Why Go to Church?
'I have already accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I don't need to go to church. I am a good Christian. I pray on my own. I give to the poor. I serve others. What really matters is my personal relationship with God. And besides, when I did go to church, there was so much hypocrisy and squabbling, I just prefer to live out my faith on my own.'
Perhaps you have heard someone say something similar to the above statement. How do we, as churchgoing Christians, answer this, ‘church is unnecessary,’ mindset? The purpose of this article is to give you some tools to explain to non-churchgoing Christians, why it is necessary for Christians to go to church. Or put it another way, why not going to church is opposed to the teachings of Jesus.
The word ‘church’ is generally thought to be derived from the old German word (kirke), which derives from the Greek word (Kyrios). 'Kyrios' in Greek, means 'Lord'. So the word 'church' means, 'of the Lord' or 'the people of the Lord" The Armenian word for church, 'yegeghetsee,' is a transliteration of the Greek word, 'ekklesia.’ ‘Ekklesia', is a compound word meaning 'called out and gathered together.' The church is therefore, etymologically speaking, God's people called out of the world and gathered together.
In the Old Testament, ‘God's people,’ is the nation of Israel (Ex 6:7, Lev 26:12 ), which at times assembled for worship in the desert. The New Testament teaches us that during the first century the nation of Israel gathered primarily in synagogues for worship (the word synagogue also means, 'assembly').
Scripture tells us that Jesus customarily participated in synagogue worship on the Sabbath. “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” (Luke 4:16 ).
Since we believe Jesus never sinned and that all He did was holy and right, Jesus’ decision to participate in synagogue (church) of His day is an indication to us that we too must participate in corporate faith gatherings; in other words, church. For scripture tells us to put on ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:16 ), and part of this mindset is to go to church.
Some still say, “Well sure, Jesus went to church, but in my church there are so many sinful people". If ever anyone had reason not to go to church because the people were sinful, Jesus certainly had reason. For why should perfect God come to pray with others? After all, God is holy, yet all others are sinful (Rom. 3:23 ). Yet through His incarnation and humility, Jesus sought out communion with us. Jesus drew closer to others through prayer and worship. Since God incarnate prayed alongside sinners, it behooves us to follow His example. Anyone who thinks of himself as too good to pray with sinners is, in a sense, ranking himself above God.
Jesus not only taught us to participate in corporate worship by example, He also taught us to say corporate prayers. In the sixth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, when teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus instructed them saying:
“9 Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread; 12 And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; 13 And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
From the italicized words, it is evident Jesus was teaching a corporate prayer (a prayer to be said with others). That is not to say that the Lord's Prayer cannot be said individually; it certainly can. However, the corporate nature of this prayer is self-evident.
So too, on Holy Thursday night, while Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, scripture teaches us,
“…when Jesus had given thanks, he broke the bread, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. “ (1 Cor. 11 ).
Both Biblical and early church history confirm that the above instruction to receive Holy Communion was understood and practiced by the disciples by their gathering together on the Sabbath to receive the body and blood of our Lord. They understood that Jesus was directing a necessary (John 6:53 ) corporate act, and they practiced the reception of communion as church.
Jesus' direction for corporate worship in the New Testament is consistent with what God taught in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God's word directs 'church' festal gatherings; (ie., Ex 23:14, Lev 23:41 ). God directed corporate worship in the Old Testament for the purpose of communal remembrance (esp. of Passover).
The communal memory and celebration of what God had done for the nation of Israel helped draw them together, unite them and define them. So too, in the New Testament God has given us a direction to remember His death; for the death and resurrection of our Lord is for us the new Passover. Just as the Jews were freed from bondage by God through the miracle of the Passover, we are freed from bondage to sin and death through the Lamb of God (Jesus) shedding His blood for our sins. In place of the doorposts marked with the blood of the Lamb during the Exodus, we now are marked with the Blood of Jesus so that death might pass over us; and we might be brought into the promised land of heaven. Jesus is the New Passover.
Imagine for a moment you are one of a multitude of Israelites escaping from a life of bondage. The Egyptian army is chasing you. You come to the Red Sea, Moses raises his staff, and the sea parts. While you are running across, some of your fellow Israelites are tripping and falling. Would you stop and help them? Or would you blame them for not stepping more carefully and leave them to fend for themselves. What would be the Christian thing to do? You would help them of course!
Yet in the church, when some self-righteous Christians see another person ‘slip and fall’, rather than helping them up, they sometimes turn up their noses and gossip, or simply walk, self righteously, away from the church. We are not to be puffed up with pride and uncaring. We are to help one another. In the church, we commit not only ourselves, but one another to God. If I fall, my brother can pick me up, if my brother falls I can help pick him up. Christians who are ‘too pure or holy' to associate with the sinners in the church are in fact sinning. The holy and pure course of action is not to abandon sinners, but instead to do what Jesus did, and make sacrifices to help them in their spiritual journey.
In the church we are helping each other on a common journey toward God's kingdom. We are learning to cast off ungodliness and embrace holy ways. We encourage, admonish and nourish one another. We act as God's children, seeking to be one with Him, AND with one another. In this way, we fulfill Jesus' desire for His people to be one just as the triune God in heaven is one; or in the words of our Lord, so that they may be one as we are one. Jn. 17:11 .
Both biblical and church history confirm that God wants us to be one. He wants us to be His people. He wants us to be an example of united love on earth. While personal prayer and personal salvation have an essential place in Christian spirituality, the fullness of the life Christ calls us to live can only be achieved through also being body and member of his holy church, which is the Kingdom of God on this earth.
Let us bind together as one and work to accomplish the holy work God has entrusted to us: to love one another, to live in communion with Him, to spread the gospel, and to invite the earth to heaven.
Fr. Tavit Boyajian