Why Do You Go to Church?

Jonathan McNair
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In the last few weeks and months, more people have attended church than for most of recent memory. But is this just a passing fad? What's the big deal about church, anyway? Besides, is it really necessary to go to church? Why should you go to church?

In the last few weeks and months, more people have attended church than for most of recent memory. But is this just a passing fad? What's the big deal about church, anyway? Besides, is it really necessary to go to church? Why should you go to church?

Since the terrorist attack on New York City and Washington D.C., many churches in the United States have had more visitors than pastors and priests have seen in a long time. An article in the Boston Herald said: "Boston area clergy say they have seen a dramatic increase in attendance at religious services since the bombings... Several special services held throughout the Bay State drew standing only crowds... With less than two hours notice, more than 5,000 people attended services at the Memorial Church at Harvard Yard, the evening of September 11" ("Sanctuary: The devout and the casually faithful seek solace in worship," September 24, 2001).

Yet when we step back and get a broader look at church attendance over the last twenty years, many church leaders are worried. In a report in 1996, the Barna Research Group, of Glendale, California reported that church attendance had steadily declined in the last two decades. George Barna wrote that "increasingly, we are seeing Christian churches lose entire segments of the population: men, singles, empty nesters... and people who were raised in mainline Protestant churches."

In the past few years, there are surveys that show a slight increase in attendance. But some researchers, like Penny Long Marler of Samford University, believe that the actual church attendance figures are only half of what the Barna telephone polls report.

The absence of young people at church is especially worrisome. In Canada, for example, church attendance is drastically lower among teenagers and young adults. In a report earlier this year, Christian Week, a Canadian publication, ran an article about this trend. Joe Couto, the author of the article, wrote: "Startling new statistics about Canadians' church attendance confirm what Christian leaders have long feared: churches in Canada are rapidly losing their appeal for millions of Canadians seemingly uninterested in organized religion... church attendance is becoming a thing of the past for most Canadians who are young, urban, born in Canada, divorced or separated." And this particular study defined "regular church attendance" as going to a religious service no more than once a month!

Is going to church important? What's the big deal about attending church anyway?

Stay with me, and we'll look at what the Bible has to say about it.

If we look back into Biblical times, we see that "church-going" was the custom.

In Leviticus 23, for example, God commanded His people to keep certain holy days. The first holy day He mentioned was the weekly Sabbath. He said in Leviticus 23:2: "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation."

He commanded them to stop their normal work and focus on the lessons of the Sabbath day. But He also said that part of the Sabbath day should be dedicated to a "convocation"—an assembly or gathering. This "assembly" was not just commanded on the Sabbath day, but on other Holy Days as well.

In verse 4, for example, we read: "These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times." You can read further in Leviticus 23 about the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks—or Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles—all Holy Days which included commanded "convocations" or assemblies—"Church services," if you will.

If you would like to know more about the Sabbath Day, by the way, or God's Holy Days, please do feel free to write or call for our free booklet explaining their meaning and how to keep them. We do have a booklet about the Sabbath day: Which Day is the Christian Sabbath? Please do call or write. We will be happy to send it to you, free of charge, with no obligation.

If we turn to the New Testament, we find the same teaching. In Acts 17:1, for example, we read: "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures... "

On the Sabbath, he went to church—to the synagogue, in this case—as the custom was. And he did this, not only because he was following God's instructions to assemble on the Sabbath, as we read back in Leviticus, but he was also following the example of Jesus Christ.

In Luke 4:16, we read that Christ came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.

We see the Biblical example of going to church. Not only is assembling on the Sabbath day and God's Holy days a good idea—it is commanded by God. But what are we supposed to "do" there? If you look around, you will find all kinds of different "styles" of church services. Some churches provide what they call "traditional services." Others have an added a "contemporary service," or a "prayer service" or a "youth service". Some churches have a service in Latin. What is the Biblical example? Let's look at a few scriptures.

Some churches have music in their service. Is that proper? Let's go to one of the Psalms. Here we have a song that was written specifically for the Sabbath day.

Psalm 92:1-3

"It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night, on an instrument of ten strings, on the lute, and on the harp, with harmonious sound. For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands."

In 1 Chronicles 16, we can read that certain Levites were trained in the skill of playing trumpets, and percussion instruments, and stringed instruments. They would join other Levites who would lead the people in songs. Their worship service often involved music.

But is that all? Should that be the highlight of the church service? Or should there be more to it? Let's go to the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 10:23-25

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 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."

This is not just talking about having social activities together—meeting at the Little League baseball games or at the exercise club. This is talking about assembling together as a congregation—a church—on God's Sabbath. We all need people. And we need to gather together with people who are of like mind—of the same values and beliefs. When we do, we encourage each other. There are a lot of negative influences that bombard us every day. We need a time and a place where we can be "spiritually at home"—at ease—not having to be so much on guard. It's good to be a light to the world around us, but we need to be recharged as well. When we gather together with other people who are committed and dedicated to living God's way of life, we are comforted and encouraged. And this is what God had in mind when he instructs us to have a "holy convocation"—a "church service."

But there is more. Before I go on, I'd like to remind you about the free booklet offered on this program—Which Day is the Christian Sabbath? We would be happy to send it to you free. Call us now.

I mentioned music in the church service. The song service is an important part of the service. We worship and praise God through singing songs. And fellowship is an important part of the service. God knows our need for fellowship—being with people who are equally committed to Godly values. But neither music nor fellowship should overshadow the most important part of the church service.

Open your Bible to the Gospel of Luke. A moment ago we read, in Luke 4:16, how Christ arrived in the town of Nazareth. When the Sabbath came, He went into the synagogue. What were they doing during their assembly? Do you remember? Let me read it again.

Luke 4:16-20

"So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD. Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'"

As He did this, Christ participated in the most important activity that goes on during the church service—the teaching! He read the passage from the book of Isaiah, and then He taught them what it meant. He explained the scriptures to them. THIS was the most important part of the service—the reading from the scriptures, and expounding, or explaining, the scriptures. Today, we may not conduct a church service exactly like a service was conducted back in 30AD. But the principle is still valid. Paul followed Christ's example.

Acts 13:13-15

"Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, 'Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.'"

Paul was recognized as a knowledgeable teacher of God's Word, with the ability to understand the scriptures, and to explain and teach them. Let's look at a place in the Old Testament where we read about a "convocation." This is one my favorite parts of the book of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 8:1-3

"Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law."

In verse 5 we read that when Ezra opened the "book" (this was the "Pentateuch" or the book of the Law, which we read as the first five books of the Bible), he was standing on a podium or stage so all the people who were gathered could see him. When he opened the book, all the people stood up. They had such a great respect for the words of the book that they stood up. What a contrast to the disrespect that we in our land have for God's laws today. But this was on the day of the Feast of Trumpets.

He read from God's law throughout the morning. Verse 3 says that the "ears of all the people were attentive." They listened, and learned about God's laws and statutes. Later on in the chapter, we read that a number of the priests and Levites helped the people to understand what was being read. In verse 8, for example, we read... "They read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading." Down the chapter, in verse 12, we read that they "rejoiced greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them."

They read from God's word. They were taught from God's Word. The primary focus of the church service should be on the Word of God. We should go to church on God's Sabbath, as He commanded in His Word. But just "going" is not enough. Just "fellowshipping", or "singing" is not enough. We need to be learning what God has to say to us through His Word at the church service. We don't go to hear the ideas or opinions of the pastor or priest. We shouldn't go to be entertained by the speaker. Its not MTV or I Love Lucy! This is a time when the focus should be on the Word of God, the Wisdom of God and the Way of God.

In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul called the church the "pillar and ground of truth." Not of interesting opinions of men, not of the ideas of men, but the "pillar and ground of truth"—the guardian of the truth. And the church service is the place where that truth is reviewed, rehearsed and refreshed in our minds.

In 2 Timothy 3:14, Paul told Timothy: "But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

When the message at the church service is inspired by God, and is drawn from His Word, it provides us with the tools to help us live our life as a Christian. If we don't show up to collect our tools, we're defenseless against the negative influences that can drag us down. If we only show up once in a while, we're poorly equipped, and poorly trained. But if we are dedicated to learning more about God's way of life, He has provided us with the opportunity.

Now, this doesn't mean we shouldn't read and study the Bible ourselves all during the week. We shouldn't neglect that. Paul told Timothy, for example, to "study to show himself approved to God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

But when we pair the experience of learning about God's Word at the church service with our own personal Bible study at home, we double our learning—and our understanding and wisdom will grow more quickly. There are other tools for Christian growth, such as prayer and fasting, but we'll leave those topics for another day.

Today, in the United States, in Canada, in the nations of Western Europe, fewer than half of all people attend church services even as often as once a month. Fewer and fewer young people go to church. Going to church is not a very high priority for most people, at least not once a crisis has faded from memory. And among those who do attend, how many of us go for the right reasons—to worship God through our prayers and song, to fellowship with those of like mind, and to hear the truths of God being taught?

Do you go to church? If you do, is your church service a place where the truths of God are taught?

Ask yourself: why do you go to church?