WHY DO I NEED CHURCH?
He who does not have the Church for a mother does not have God as a Father.
Rev. Matthew W. Rueger, Author
Jan. 1, 2020
A lot of people think they don't need to go to church because they have Jesus in their hearts. They believe they know all they need to know to be saved. Church for them is just a place for outdated rituals or religious talk. Many don't see how church has any real bearing on their daily lives. Some stay away because the preacher is boring. Some don't find the style of worship exciting enough. Others stay away because the Church is full of hypocrites. There are many reasons why people don't see the need to go to church.
But are these reasons for staying out of church really valid and is there something in church that people actually need?
As to the validity of the excuses for not going to church:
Excuse #1 - "I already have Jesus in my heart."
This common saying tends to reduce Jesus to some emotional state that we can hold within our heart. If we feel religious, then we must have Jesus. This expression which is so common today is not found in the Bible. God's Word does not say that all we need is to have Jesus in our heart. Jesus is Person of the Godhead. He is not a feeling, a mood, or a conglomeration of thoughts. Nor has Jesus promised that when we need Him all we have to do is look in our hearts. The tendency to look inward for God is more in line with eastern religions like Buddhism than Christianity. Christians look outward for God. We look to those places where God has bound Himself, like His Word ("The Word was with God and the Word was God" - John 1:14) or His Sacraments ("This is my body, this is my blood"). If one wants to have Jesus, then one must go to those places where Jesus has promised to be.
Excuse #2 - "I know all I need to know to be saved."
Many equate being saved with "knowing" something, like knowing Bible stories, or knowing what Jesus did, or knowing the right doctrines. Faith is not the same as knowing. Even if a person could know all there is to know about God, it still wouldn't ensure one's salvation ("You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble!" James 2:19). Faith is better understood as receiving something instead of knowing something. Jesus said:
"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."
We receive Christ and His blessing. We receive His forgiveness, His care, His protection and grace. The mentally ill, the handicapped, and those with diminished mental capacities are not treated as if they cannot believe as they should because they cannot know all a fully functioning person can know. If faith is reception, then the question one ought to ask is, "Where can I go to receive Jesus' saving work?" The answer is the Church.
Excuse #3 - "The Church is a place for outdated rituals and religious talk."
The rituals of the historic liturgy are not simply ritual for ritual sake. They convey meaning. The reverence of the liturgy, the fact that the service involves speaking God's Word back to God, the respectful way God is addressed, the flow of the liturgy from confession to grace, all contribute to convey meaning. The historic liturgy of the Church is the way Christians have worshiped since the time of Christ. The modern liturgy has grown out of the form of worship used in the Jewish synagogue in Jesus' own day. We become part of something that transcends culture, time and place. Our voices join with the voices of believers throughout time as we take part in the same conversation between God and man that has blessed Christians since there were Christians. Those who criticize the Church as being outdated and full of empty religious talk do not understand the purpose of all that 'religious talking'. We breathe in God's Word and blessing ,and then breathe out His Word back to Him. The Worship of the Church is a very meaningful and important part of the Christian life if one understands what is happening there. Of course simply sitting the pew and not paying attention will do nothing for people. But when one is actually engaged in the holy conversation with their heart and soul, the Words, sounds, smells, and even tastes of the liturgy fill one's life with the strength of God that one needs to face the struggle and inhumanity of the world the rest of the week.
Excuse #4 - "The Church has no bearing on my daily life."
Sad to say, but many people feel that way. The fault here does not lie in the Church, but in the heart of the one who hears God's Word and isn't affected by it. If one really listens to the Words that are read, preached, and spoken throughout the service, one will see God's hand teaching and guiding His people for everyday life. It is, however, up to the hearer to put God's Word and blessing to work in every day life. That means saying "no" to temptations when they face us each day. It means standing by God's truth even when others we know and love reject it. It means approaching life with passion and trust in what God has given and not with doubt as to whether God can handle every day life.
Excuse #5 - "The preacher is boring."
As human beings, preachers are capable of any sin, including the sin of being boring and ill-prepared for a sermon. I won't deny it. Some preachers are boring. Some don't work hard enough at the sermons, preach sermons that are disjointed and hard to follow, or worse-preach sermons that are vacuous and meaningless. It does happen. If that is the case, then there are several way to deal with it:
A. Talk to the pastor about it and tell him you have a hard time following the message. Perhaps if he hears from people that they can't follow him, he'll work harder to be understood. If the sermon was shallow or meaningless, let him know that too. Tell the pastor you want to eat the meat of God's Word, not baby food.
B. Try to draw the meaning you need from the service, hymnody, and readings. Some pastors are gifted preachers, others are gifted teachers, and others are better at making evangelism calls or home visits. Just because a pastor isn't the best preacher doesn't mean he is without strengths. You may find he is still a good pastor, he just shines in the areas outside the pulpit.
C. Find a different church. A bad pastor does not make the whole church worthless. Go to a church that does preach the Word in its full truth and power. Just stay with the church where the truth is found, not with the personality of the man who fills the pulpit.
Excuse #6 - "The style of worship isn't exciting enough."
The Church is not in the world for entertainment purposes. It exists to heal souls. The hard work of confronting sin, forgiving sin, and healing souls is not meant to be flashy and exciting. It is meant to be comforting. Churches that try to be exciting and innovative are often covering the fact that they don't understand what their real purpose on earth is. God gave His Church to the world to bring His Son's love to people who need it.
Excuse #7 - "The Church is full of hypocrites."
Yes! The Church isn't just full of hypocrites, but it's also full of adulterers, murderers, thieves, liars, and every other kind of sinner. They know they are full of corruption and evil; that's why they are there. The question is, do you see that you are just as bad as them? They are in Church looking for answers for their sins and seeking forgiveness. The Church is not for perfect people who don't think they need help. It is for those who know they need saving from themselves and the badness that sticks to them.
Do you really need the Church?
Consider the following:
A. When the Christian message was first proclaimed by the apostles, they did not simply go from town to town and hold revivals like Billy Graham. They went into towns and formed churches. In those towns the apostles gathered congregations and then appointed pastors to shepherd the souls who gathered there. The apostles connected the message about Jesus with the Church, because it was in the Church where souls would get the ongoing care they needed for eternal life.
B. When the Holy Spirit first came to the disciples on Pentecost and they preached the Christian message, the Bible doesn't say that the Holy Spirit put Jesus in people's hearts. The Bible says,
"The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:47
God joined people to the Church because the Church was the place where He would continue to give them what they needed for eternal life.
C. When St. Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the living God, Jesus said to him, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). Jesus was planning all along to build his Church through the apostles. It was never Jesus' intention that his people would live apart from the Church holding onto the "Jesus in their hearts." The place our Lord says His people will be safe from hell itself is in the Church.
D. When St. Paul was teaching husbands how to love their wives, he told them,
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her." Eph. 5:25
Christ did not just die for individuals on their own. He gave Himself for His Church. His people gathered under His name. The Bible does not teach the modern individualism that says, "All I need to be saved is to have Jesus in my heart." The Bible very clearly teaches that Christ saw his people in collective terms - as His Church for whom He would give Himself.
E. When the Bible talks about people who shun the Church, it speak of them as if they are also shunning Christ. Consider the following passage from Hebrews:
"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. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The Lord will judge His people."It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Heb. 10:23-31
The "assembling of ourselves together" is going to church. God's Word says that when one forsakes this assembling of ourselves together as His Church that one is also "trampling the Son of God underfoot, counting the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing and insulting the Spirit of grace." It is harsh language, but it makes a clear point. We need church, and skipping church is a sin. In church we receive the Son of God. He is there in God's Word both proclaimed and read. He teaches us God's will for our lives. He pronounces our sins forgiven through His Word and at His Sacraments. He directs us in right paths through His Word. We need all those things for eternal life. Not on rare occasions, not a couple times a year, but constantly throughout the year.
F. We need church because we need Christ. God's Word to the Colossians says,
"He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence." Col. 1:17-18
The Church is called "the body of Christ." It is more than just an expression, it is a statement of fact. Jesus has connected Himself to the Church despite the many outward failings people have in it. To be joined to Christ is to be joined to His Church. In the first few centuries after Jesus' resurrection, there was a common expression among Christians that said, "He who does not have the Church for a mother does not have God as a Father." They understood that Christ was joined to His Church and one needed Church to have Christ.
Break a bad habit
I believe most people who don't go to church regularly know deep down inside they do need it. They've just gotten into the habit of doing other things Sunday morning, and bad habits are hard to break. Part of being a Christian is being willing to struggle within ourselves over our sinful habits. Every Christian feels the pull of bad habits. It takes effort to break out of them. Even the great apostle Paul struggled within himself over temptation:
"For the good that I want to do, I do not do; but the evil I don't want to do, that I practice." Rom. 7:19
Temptations to do the wrong thing will always pester Christians. But we Christians don't have to obey them. Christ has given us faith for the struggle, which means we can deny that part of ourselves that wants to be lax. We can obey the calling of God and be faithful in worship and life. Jesus said,
"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." Matt. 16:24
Bad habits can be broken and more faithful lives can be lived. We already have the tools we need to change. We have Christ and we have His gift of baptism. We are redeemed.
The starting point for living the new lives Christ gave us is found right there in Church and in the gifts of grace given at our baptisms. You can use the Word of God spoken over you to be your strength for new habits. You can be faithful to church, not just because God demands it, but because Christ promises you forgiveness, strength for new life, love, mercy, and rest for your soul. It's all there waiting for you in Christ who meets you at His Church.