Why Should We Go to Church?
My earliest recollection of going to church speaks more of my parents’ commitment to do the right thing by taking the family to church. It sure does not speak of my childish ambitions to make church-going more exciting and memorable.
The first church we attended was a large, wooden structure. If a cathedral were made out of oak, maple, and gloom, that was it. The pews were solid wood – no cushions or padding. That, of course, created a runway for energetic boys. A good running go from the aisle and a well-placed dive onto the bench would launch a kid half way across church, unless a big, grumpy churchman grabbed your collar first and shook you into a sitting position.
Those old wooden pews were great playthings especially after a good polishing. But when it was humid, they were sticky and grimy, as was everything else in the non-air conditioned building. Trying to slide then usually meant an abrupt halt followed by the thumping of our heads on the wood as we lost control. Mr. Big Grumpy Churchman would then just stand there and laugh… before grabbing us by the collar and tossing us upright into our seats. Just kidding about the grumpy man… maybe.
We used a hymnal in that old church called Heavenly Highways Hymns. Anyone remember those? It was an old, Stamps-Baxter, paperback songbook with shaped notes. If you could read, sing, and play those shaped notes, then you could harmonize songs like Since Jesus Came into My Heart, I’ll Meet You in the Morning, On the Jericho Road, I’ll Fly Away, and Just a Little Talk with Jesus. On a side note, as a little kid, when we sang, “Now let us have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all about our trouble…” I heard: a head of lettuce (“let us”) having a talk with Jesus. I suppose that would be the original Veggie Tales.
Many of the hymns were solid enough, a few flirted with Biblical truth, but one song in particular from that songbook stands out as a pretty good reason why that hymnal might have fallen out of favor with many churches. It’s title? Ain’t It a Shame. The words go something like this:
- “Ain’t it a shame to work on Sunday, ain’t it a shame a working shame… (repeat)… when you have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, ain’t it a shame.”
Okay, that’s probably not that far out. Here’s verse 2:
- “Ain’t it a shame to joyride Sunday, ain’t it a shame, a joyriding shame… (repeat)… when you have MTWTFS, ain’t it a shame.”
Now we’re meddling. You have all the days of the week to work. All the days of the week to joyride, but you dare not do it on Sunday.
It gets worse in this so-called hymn. Here’s verse 3:
- “Ain’t it a shame to gossip on Sunday, ain’t it a shame a gossiping shame… (repeat)… when you have MTWTFS, etc.” to do it, why do it on Sunday!? You have all the other days of the week to gossip! (Okay, I ad-libbed outside the quotes but in reality, that’s what is meant.)
Oh, but the 4th verse of this alleged hymn:
- “Ain’t it a shame to lie on Sunday, ain’t it a shame, a lying shame; ain’t it a shame to lie on Sunday, etc.” In other words, why do it on Sunday? Do your lying on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday!? But don’t you dare do it on Sunday because, well, that would be a shame.
You see what goes through my mind after being tossed headfirst into wooden pews when I was a kid?
We carried those hymnals to a new church that my family and several other families started from the ground up. I might add that we quickly disposed of those songbooks, too, although I still have a copy, I suppose to remind me of the good old days.
I was a product of Bible learning in Sunday School, crash courses in churchmanship, and lessons on volunteerism as families took turns with custodial duties, my family included. Over time, I confessed my faith in Jesus in that church, and was baptized there. My next greatest blessing was meeting my wife Jody in that church and getting married in that same church.
Since then, the churches I’ve attended – the churches that I’ve taken my family to – have been churches associated with my ministry calling. Now that I’ve shared a bit about my church experiences, I’m ready to answer the question, “Why we should go to church?”
Let’s consider the answer(s) from I Kings 8:22-30. First Kings is one of the books of history in the Old Testament. My pastor often reminds us that we true and faithful believers are people of the Book (that is, the Holy Bible). There’s a historical context here in I Kings that we need to explore, and it’s a story from this Book that I believe to be true. If you contest that, please show me your proof, unadulterated and unrevised historical proof, if you don’t mind:
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven;
23 and he said: “Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts.
27 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!
28 Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today:
29 that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place.
30 And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive.
David was the greatest king Israel had ever known. In spite of his failures, he was great because God chose him to be king. He was great, too, because he chose God to be Lord. We know that David was a man after God’s own heart. And he was the man from whom Jesus would come to us through an earthly lineage.
David was fully motivated to build a house for God, a temple of worship. But God would not allow it; rather, God let that honor go to David’s son, Solomon. David did not grumble about this. Instead, he set about preparing everything Solomon would need to build the temple: the blueprints, wood, stone, metal (like iron, silver, and gold), workers, and finally, a commission to his son to build, and with that, the familiar Old Testament refrain: Don’t be afraid or dismayed.
So King Solomon builds, that is, he superintends the construction, and it is magnificent. The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord is brought into the inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. Solomon reminds the people how God brought them to this point in history. The king then blesses the people.
He goes on to acknowledge God’s unlimited faithfulness in keeping the divine covenant with those who walk with Him with all their hearts. He confesses God’s unconfinable glory. Not even heaven and the heaven of heavens can contain it. Yet He chooses to dwell with men on the earth. And Solomon prays for God’s undivided attention and forgiveness.
Solomon’s prayer was largely about the role that the temple would hold for God’s people, Israel, and for that matter, for people around the world. From this context, we can glean several truths that apply to us today about the church’s importance in our lives and why we should go to church.
First, we should go to church for personal restoration. In I Kings 8:31-32, we read:
31 “When anyone sins against his neighbor, and is forced to take an oath, and comes and takes an oath before Your altar in this temple,
32 then hear in heaven, and act, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, bringing his way on his head, and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness.
The temple, or in our case, the church, is a place where people can find restoration. Not may find, but can and shall find. It’s well and good that we talk about the physical structure that people identify as being the church. More precisely and Biblically, the building is where the church meets. When God’s people assemble, wherever God’s people assemble, they should put out a welcome mat that says, “Restoration starts here.” Those who have reached the end of their rope, who have been beat up by sin and its shame and who just need a fresh start with Jesus as their Lord, should know and expect that restoration is available where the church meets.
Second, we should go to church for national restoration. In I Kings 8:33-34, we read:
33 “When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You, and when they turn back to You and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication to You in this temple,
34 then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers.
Church, for us, is the location where the nation turns in time of national crisis. I remember the infamous day we know as 9-11. Whatever spin revisionist history may put on it, that’s the day in 2001 when the United States of America was attacked by 19 foreign terrorists (cowardly thugs) representing a radical Islamic hate group. If you’ve read the Koran, then you know that this “religion” is vile, violent, and so narrow-minded that there is really nothing underneath their turbans that needs protecting (yes, I’ve read it and have taken voluminous notes, and if I sound harsh and judgmental, get back to me when you, too, have done so). The death toll was about 3,000, with many more since then suffering and dying from the aftermath. Churches nationwide opened their doors for prayer and consolation. The nation, as a people, leaned on the church for answers, for unity, and for restoration. But my, how quickly it was forgotten. Eighteen years later, people more than ever reject God and the restoration that He offers; and many of those same churches are closed for the Lord’s business for lack of attendance. Make no mistake: God is still on the throne and still offers forgiveness, especially to people groups that turn to Him.
Third, we should go to church for healing of the land. In I Kings 8:35-36, we read:
35 “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, when they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin because You afflict them,
36 then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Israel, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance.
I am not a climate activist but I am a conservationist, a Christian conservationist. I believe that we should obey God’s command to subdue the earth and have dominion over it, and to do that responsibly. Yet there is sin which causes dreadful harm to the land. I remember traveling to Kentucky when I was a kid and seeing the damage done by strip mining. It’s an ugly, irreversible process of mining for coal that damages soil, water, air, and anything that lives in those things. The church is vital, if not central, to teaching the good way in which to walk with God foremost in spiritual disciples, and this includes stewardship. When the land is not cared for, it does not produce, and that can hurt many people. Does healing of the land relate to our sin? I think so. In the parallel historical story of II Chronicles 7:14, God responded to Solomon about this very thing when He said, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Fourth, we should go to church for healing of the heart. In I Kings 8:37-40, we read:
37 “When there is famine in the land, pestilence or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers; when their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities; whatever plague or whatever sickness there is;
38 whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple:
39 then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men),
40 that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers.
Sickness. Disease. Plague. We certainly cannot sit on the throne in place of God and say that these are caused in someone’s life or in the land as a result of individual sin. In some cases, these are spread by sinful acts but not necessarily caused as a result of someone’s sin. Why do these come about? Paul answered it best in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All of us. Our nature is sinful and fallen, and has reduced us to frail human beings susceptible to the ravages of sickness and death. In a way, it looks like sin is to blame. But we’re all in this together. There’s only one place I know of that welcomes people with sinful souls, beat up bodies, hurting hearts: the church. God alone knows what’s going on inside your heart, your soul, your mind, your body. He is merciful to those who spread out their hands to Him and make their prayers of repentance and supplication (supplication simply means requests). Know that He will act. Ask Him to help you understand how He does so.
Fifth, we should go to church to proclaim to the nations. In I Kings 8:41-43, we read:
41 “Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name’s sake
42 (for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this temple,
43 hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name.
God’s salvation was not exclusively for Israel. Many of the Jews in the first century were jealous of missionaries like Paul and Barnabas, and the word of God that they shared with non-Jewish people. In fact, they were so envious that they were riotous and violent. In Acts 13:46, Paul and Barnabas responded to their envy and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” And get this: It happened on the Sabbath! And very likely right on the front steps of the temple! But let’s not forget that out of the nation of Israel came the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And there is yet a great measure of mercy that God has for the chosen nation which likewise needs to hear the Gospel proclaimed to her. For now, it is sufficient to know that the center of mission operations in Solomon’s day was the temple, and the center of mission operations for us today is the church, not TV stations, parachurch organizations, or campus ministries. Some of these may be good things but the Great Commission belongs to and begins in the church, proclaiming to all the nations “The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ – He is Lord of all. (Acts 10:36)
Sixth, we should go to church for a haven of justice. In I Kings 8:44-45, we read:
44 “When Your people go out to battle against their enemy, wherever You send them, and when they pray to the Lord toward the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built for Your name,
45 then hear in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.” We patriots search for this type of justice for our country. More importantly, we should also do so for the kingdom, for there is a greater cause, a greater justice above all, and it resides with God. God is a God of justice. God loves justice. God will not pervert justice. All throughout, the Bible tells us how God relates to justice. We may call it His right or righteous cause; the position He takes and holds against wrong, against sin. And He wants justice for us. Job said that justice was like a hat for him. And justice should be like a badge of honor for the church, the place where the cause of the afflicted is upheld, the place known to stand against evil and sinful things like abortion, same sex marriage, the hideous human trafficking trade, evolution, drug, chemical, and alcohol abuse, oppression (otherwise known as bullying), and any other number of unbiblical laws or practices. My church gets that and we are unapologetically a haven for justice.
And seventh, we should go to church because of the message of hope. In I Kings 8:46-52, read:
46 “When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to the land of the enemy, far or near;
47 yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of those who took them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’;
48 and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who led them away captive, and pray to You toward their land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built for Your name:
49 then hear in heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause,
50 and forgive Your people who have sinned against You, and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You; and grant them compassion before those who took them captive, that they may have compassion on them
51 (for they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out of Egypt, out of the iron furnace),
52 that Your eyes may be open to the supplication of Your servant and the supplication of Your people Israel, to listen to them whenever they call to You.
We should go to church to hear the message of hope. We should go to church to be equipped to share the message of hope. It is the church for which Christ gave Himself and died (Ephesians 5:25). And it is the church that proclaims the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord.
When someone asks why we (or they) should go to church, the most familiar answer is the often-quoted, “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together,” from Hebrews 10:25. It is a good point, but it’s not the only point in that chapter. We can also assemble in Bible study groups, coffee shop get-togethers, Christian concerts, camps, and other Christian venues where we can exhort one another and worship Christ. Most certainly, the church should be about exhortation and worship, and the place to go because of the message of hope.
So again, why should we go to church? Another answer might be to fulfill the purpose of God. Paul wrote in Ephesians 3 that even for the Gentiles to whom Paul preached in his day, and for us in our day, God uses the church to make known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places the manifold wisdom of God (v. 10). This, Paul says, is according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 11). Verily, verily, most certainly, we should go to church to make known this message of hope.
Yet there’s one more answer to the question, “Why should we go to church?” And I think it’s the best answer. None of us would argue that Jesus spent a lot of time in the synagogue, that is, in His church. He met with others in church, He worshipped in church, He taught in church. He was active in church from the time He was a little boy. There’s no way to remove Jesus from church; that is, unless one builds his house upon the sands of much less stable things like the par 3, a fishing hole, the sports arena, or the inside of one’s eyelids.
This all comes down to a very simple answer to why we should go to church. That lesser physician, the apostle Luke, dropped the bombshell in Luke 4:16, “So He (Jesus) 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.”
Did you catch it? May I say it more simply: Jesus went to church on the Lord’s Day because it was His custom; and if believers claim to walk in the light as He is in the light, then we, too, will include church-going and church-doing in our walk of faith.
So why should we go to church?
Very simply, to be like Jesus.