Church is People and Location
To put it simply: Tradition is the reason we attend church, among more important reasons that will be covered. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The early Christians were a religious people. They gathered together “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes; [and] they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). Nearly 2,000 years later, Christians everywhere continue this tradition.
Wherever God’s people meet is where the Church is. Among many Christian circles, you always hear, “Church is not the building,” but I could not disagree more. The effort behind the cliché is to guide God’s people toward a proper understanding of “church” that consists of an active people being involved in fellowship with one another and in the community. In other words, church is the people.
While this is certainly true, the building plays a significant part in church worship. The Church consists of God’s people, yes, but God’s people also need a place to worship. Whether it’s summer or winter, you and I much prefer to worship inside than outside. Not only is it more comfortable, but it also provides a convenient location for people of neighbouring communities to gather.
Get Off Your Lazy Butt: Stop Giving Excuses
People give many excuses not to go to church. In the ’50s, regular church attendance was every single Sunday. Today, “regular” church attendance is 1-2 Sundays a month. This is not regular; this is sparse. Excuses range from “I wanna’ sleep in” to “I can just have personal devotion at home” or “I can watch church online.”
As a side note: I am well aware of extenuating circumstances where people absolutely need to work on Sundays in order to afford to live. I was there in my college years. There are simple ways around this, however. Can you find a new job or change your work schedule that works best with your church’s Sunday hours? Or does your church or another church nearby provide worship services on a Saturday or another day of the week? Similarly, if you go on vacation, find a church to go to if possible.
While church attendance is drastically decreasing, we think church attendance in general is a modern problem, but it’s not. Apparently, it was a problem in the early church as well. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Church attendance is not a suggestion; it is God’s will for His people. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). How can you know how to do these things if you don’t go to church?
The first two reasons to go to church will first address loving your neighbour as yourself and the last reason will address loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
To Love & Encourage One Another
1 John 4:12, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” The above Hebrews passage says we need to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” So, let’s consider it.
How can we “stir up” one another in love? Going to church both teaches us how and gives us ample opportunity to do so through both internal and external church functions. An internal church function could be something like Bible studies or Thanksgiving potluck. An external church function could be something like participating in your community’s annual parade or VBS.
Church is a place where we can love one another and serve our local communities. Whom do you go to when you have a problem? Your spouse, your parents, your best friend? Church is a place where we go to one another for encouragement, support, and love. This type of comfort is also God’s will for His people. “[God] comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). We attend funerals of our members and mourn with one another (Matthew 5:4), we comfort one another through difficult times, and we comfort members of our community with the Gospel as well (e.g. after a mass shooting).
God comforts us through the Word. He also comforts us through one another. How can we comfort one another through love and encouragement with the Word if we refuse to go to church and be with one another?
To Call Out Each Other’s Sins (Admonishment)
Hebrews 3:13, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Underneath all our excuses, this is probably the biggest reason why we don’t go to church if we’re going to be truly honest with ourselves: our sins being exposed. We’re quite comfortable in our sins.
We love to criticse but we hate receiving criticism. It probably has something to do with convincing ourselves that we have it all together. Sorry, but you don’t (not sorry). When someone tells us we’re sinning, sometimes our knee jerk reaction is to accuse the person of self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and being judgemental. If they’re doing it correctly, the Christian is supposed to judge.
Christians and non-Christians alike love to say, “The Bible says, ‘judge not!’ So, you can’t judge me! Only God can!” First of all, that should scare you. Second of all, Christians are called to judge, yet they are called to proper judgement. Jesus said, “Judge not by mere appearance, but judge with right judgement” (John 7:24). The people who blurt out “judge not” ignore the rest of the context surrounding “judge not.” The whole context is Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you seek the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
In its full context, Jesus was calling out hypocritical judgement while explaining righteous judgement. First, when you judge (whether or not it’s just), you will be judged in return to the same degree you judged. This is especially worse when you are equally guilty of something. So, Jesus says to examine yourself before you judge someone else lest you become a hypocrite.
Suppose you approach a brother in Christ who’s cheating on his wife, and while judging the sin of what he’s doing you confront him, as you should. Let’s also suppose he’s aware of your sin as a single guy who engages in premarital sex. He has no reason to listen to you since you, too, are guilty of a sexual sin you have refused to repent of. In this case, recognise you are also guilty of a sin and are in need of repentance and actually repent, then you will be in the right position to judge your brother’s sin and bring him to repentance.
Here’s a less dramatic example: Let’s say you’re on the Mission & Evangelism Board at your church. You and the board members are cooking hotdogs for the annual Trunk or Treat event and you notice one of the members being extremely moody toward you. Eventually, he snaps and curses at you in front of everybody because you forgot to put mustard on someone’s hotdog.
You take him aside and say, “Hey, what you said to me was uncalled for. It really hurt my feelings and it showed a poor example of Christ to everyone, especially the little kids who heard you.”
Then he says, “Well I’m just so mad that you never arrive on time to our meetings and events!”
You have two options here. You can either become defensive and try to defend your actions, or you could be humble and apologise. Is it sinful to be late to meetings and church events? Probably not, but it’s still expected of you to be consistently on time.
So, if we’re going to take Jesus’ words seriously, the proper response would be, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise my actions were offensive and upsetting to you. Please forgive me. I’ll do my best to be better.” By asking for forgiveness, the other member may be more open to receiving your admonition and there’s a higher probability for reconciliation. Matthew 18:15-17 is another great passage on how to confront your brother or sister’s sin.
For Word & Sacrament
Church is where we go to hear God’s Word. “But I can do that at home!” Sure, you can, but then you’d be missing out on church community. Besides, when it comes down to it, will you really read the Word or watch a church service online every Sunday without fail? No, you won’t. Don’t kid yourself. Do not underestimate the old Adam within you.
St. Paul writes, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent” (Romans 10:13-15a)?
The only way to be saved is to call upon Jesus Christ in faith. Yet how can one call on His name if they have not heard? Furthermore, how can they hear of Him if no one is sent? Therefore, Christ calls and ordains His shepherds (pastors) to bring His Word to people that they might believe.
You can bring up personal devotion or church online all you want, but you are lacking a shepherd. You are that one sheep who has gone astray from the pasture whom Jesus is seeking eagerly (Luke 15:1-7). When Jesus saw the people of Israel as He went throughout the cities and villages of Galilee in His earthly ministry, “He had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Without a flock to which you belong, you are like such helpless people.
As shepherd, the pastor is assigned with the duty to protect his flock—protecting them from things like heresy, false doctrine, sin, the world, and the Devil. How can he do these things if you neglect meeting together? You cannot survive all by yourself.
Here’s more words of Law: refusing to go to church is a violation of the 3rd Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Luther describes it, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (SC, Ten Commandments).
Our Lutheran Confessions describes Church, or Ministry, this way: “So that we may obtain this faith [justification by faith], the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake” (AC V, 1-3).
Thus, we also go to church to receive forgiveness of sins through God’s means of grace: the Sacraments. A sacrament must have (1) God’s command, (2) a visible element, and (3) imparts forgiveness of sins (God’s grace). Thus, we have three sacraments: Holy Baptism (Matthew 28:19), the Eucharist (Matthew 26:17-30; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:23-29), and Absolution (John 20:22-23).
Unless your pastor visits you at your home, you cannot receive these Holy Sacraments at home. Your pastor is busy enough as it is; he doesn’t have the time to go to every member’s house who’s too lazy to come to church on top of the shut-ins who are physically and/or mentally unable to attend.
“But can’t I just ask God for forgiveness through prayer at home?” Yes, you can. But there comes a time when you lack certainty not because God hasn’t forgiven you for sure, but because of your weak flesh. It is as if God anticipated the weakness of our flesh and thus instituted these Sacraments. Luther writes:
On this account [the Lord’s Supper] is indeed called a food of souls, which nourishes and strengthens the new man [from Baptism]… There are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and of the world that we often become weary and faint, and sometimes we also stumble [Hebrews 12:3]. Therefore, the Sacrament is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself [Psalm 23:1-3] so that it will not fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger… Now to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment.LC Part V, 23-26
In the Eucharist, you receive physical evidence through the power of God’s Word that your sins are forgiven in the bread and wine with Christ’s true body and blood therein. Luther continues, “For in the words you have both truths, that it is Christ’s body and blood, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift. Now Christ’s body can never be an unfruitful, empty thing that does or profits nothing” (LC Part V, 29-30; emphasis mine).
God’s Word always does what it says. God’s Word, through a mystery not revealed to us, changes the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood while it still remains bread and wine to deliver forgiveness and the strengthening of faith to you. While God certainly hears the prayers of a righteous person (1 Peter 3:12; Proverbs 15:29), He has instituted this Holy Supper as a means to strengthen your faith with physical proof that He forgives you all your sins. You literally taste God’s grace. When the Devil, the world, and your sinful conscience beset the words of your repentant prayer, Christ’s very body and blood are sufficient and efficacious.
Through Baptism, God saves you (1 Peter 3:21). You are justified by faith, yes (Romans 3:21-26; 4:5). Yet through Baptism, you also receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is for you and your children (Acts 2:38-39); and the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of your inheritance of salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). When the Devil, the world, and your sinful conscience beset your oral confession, God’s work in your Baptism is sufficient and efficacious.
Still, God has provided a third means of grace: Absolution. Jesus has given the Office of the Keys to each pastor. Through the pastor’s words, by the stead and command of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Jesus forgives you your sins. Your pastor can also withhold forgiveness of sins in the case you’re not repentant or your repentance is insincere (John 20:22-23). Through the pastor’s words, “I forgive you all your sins,” you hear the very words of Christ coming through your pastor’s mouth. Thus, you hear it from Christ Himself, though it sounds like your pastor’s voice.
We are in daily need of this bread of heaven (the Word) and the means of grace, “for we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment” (SC The Lord’s Prayer, Fifth Petition). What sense is there, then, in neglecting to meet together for the purpose of loving our neighbour and receiving God’s means of grace? I surely hope you do not hate the hearing and preaching of God’s Word so much that your spirit fails to ache for these gracious gifts.
As St. Augustine once said, “The Church is not a hotel for saints; it is a hospital for sinners.” Similarly, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). We are simultaneously saint and sinner. As saints, we come to God’s house (AC VII) to receive rest and comfort. We come to this place for this rest and comfort precisely because we are also sinners, otherwise we would not need such things from God.
God’s house is also where we gather as the Lord’s family not only to love and serve the Lord, but also to love and serve one another, which is how we love and serve God to begin with. The centrepiece of this family gathering is the Holy Meal at the Lord’s Table. Therefore, let us not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some.