Why go to Church? This question is posed primarily to non-church goers but might be helpful to those who attend church but sometimes wonder why. And the answers I suggest by no means exhaust all possible ones; in fact, you can add your own reasons in the response box if you’d like.
At any rate, there is an important distinction that must be made in order to answer this question properly and it has to do with the word ‘church’ itself. Now, many secular people associate this word with a place, an address where certain kinds of people, Christians (whatever that might mean), meet to engage in mysterious religious ceremonies directed towards an equally mysterious being, God, who may or may not truly exist. They notice that there are many of these addresses representing many, and sometimes conflicting beliefs about how these religious ceremonies should be performed and equally conflicting ideas about who and what God is, if He exists, and what He expects from us. There are Baptist, Methodist (Free and United) Congregational, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Evangelical, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed (Dutch and otherwise), Non-denominational (i.e. none of the above) churches and even further subcategories of these. To outsiders this is all very confusing and often leads to a rejection of ‘church’ as being anything useful or meaningful and certainly not something worth the time.
Martin Luther said the church, any church (for now anyway, important differences will be pointed out later), is a ‘hospital for sick souls’. The fact is, and this is a tenant of Christianity, that every human being is a ‘sick soul’ that needs hospitalization, intensive care even. But, herein lays the rub, namely admitting you are sick. Getting to this point entails at the very least diverting attention away from the many criticisms of church and focusing on your own personal foibles, inconsistencies, and, yes, that unpopular thing called personal sin. The main difference between you, the non-church goer and those who do go is they are seeking healing from their admitted sickness while you deny yours. The most important reason for going to church, then, is to begin recovering from that sickness unto death, namely the sin that you share with the rest of humanity.
So, when you go to church, be prepared to meet people just like yourself. You’ll find some trying to hide their sickness from others, a few debating whether their sickness is as bad as someone else’s, the always present hypocrites who deny they are sick but there to help others get over their ailments, and those who know they are sick and give themselves over to the mercy of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.
But, you might think that it’s possible to have fellowship with God, to get this sickness healed without the burden of church life. We are taught to be independent, self-reliant and masters of our own destiny and, you say, even Christianity has its hermits and monks. But, even so, monks have their monasteries and hermits are never totally isolated from human contact; those pesky pilgrims often disturb their contemplation. Just consider the fact that hermits and monks separated themselves from culture-at-large, not just certain parts of it. So, unless you are prepared for nearly total isolation from society and all its benefits, trying to be an “individually owned and operated” Christian is a delusion. The point is that living a Christian life and receiving continual healing from your sickness cannot be accomplished in isolation; you need a relationship with Jesus Christ and you need relationships with His people. And this leads us to the second meaning of the word ‘church’.
Think of the church on the corner as the little ‘c’ church. It is a building where individual people gather to be ‘together’ if only for a short time to worship God, receive the medicine of God’s loving grace, encourage one another, and get instruction from His Word. But there is another church, the big “C” church of which the local church is only a part. It is magnificent in its breadth, beautiful beyond knowing and more powerful than any human institution or endeavor; it is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ established unshakeable in His love and not even the gates of Hell can prevail against it.
Unlike the physical building or physical relationships between individuals in a local church, the Church is spiritual and each Christian is knit together with all the others into a seamless whole empowered by and guided by the Holy Spirit. Being part of the big “C” church is being part of something bigger than the universe itself, a timeless and limitless existence that is the true and final destiny of those human beings whose sickness has been finally and completely eliminated by Jesus. However, the same characteristics of the big “C” church are also true of the little “c” church, a fact often lost to its members who forget they are so much more than meets the physical eye (more on this in another article).
Therefore, walking through the doors of church on Sunday morning is not just entering a sanctuary built of mortar, brick and stone, but a Sanctuary of living stones (all those sick people, you included) being continually built up into the House, the Temple, where God dwells and receiving from His hand all that is necessary for life in this world and the world to come. If you don’t go to church, if you don’t admit your sickness, if you don’t experience the healing of Jesus you are missing out on the biggest building project the universe has ever seen, or will ever see. But, perhaps more important, you will miss what your life really is for, namely worshipping and serving the Saviour, and will never escape the tiny, restricted, suffocating, sickly, and self-centered existence that sin has bound you to. Go to church and breathe into yourself the life God has provided for you. But be sure and choose the right church to attend; more on this in the next article “Choosing the Right Church”.