Going to Church – What’s the Point?
What’s the point of going to church? Can you just watch a church service online or listen to a sermon and get the same thing? Does it matter if you don’t go all that often? I mean, let’s be honest – going to church doesn’t save you, right?
But what if it going to church does save you? I know what you’re thinking. “That sounds pretty legalistic.” While it would be legalistic to say something like just going to church saves you (rather than we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior), the question helps us start to wonder, “What if going to church really does matter?”
So, what if it does really matter? What if there’s something truly valuable and important about going? What if corporate worship (another way of describing church – think of it as together worship, not incorporated worship) is just the kind of invaluable possession Jesus talks about in Matthew 13:45-46? What if there is something so captivating about going to church that we stopped asking, “Do I have to?” and started asking, “How can I get there?”
Well, church – or ‘corporate worship’ – is just that kind of captivating, invaluable possession. But how do we come to see it that way? First, by seeing what church is not. Second, by seeing what church is. Third, by actually going to church.
First, what church is not: Church – or corporate worship – is not about consuming something, as if salvation was just a matter of digesting enough sermons and communion bread or passionately singing enough of the best Christian songs. No, corporate worship is about being consumed by the love of Christ that we might no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us and was raised (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Corporate worship is not (or at the very least not just) about God giving us something. It’s about God making us something. It’s not about finding what you like or ‘getting what you need,’ but about being made like Christ (which is exactly what we need). So, are we willing to be remade?
Corporate worship is also not a matter of worshipping God versus ‘skipping worship’ by going to brunch or sleeping in. The reality is, if we skip church we’re not skipping out on worshipping, we’re just worshipping something else. The question is, what are we worshipping on Sundays? The answer lies in whatever captivates our hearts most – whatever makes us say, “How can I get there?” That is what we worship. And as long as our hearts are captivated by something on a Sunday, we’ll be worshipping. So, part of the point of going to corporate Christian worship is that wherever you are on a Sunday, you’ll be at church. The question is, will it be God’s church?
Second, we come to value church by knowing what church is. First, church is about God. It is about his love and our being reorientated to it. God shows his love and does his reorienting first and foremost through his Holy Spirit, but more tangibly through the elements of the worship service. He does it in his invitation or ‘call’ to worship him, in our songs of response, in confession, in God’s pardoning word of grace, in prayer, in giving, in hearing God’s word and the proclamation of the gospel, in communing with God at the Lord’s Table, in baptism, and in the benediction. Each of these elements reorient our hearts, habituating the love of God into our souls until that day, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality… and Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).
It’s in these reorienting elements that we discover that church is also about that final day when, “death is swallowed up in victory,” when Christ returns and we enter the new heavens and new earth. It’s in corporate worship that we rehearse that day when we will go up to God together, as his gathered people – his ekklesia or ‘church’ – to worship Him forever as his redeemed, beloved children. It’s in corporate worship that our hearts are invited to hope in something which is still to come and to hear the promise that it is still coming.
Corporate worship is also about being together. It’s in corporate worship that we get to hear voices other than our own. It’s where we hear others singing God’s praises, praying to God, speaking his words of grace and proclaiming his gospel of salvation. It’s where our American individuality is reminded that we’re not complete on our own – nor are we alone as Christians.
Finally, corporate worship is about perseverance in the Christian life. Hebrews 10:25 instructs us not to give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing. Why? So that we might not drift away (Heb. 2:1) and so that we might enter Christ’s rest (Heb. 4:1). Similarly, in the contest of the Christian life, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 tell us,
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
These Scriptures point to the reality that if we are to persevere to the end, if we are to run the race set out for us (Heb. 12:1) and hear the, “well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:14-30) we must do it together. And we do the Christian life together most fully – reorienting, enacting, hoping, imagining – in corporate worship.
Third, we change our hearts toward corporate worship by going. We actually have to be there to be changed by what worship is and what God does through it. We have to be there for there to even be a church. The building is nothing without a worshipping people. So let’s fill it. Let’s worship together every Sunday. Let’s corporately remember who we are and whose we are. Let’s rehearse together what we hope to see at Christ’s return: the redeemed people of God standing before their Redeemer. Let’s persevere together as we wait for Christ. And let’s hold out the hope we have in Christ to a world that is already worshipping on Sunday – but just worshipping something not half as good as our God.