Friday, March 11, 2011
Why do we go to church?
There is a relatively new phenomenon, called Internet church. For those who are not aware, I am not talking about simply having a website for the church, or even having streaming video to look at the church service when you want.
The concept is that you actually “attend” church over the internet. This is a natural outgrowth of our increasing fascination with the digital world. Before I get started, I am not bashing the concept in total. I have reviewed some of the clips, and the preaching and teaching can be quite good. In the future, if I continue to blog, I may even have occasion to use some of the media clips. And, there are clearly instances when we cannot physically attend church, and this is a good solution in those situations.
The internet church seems like the next step up from TV church. But, probably because of my age I still have a few problems with it.
I can choose to “interact” with the preacher and ministerial staff by posting questions and posting prayer requests. And, while I am certain that it is a human being, it doesn’t have the same flavor as one-on-one human contact, where I can see with facial expressions and feel empathy as I pour out the details of my situation. Once and a while I am asking for help, I need someone who knows me and is willing to say things like, “Wow, I’ve never heard of that, let me see if I can help you with this.” Or someone who will say, “That’s not right, what are you thinking?”
Unlike my real-life pastor, I can yell at and disagree with the preacher and not cause a scene. But am I being taught and am I understanding the Word of God?
And, bonus....I don’t have to send any money, or go to any meetings that make me feel like I am circling a drain. But then, what is it that will bind me to these people? What will keep me connected?
I really enjoy doing stuff on the web; most of it anyway. I am getting the hang of blogging and hope to get better at writing. I get several digital magazines, and I enjoy those, especially because they don’t add clutter to my house. I don’t do facebook; the jury is still out on that for me.
But this new phenomenon leads me to a question, actually three questions...
1. Why do we go to church?
2. Why don’t people go to church?
3. Is church about just getting what we want? Having it our way?
We go to church to get something and to give something. We go to church to praise and worship God. If you look back a few weeks at the sermon notes, we had a two-part sermon on the Body of Christ. We are part of a spiritual community. You are a part of the body of Christ. And, as part of that Body we have responsibilities and we reap benefits.
So…Why do we go?
Attending church is an Expression of our Love for God. "And [they] were continually in the temple praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:53). Going to church is a real expression of our love and worship toward God. It is where we can gather with other believers to bring (to) God offerings of praise, thanks, and honor.
It is a way to build up our Spiritual Strength. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Getting the preaching and teaching of the Word of God increases our faith and builds us up spiritually. Every one of us knows what it means to face conflicts, spiritual and otherwise, and we must understand the importance of being fed spiritually so that they can overcome these challenges. Paul frequently uses the wrestler and wrestling match as metaphor indicating that Christians must fight against the Devil and his evil spiritual forces. He goes further to say that we need to put on our spiritual armor for protection (Eph. 6:10-18). It is important that we take advantage of every opportunity we have to receive ministry and strength from God's Word.
It provides opportunities to fellowship with other Christians. "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). The Bible makes it clear that to be in right relationship with God requires a right relationship with other believers. It is not possible to love God and refuse to love our brethren. If you have a problem loving other Christians, then by default, you have a problem in your relationship with God. The scripture warns us that a spirit of unforgiveness toward others will void God's forgiveness of our own sins (Matt. 6:15). John wrote, "He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him" (1 John 2:9-10).
One of the most important reasons that we go to church is to practice love. It is very easy to practice love sitting in your PJs alone in front of a television or computer screen. It is not so easy when we are faced with flesh and blood. It is the work of keeping ourselves in love and harmony with other believers that helps us remain humble before God.
Worship is an act of obedience to God. "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins," (Heb. 10:24-26).
If I can paraphrase, the writer of the Hebrew epistle is telling us to not to stop coming together; and that if we abandon this practice, it can lead to willful sin (verse 26). We're supposed to be considerate of our brethren, and come together to help motivate and encourage one another. "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17).
It allows accountability to spiritual leadership. "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Heb. 13:17).
If we are only involved in TV or internet ministry, whose authority do we submit to? The short answer is that we are submissive to and answer to no one other than our own selves. It is easy to see that one cannot genuinely be under submission to a TV / Internet pastor who has never met you. And it is also not possible to be under submission by visiting a different church each week. The Bible tells us to know them that are over us in the Lord (1 Thes. 5:12). The act of being submissive chafes against our usual thinking; it’s uncomfortable in a society where everyone is their own person, and we are all so busy being “all we can be.” Submission necessitates a commitment and relationship to a local body of believers and to their spiritual leaders.
It honors the Lord's Day. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8). The fourth commandment of the law that God gave Moses was to set aside the seventh day of the week, as a holy day to the Lord. We do not all celebrate the same Sabbath day of the week, and that’s okay. The point is that we should be setting aside a day that is at least partially devoted to the Lord, the Lord's Day; a day to fellowship in celebration of the resurrection, to worship, pray and study the Word together.
As adults, we are all feel we are perfect in isolation. There have been numerous studies on newborns that are born very, very small or with “failure to thrive” syndrome. What has been discovered is that in addition to the usual nutrients, human touch is what is required to help these survive.
While I can and do learn many new things over the internet, how and in what setting am I learning to apply them?
People may say that they have good friends and good fellowship via the internet. But I would have to ask, what happens when things aren’t going so well in our lives. Who reaches out to dry our tears, rest a hand on your shoulder, give us a hug, and sit with us in silence waiting for us to speak? Who shares our moments of joy, belly laughing at the ridiculousness of ourselves and others? Who gives us a high five when we feel we done a great job? Who brings out the best, and worst in us? Who cares for us?
Church, like the rest of life is made up of imperfect human beings. We ourselves are not perfect. Almost every interaction in life carries a lesson with it. Sometimes these are painful, most of the time they are not; but we should learn something from them all. Being with people and struggling together to make good and positive things happen is what sharpens us. It makes us better. It makes us useful. And, it hones our hearts and our emotions.