We believe that the Church is the visible body of believers, the global community of those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Members of this body are covenanted together in local congregations and participate in the ordinances of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
More and more I hear of and know people who don’t bother with being part of a church. For most, it is simply a reflection of their lack of faith. Either they never believed in God or somewhere along the way they stopped believing in God as the Bible describes Him. However, in seemingly increasing numbers, more and more people who profess to still believe in the truth of the Bible and what it teaches about Jesus Christ, no longer attend church and no longer believe that it is necessary to be part of a church in order to live a life that pleases God.
The reasons are many; some feel that the church is a dead organization, others have been deeply hurt in a given church and don’t want to be hurt again. The reasons/excuses run the gamut; “I’m too busy”, “It’s too boring”, “I don’t know anyone there”, “it’s not important”, “I feed my spirit myself”, “I need the down time”, “It’s not relevant to my life”, “I have to work”, etc., etc. A reason rarely given but likely to be accurate is that many people do not want to attend church because at church you are likely to hear the Word of God and His demands on us as individuals. This is obviously quite uncomfortable when you simply want to choose your own way of living.
The reasons these people give for not attending church fall into two general categories; disagreement with how faith is presented and lived out in organized settings, and physical/spiritual laziness.
So, why bother going to church? Do these people have a point? Are some of the reasons legitimate? It certainly appears that some of these folks do quite well, thank you very much, in their laissez faire approach to spirituality. What difference does being part of a church make? Is it necessary for spiritual growth? What does God think? What about those who feel that they can worship God better while out fishing or hiking or at a concert? Why bother with Church?
The church is an old institution. Acts chapters 2 to 6 describes the beginnings of the organized church, from the coming of the Holy Spirit to the choosing of the seven deacons. The rest of the book describes how the church then spread both geographically and culturally, ending with Paul being welcomed by and serving the church in Rome. But to say the church began in Acts 2 isn’t entirely accurate.
In chapter 1 we have the account of how about a hundred and twenty followers of Jesus wait in prayer for forty days for the Holy Spirit after the Ascension of Christ. Isn’t this the church? Before that, of course, we have the four Gospels describing how Jesus called a group of followers around himself, both men and women (Luke 8:1-3). Wasn’t this the beginning of the church? As a body of people who follow Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be Messiah, absolutely. But it isn’t the beginnings of small groups of people gathering in different towns and cities and countries to worship God. For that we have to go back to the exile of the Jews from Judah to Babylon.
The Temple had been destroyed, all of the sacrificial system as proscribed in the books of Moses was no longer possible. Now what? How do we worship God when we can’t worship him the way he told us to? Out of this desire to be faithful the synagogue was born. Three reasons for its birth stand out; 1to focus on and learn from God’s Word, 2to provide a way to worship God apart from the temple, and 3to support one another to remain faithful in a pagan land. There is every indication that how the early church worshipped, ordered itself, and operated was patterned after the synagogue. After all, most of the first followers of Christ had grown up attending synagogues. Certainly the Holy Spirit did lead them to make significant changes from the synagogue, such as who was considered in and who was out (Jews and Gentiles) but the basic concept remained unchanged. These three reasons for the birth of the synagogue are every bit as important for the church today.
Focus on God’s Word
The synagogue was Word centred. The disaster of the exile had impressed on the survivors that they needed to know what God’s Word said so that they would never turn away from faithfulness to God again. The Word of God has always been a corporate Word. In ancient times copies of the Word of God were bulky and expensive. They were the possession of the community. It was read publicly, discussed publicly and preached publicly by members of the synagogue. Again and again in Acts Paul is invited to speak a word from God when he attends a synagogue in a new city. Yes, it was memorized, so that one was able to remember it in order to obey God, but it wasn’t a private devotional book. God intended it to be learned and obeyed in community. This provided an important of safeguard. All interpretation could be tested by others. It’s no accident that most pseudo-Christian cults have come about by one man or woman interpreting scripture all alone.
We as followers of Christ need to know the Word in order to remain faithful. We need its instruction, its admonishment, its encouragement, its call to obedience and its shaping of our minds and hearts. This happens best in community where our interpretations and understandings can be led by the Holy Spirit and tested by other believers who are also led by the Holy Spirit. By the way, through books and other writings, this includes believers from around the world. The New Testament church met regularly to hear “the apostles teaching”.
Provide a way to Worship God
The synagogue was never intended to replace the temple outright in worship. Because of the complete work of Christ on the cross, the church is. The synagogue service included prayers and the singing of the Psalms congregationally. The New Testament describes the early church following in this pattern. In chapter 13 of Acts, a group of leaders is praying and fasting when Paul and Barnabas are called to mission work. Ephesians 5:19 instruct us to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord”. Singing helps us to worship in a way that touches our souls. Prayer in all its forms connects us directly to God.
Support one another to remain faithful in a pagan land
We, like the Jews of the exile, live in a foreign land. Our true eternal home is heaven and the new earth in God’s presence. When you live in a foreign land it is normal to gravitate towards and connect with others of your home country for support and encouragement. If you don’t, you soon lose touch with where you came from. Our world is described by scripture as the “dominion of darkness” in contrast to the “kingdom of light … and of the Son he loves” Colossians 1:12, 13. By nature, all those who are not part of the kingdom of God will knowingly and unknowingly seek pull us away from the values and purposes of God’s kingdom. The pressure is relentless and we need all the support we can possibly get in order to remain oriented towards Jesus Christ.
So after all this, why even write this article? After all, I am clearly preaching to the choir. Very few who read The Recorder or other conference publications are contemplating leaving the church! Simply put, the church matters. It’s Christ’s body. To abandon the church is to abandon Jesus. Those of us who are convinced of this need to do everything in our power to make our individual churches everything they can possible be so that those who are struggling will not give up.
In his book, Church Why Bother?, Philip Yancey said this;
“the composer Igor Stravinsky once wrote a new piece that contained a difficult violin passage. After several weeks of rehearsal the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said that he could not play it. He had given it his best effort but found the passage too difficult, even unplayable. Stravinsky replied, ‘I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it.’” Perhaps something similar is what God had in mind with the church.”
I think Philip Yancey is right. God knew that here on earth, there would never be a church that would be able to figure this body idea out perfectly, but if a group of people called by His name would really, really try to ‘play it’, something amazing would happen, the aroma of Christ would be present, people would be drawn to it and want to follow that same God.
(If you think I ripped off the title of the article from someone else, you’re onto something. When I was preparing for this article I began by reading our Confession of Faith. As I began to reflect on this and began thinking of those who don’t see much value in church the title; “Church, Why Bother?” came to mind. To find more information I searched online and found out that Philip Yancey had written a book by the same name and that Tim Stafford wrote an article in Christianity Today, also by the same name. Either my thinking is uncannily like theirs or I’ve heard of their work before and their title came to my mind subconsciously; likely the latter.)
Darrell Dyck, Lead Pastor at Gospel Fellowship Church, Steinbach, Manitoba
EMMC Confession of Faith
Part 9 of 12-part series
September / October 2015 The Recorder