Why “do church” — gathering every Sabbath for praise, prayer, preaching, and fellowship? It is a relevant question because many Christians go “solo,” preferring to stay perhaps at home (as opposed to attending weekly church fellowship) and utilize an abundance of online Christian content.
Of course, there are all kinds of reasons for this. Some have become disillusioned with church liturgy, governance, or polity. Others have experienced personal fallouts. Yet others struggle to find an audience to promote certain pet doctrines.
There are, however, strong and compelling reasons that we do gather each week and experience church as community. Generally, they are summed up in the notion that our coming together exemplifies our shared lives in Christ as the Lord intended.
The question remains whether we can legitimately replicate our full potential in Christ at home, without the foibles often inherent in church life. Also central to this discussion is the nature of the call to discipleship in the church context and how this dynamic is sewn into the very fabric of what church means. The Word of God gives us examples of why the church is critical to experience together so we can grow in our discipleship.
Church is a life of worship lived within the context of shared community. This results in being more effectively taught, nurtured, and equipped for service in the Word of God. In the Word, under the terms of the new covenant in Christ, Jesus commands us to follow Him, and this incorporates the distinctiveness of the annual Lord’s Supper service. Instituted by Jesus, it is observed notably in community.
The very nature of shared suffering and communion in a spirit of sacrifice and service brings us directly into the heart of Christ community. For together we not only proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes but also follow Christ in the symbol and ordinance of foot washing: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Thus, the sense of community that Christ modeled is exalted in His own humility and service, as well as the intentional use of the term one another.
This one another concept isn’t just in the New Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, we read where God’s people are called into holy convocation — a large, formal assembly of people coming together. The weekly Sabbath appears as one of God’s appointed times, when faithful people gather for worship and to hear the Word. This was Jesus’ practice, recorded in Luke 4, when He selected a passage from Isaiah to read out aloud on the Sabbath.
Other biblical examples of church we can follow are music and teaching. The Psalms set the stage for an ongoing life of worship, where song and music powerfully convey a language that moves heart, mind, and spirit. Those gifted in music and song serve the greater assembly. Throughout Scripture, faithful leaders, prophets, apostles, and teachers were anointed and enabled by the Holy Spirit to speak, giving life to the very words of God. The Scripture further compels the listener with “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:22).
We can’t reflect this calling unless we’re connected to Christ. Today, called by the Father through Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves drawn and compelled into community — the shared life of Christ. May we hear and take to heart!
As many may testify, the church that Christ is building is still far from perfect. Working from the brokenness of sin that all humanity inherited, she exhibited major flaws and failing in the first century, within just a few decades from Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Jesus’ affirming and correcting words to those seven such churches in Revelation 2 and 3 could just as well be spoken to contemporary Christianity today.
Successive generations, throughout changing cultures and circumstances, are still working and growing into the holiness and vibrancy that Christ fully intended. We want to be a vibrant 21st century church! This can happen only as Christ is formed in each of us (Galatians 4:19).
The entire church is known in Scripture as the body of Christ and is made up of many parts, with the whole ideally reflecting more completely Jesus Christ himself. As we grow and reflect the living Christ more thoroughly and deeply, the internal process of conversion from dead to living, from broken to complete, from sick to whole is manifested in the church community as a whole, together becoming sanctified and holy.
Many of us, however, find ourselves, or the person next to us — and sadly, sometimes the entire church — less than Christlike and less than holy. We instead see a church fraught with failures and foibles, not dissimilar to our first century forebears, illustrated in Jesus’ message in Revelation 2-3. Thus “going to church” can sometimes seem a burdensome effort. It needn’t be that way.
The church can also appear to be more of a hospital for the sick than a sanctuary for the saints. Both, however, are inherently flawed views.
Three fundamental tenets can help someone find church community so they not only stay but also thrive in their God-given calling to become the greatest and most effective they can be within Christ community.
- Can I basically agree with the core doctrinal/ theological statements of the church?
This ranks as number one in this list. Of course, there will be lots of diverse peripheral issues and understandings within various churches and church cultures, but we’re speaking here of the main pillars of belief. If you can adequately answer, “Yes, I can see that what is taught aligns with the Bible,” then you can move on to the second question.
- Am I able to worship there?
Is God’s Word and presence exalted every Sabbath in praise, prayer, and preaching? Is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the center of church life? Am I personally being drawn into the very presence of God? Do I experience healing balm for the soul and the joy of knowing our Savior in deep, close communion? Am I more inspired, more empowered, and better equipped than when I first tentatively walked through those doors?
If you can resoundingly say, “Yes” to these, then here is the third and final question.
- Am I able to serve there?
With the gifts and grace God has bestowed on each of us, for His glory and the blessing of everyone else, am I able to effectively serve in some capacity?
Christianity isn’t a spectator vocation. All participants of the body of Christ have important, interdependent functions that are epitomized by service. When comparing the human body to the body of Christ, the church, Paul eloquently told those in Corinth, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21).
In other words, we need each other. Like a branch that needs to be connected to the vine in order to thrive and not wither (John 15), we can effectively serve together with those God has also called only when we’re connected to Christ.
Read Part 2, the conclusion of “Why Church?,” at baonline.org.