it’s not a denomination. So the gathered people are the local church. Gathering together is part of what it means to be a Christian.

The Christian life was never meant to be solitary. Many of the biblical metaphors for a church indicate a plurality, such as: a body (comprised of parts and organs), a flock, (comprised of sheep) a house (comprised of living stones), a household (comprised of family members), and a holy nation (comprised of people). The church is a collective group, not an individual person. In the  context of church discipline, Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20). One person can’t be a church! To gather together in the name of Jesus means gathering together to publicly worship Jesus, to serve Jesus, and to help others love Jesus.

The local church is like a spiritual family. The Bible says that God is our Father and other Christians are our brothers and sisters. So the congregation of a local church are spiritual siblings. An extended spiritual family.

Physical children are raised to maturity in a physical family. Likewise, spiritual children of God (believers) should grow to maturity in a spiritual family (the local church). After they are mature they can be mentors in the spiritual family, which is like being a parent.

The beginning and destiny of the church

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told the apostles, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, on a Sunday, the Holy Spirit came on the believers who were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). We will see that it’s good for believers to be all together in one place on Sunday. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they obeyed.

This was the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection. After this, the apostles were evangelists that spread the good news about Jesus beginning in Jerusalem and spreading out across the Roman Empire. When there was a group of believers in a town or city, the apostles established a church that met in someone’s house. There were no church buildings in those days. A local church was a gathering of believers.

When they came together, the first church at Jerusalem was devoted to (Acts 2:42-47):
– the apostles teaching, which we now have as doctrine in the New Testament.
– Fellowship, a partnership which included eating together and sharing their possessions. It says, “all the believers were together” (Acts 2:44). Fellowship is being together.
– The Lord’s Supper, which is remembrance of Christ’s death.
– Collective prayer, when they brought their needs to God.
– Praising God, for their salvation.
– Evangelism, as people were being saved and added to the local church.

The church exists on earth from the day of Pentecost (in about AD 33) until the Rapture when all true believers are resurrected, transformed, and transported to heaven. Then the church will be united with Jesus Christ, like a wife and husband at a wedding and the church returns to rule over the earth with Him and share His glory forever (Rev. 19:6-9; 14). That’s why the church has been referred to as the bride of Christ (who is the bridegroom). So the church has a glorious future.

Let’s follow the good examples of the local church in the Bible and make it a priority to be together as a church at least once a week. Remember that church is a collective activity.

Old Testament gatherings

In Old Testament times the Israelites were God’s people. They celebrated three annual festivals when the people gathered (or assembled or met) together (Ex. 23:14-19; 34:23-24; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr. 8:12-13). These were the festival of Unleaven bread (after the Passover), the festival of Weeks (Harvest, Pentecost), and the festival of Tabernacles (Ingathering, Booths). All the men were to attend these occasions. And their families often accompanied them (1 Sam. 1). Distance may have prevented many from attending all three, but most Jews tried to attend at least one festival each year. For example, “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When He [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom” (Lk. 2:41-42).

Did Jesus go to church?

The Bible says that Jesus is an example for us to follow (Appendix A). And we have seen that He attended Jewish festivals which were national gatherings required by the law of Moses. And Jesus also usually attended the Jewish synagogue on Saturdays (Lk. 4:16). But He didn’t go to church on Sundays because the church didn’t begin until after He ascended back to heaven in about AD 33.

If Jesus didn’t go to church, then what about Paul?

Did Paul go to church?

After Paul became a Christian, he became an evangelist who established new churches. So Paul revealed the truth about the church and he attended and taught at many local churches.

On Paul’s third missionary journey it seems that he stayed at Troas (which is now in Turkey) for seven days in order to attend the local church on Sunday evening (Acts 20:6-7). Apparently, the public meeting of the local church was very important for Paul and the early Christians. Paul taught them until midnight, Eutychus died when he fell from a third story open window, and they celebrated the Lord’s Supper and shared a meal (Acts 20: 7-12). Why did Paul go to church in Troas? It was:
– To celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
– To build up believers by teaching them what a Christian should know and how they should behave.
– To fellowship with and encourage the believers.

Eutychus was a young man who was asleep while God was at work. He was physically present, but spiritually absent. Are we spiritually awake or spiritually asleep? Are we away when God is at work in the local church? Eutychus shows us that it can be dangerous to miss God’s work in the local church.

Reasons for going to church

God said so

The local church belongs to God. It’s “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15). Through the Bible, God tells believers not to give up meeting together – “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Christians should never stop meeting together. Particularly as we approach the rapture of believers to be with the Lord. In this case they were reverting to Judaism, which is apostacy. So there is a biblical basis for corporate assembling together as Christians.

It’s significant that the recipients of this letter were under the threat of persecution. Public church attendance could open them up to abuse. The command indicates that the benefits of attendance outweigh any possible threat.

Furthermore, every letter in the New Testament assumes Christians are members of local churches. And because believers are part of the universal church, if it is possible, they should be part of a local church. After all, in the Bible the same Greek word ekklesia is used for both the universal church and the local church, with the meaning being determined by the context. Believers go to church because they are part of God’s invisible church.

Why don’t we obey this command? Are we too busy, or too tired? Would we rather sleep in?
Do we have guests visiting?

So we go to church because God said so.

To praise and worship God

The Bible says that Spirit-filled believers speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Eph. 5:19). And with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit believers should sing to God with gratitude in their hearts (Col. 3:16). If Paul and Silas sang hymns to God in a prison, they would have sung them in the local church as well (Acts 16:25).

The gathering of the church to praise and worship God is a foretaste of our worship in heaven. In eternity, believers will worship with all of God’s people before the Lord.

So we go to church to praise and worship God.

To remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper

With regard to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Obeying this commandment helps us remember our Savior’s supreme sacrifice for our sins on the cross. It makes us examine ourselves to make sure that we have confessed all of our sins against the Lord and against one another.

The Lord’s Supper also helps us look at the big picture of Gods’ plan of salvation. What God has done in the past and what He will do in the future.

So we go to church to remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.

To strengthen our Christian faith

Just as Jesus and Paul taught people what they needed to know and do, teaching from the Bible does the same for us. Church attendance builds us up. Paul said, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:26). At church, Christians help other Christians who struggle with their faith.

The Bible says that church attendance helps us to stir  one another up to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24–25). Love is a motive and deeds are actions.

Church attendance also helps prevent backsliding and apostasy. Without regular participation in corporate worship, one tends to drift spiritually. The fellowship and encouragement experienced at the local church help to vaccinate us against backsliding and apostasy.

Church attendance also reduces exposure to false teaching which is prevalent on the internet. We can trust our teachers in church because the elders keep watch over them. And the local church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” of the gospel (1 Tim. 3:15). But there’s no quality control on the internet!

And church attendance gives us a sense of purpose. It shapes our vision of the future and gives us hope.

So we go to church to strengthen our Christian faith.

To participate and serve

The Bible says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pt. 4:10). We are to “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Eph. 6:7). And to “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13).

The Bible also teaches that each member of the local church has a different gift, just like a body is comprised of different parts (Rom. 12:4-8). Everyone has a purpose in the local church. In fact, the strengths and weaknesses of the members of the local church are intentional, even complementary. Everyone has something that the others don’t have, and we are stronger together than we are apart – that’s called synergy.

.Just like every part of a body has a function, so every believer has a function in the church (Rom. 12:4-8). If you are not there it’s like missing a part of a body. The body suffers and doesn’t operate as well as it should if you aren’t in attendance. It’s like missing a part of a team.

Church is also like a sports team. Missing church is like missing the weekly game. Sports teams struggle when they don’t know who will be there to play. For example, the English cricket team missed James Anderson (because he was injured) when they played and were beaten by Australia last week.

Christ gave you a gift that the church needs. Are you using it?

So we go to church to participate and serve.

To give and receive encouragement

We have been designed to need other Christians to help us keep going in the faith, and we can be an encouragement to others. Paul told the believers in Rome, “I long to see you so that … you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11-12).

One of the purposes of gathering together is to “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:24-25). We all need encouragement and going to church can provide that.

So we go to church to give and receive encouragement.

To give and receive prayer

“On their release [from prison], Peter and John went back to their own people [the local church] and reported all that the [Jewish] chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:23-24). They prayed that Peter and John would continue to speak God’s word “with great boldness” (Acts 4:29). This is example of prayer in a local church.

The local church also enables us to pray for others and others to pray for us. It helps us to consider others and not just focus on ourselves. So it broadens the content of our prayers and our prayers are multiplied as more people are praying than just us.

So we go to church to give and receive prayer.

To share in Christian fellowship

In the book of Acts, we’re told that those who came to faith in the early days “devoted themselves … to  fellowship” (2:42). But we can’t fellowship by ourselves! Instead, we need a Christian community.

As we spend time with one another, we become aware of each other’s needs. This gives us opportunities to help each other. We are to share with believers who are in need (Rom. 12:13).
For example, those in the early church “shared everything they had” so that people’s needs were met (Acts 4:32-35). They donated money to believers in churches where there was poverty (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:1-15). Paul encouraged such generosity (2 Cor. 9:6-15). Church is the best place to learn about generosity and to practice generosity.

Everyone is looking for acceptance and a place to belong. Church is a community where we can socialize and support each other. You can make friends, feel a sense of belonging, and build a support network that you can rely on. The church community helps us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). And to “Carry each other’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). If you go to church there will be some “who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (Phil. 2:20). Also, we can practice hospitality by inviting people to a meal after church.

If you’re just watching church or preaching on a screen at home, you miss living in close fellowship with real people. You miss the unity and diversity of a church gathering.

So we go to church to share in Christian fellowship.

To become more Christlike

Church attendance helps our sanctification — our progressive growth in being conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). It is for our general “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3), but also in beholding Jesus together: “we all . . . are being transformed into His [Christ’s] image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). God loves to change our minds and our hearts. Going to church encourages godly living in an ungodly society.

Church attendance also helps us express the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). It’s easier to show love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or gentleness to someone if you see them often.

Church attendance also helps us imitate Christ’s humility (Phil.2:3-8). It’s easier to put the welfare of others above yours if you see them often.

So we go to church to become more Christlike.

To show our love for God and His people

Regular church attendance shows that we love God and love His people (the church). If we say we love the Lord, but neglect fellow Christians (who are called the body of Christ), we are a hypocrite – our actions don’t match our words.

It also shows that we have eternal life. John said, “We know that we [believers] have passed from death to life, because we love each other” (1 Jn. 3:13). It’s a declaration and witness to others that you’re a Christian. When they ask, “What did you do on the weekend?”, you can say “I went to church”. And it’s a great example to your spouse and children (Lk. 6:40).

So we go to church to show our love for God and for His people.

To be involved in spreading the gospel

As the gospel is the foundation and the message of the church, by going to church we can support and be involved in spreading the good news about Jesus.

This can range from a local church ministry to the support of overseas missionaries. And it can be with children, youth or adults. Personal witnessing is also important. If someone is a new or immature Christian it’s good to encourage them to attend a church for their spiritual growth and fellowship.

So we go to church to be involved in spreading the gospel.

Look at all the reasons for going to church: God said so, Praise and worship, Remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, Strengthen our faith, Participate and serve, Encouragement, Prayer, Fellowship, Become more Christlike, Show our love for God and His people, and the Gospel. These good reasons are better than the bad ones listed in Appendix B.

Scott Morrison 1 400pxWhen Scott Morrison was asked by the media after his incredible election win in May 2019, ‘what are you going to do tomorrow?’, he answered, ‘I will go to church as usual’. So the Prime Minister of Australia went to church on Sunday after a late Saturday night. And he is a busy man. Can we block out Sunday mornings (or whenever our local church meets) in our calendars to go to church? And don’t let Saturday night keep you away from church.

Excuses for not going to church

It’s clear that the Bible teaches that regular church attendance is a normal part of following Jesus. The Bible also gives examples of some who gave an excuse instead of following Jesus (Lk. 9:57-62).

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man [Jesus] has no place to lay His head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The excuses used by these three men were:
– Lack of security (one man didn’t want to adopt an itinerant lifestyle).
– Put it off (one man wanted to wait until after their father’s death and burial). This was a delaying tactic.
– Family commitments (one man wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family, which could also be a  delaying tactic, or could cause him to change his mind about following Jesus).

They were like a man plowing a crooked furrow with oxen. As they didn’t have GPS in those days, to dig a straight furrow they needed to keep aiming for a distant target. But if they looked in another direction, the plough would turn and deviate from the straight line.

And Jesus told a parable to some Jewish religious leaders about an invitation to a banquet (Lk. 14:16-20):

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

The excuses used by these three men were:
– Possessions (one man wanted to visit a new field).
– Work (one man wanted to try out five new yoke of oxen).
– Family (one man was married recently).

Similar excuses can be given for not going to church.

Christianity is not a choose-your-own path religion. The people we are to associate with have already been chosen for us. We have a ready-made extended spiritual family in the local church.

Discussion

Is church just something to do on Sunday morning when there is nothing else going on? If church is optional, we set up our family to backslide and fail in the Christian life.

If you haven’t trusted in Jesus yet, then you don’t have God’s help in your individual life, in your family life, or in your relationships with the rest of the world. What excuses are you using for not looking into following Jesus? Don’t put it off any longer, but talk to someone about it today.

When you become a follower of Jesus, you also can have the extended family of the local church to help you in all these aspects of life.

A survey on why Americans go to church found that the top three answers were: so that they will be closer to God; so their children will follow God; and so they will become more like God. In another survey, sermons; programs for children and teenagers; and community outreach and volunteer opportunities were the top reasons for attending church. And it’s been said that the three highlights of a Christian’s life should be:
– Sharing the Lord’s Supper.
– Listening to the message from God in the Bible.
– Exercising their spiritual gifts in service for Christ.
These are done best in the local church.

Disciples are those who are committed to following Jesus in the Christian faith. Marriage is another commitment. But marriages don’t always last.
In Australia about 36% of marriages end in divorce and in the US it’s about 45%. The average marriage in Australia lasts for about 12 years. Going to church can help us remain faithful to the Lord.

Don’t come occasionally to church. Don’t just come when you feel like it. Make weekly church attendance your first priority and let it be a good habit that becomes a part of who you are.

On Sunday mornings you can either make a bad habit of being lazy and doing things that have nothing to do with God. Or you can make a good habit of waking up and participating in a godly church even when you don’t feel like it.

Of course, church is not just a place to go, rather it is a living body where God wants you to become a part–for your good and for His glory. Christ is committed to the church like a husband is committed to his wife. The church is called the bride of Christ. What’s our commitment to the local church? Is it like being married, or are we just dating?

Conclusion

Attending church with God’s people was top priority for the apostle Paul. It should be likewise for us. If we are often absent from church, what’s getting our attention instead? Is it family, or education, or work, or hobbies, or recreation, or something else? These can be idols when they take us away from being at church.

On Sunday, let’s go to church. Going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?

Appendix A: The examples of Jesus and Paul

Instead of being selfish, Paul put the welfare of others first because he didn’t want to hinder their spiritual growth. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul and Jesus are examples of people who put others first.

Appendix B: Some bad reasons for going to church

Here are some bad reasons for going to church:
Out of duty/obligation
To get my needs met
To feel good; get inspired
To perform
To find a boy/girl friend or spouse
For what I can get out of it
To find clients for my business
To be entertained
For my social life
To justify my sin
To get right with the Lord
Because the preacher is popular
So God will bless my finances
So God will bless my health
To maintain family relationships
They have lots of programs
They have a school
The number of people who attend
Because everyone else does
To make God happy
The building and facilities

Written, August 2019