I've been thinking about an issue for a while and my cousin-in-law's blog entry on why she doesn't go to church brought it to mind again. I know a good handful of Christians who aren't currently active in a church. Some have never been, some have been but have slipped out of the routine, and some have made a choice to step out of church. Of the last group, some of those are in small groups, or home churches and others are not. Quite a variety here.
This topic makes me question why my family is in a church weekly. Let me point out I am not judging anyone for making a different decision than we've made. Each family has to pray and make this call on their own, it's not up to me to dictate it. I'm simply sharing why church is important to me, even though it seems scripture is not crystal clear on the topic.
I don't go to church to secure my salvation. The two don't jive together. You're either saved or not and you either go to church or not, two different issues. Being saved has nothing to do with our actions (which would be works and Paul said clearly it's not about works) or the pastor's actions (like him baptizing us or whatever-baptism is the act of obedience that shows the condition of our heart, it doesn't save us), it's about the condition of our heart. Are we trusting Jesus as our only route to heaven? That's another post, though...
I go to church to worship in truth and to learn more about the Bible. I go to exercise my gifts and talents God has given me, to encourage others, and to lean on the support of others.
Corporate worship does something great to my soul. There's a church or two a lot closer that we'd enjoy but the worship is so opposite our style that we would really have trouble getting our hearts into it. I worship at home too, but there's nothing quite the same as singing to our Lord with a couple hundred other believers, all in one accord.
My pastor is one of the smartest men I know. I get something from almost every sermon. There was a series of sermons he did related to politics that Shane and I discussed for days. We weren't sure we agreed with it all, but boy did it stretch us! Listening together to our pastor adds strength to our marriage. One sermon a few months ago really drew Shane in, while other sermons speak to me more. It's interesting to compare notes on what God is teaching us individually and as a couple.
We get to know people we would have otherwise never met. There are a lot of women who are further in their walks with the Lord than I am. They gracefully demonstrate their gifts to the body as they love and serve. I get to absorb this as we work together on a project related to church. What a blessing to "sit" under the women who have so much to share!
I can use the gifts the Lord's given me anywhere, but what better way to regularly exercise and practice them than to fellow believers in my church? We are called to build up other Christians, and I find church to be the best place to start!
It's easiest to tithe on a regular basis if I am in church. When we miss the Sunday after payday, it's harder for me to make sure I get that tithe in the plate two weeks later. It gives us a place and a regular schedule for our giving.
Another reason I love being in church is that Shane can let his guy-guard down. Our society expects so much from men that God doesn't. In church, men can be tender, can be the leaders they're supposed to be (or they can learn under other great models), they can tear up, be weak and vulnerable, and they can freely worship their God. Especially because of Shane's field of work, he needs a place like this.
People in our church can plant seeds in me or my family. When we started the PRC, Doug, our pastor (then) was the fuel behind it. God called us, Doug coached us. I'm sure God could have pulled it off another way, but without Doug, I'm not sure the center would be here. In the same vein, Ash has a Sunday School teacher who is absolutely precious. They have a great bond and Ash learns from her in different ways than she learns from me. Even when Ash is grown up, I know she'll have a tender place in her heart for Mrs. Sherry.
Finally, to challenge my dear cousin-in-law (and many others who feel this way)-with her permission, may I suggest that the hypocrite argument holds no water? If we went to church to become perfect; if there were a special device at the front doors that would take our sinful habits away, then we could be upset with the people who come in the back door (missing the device) and continue to mess up. Unless you are also sin free as a Christian (I only know of One!), then how can you (or I) complain that a fellow church goer still sins? After all the church is not a social club for perfect people, it's a hospital for the wounded.
We don't go to church to compare our lives to each other, we go to come before the Lord, compare our lives to his standards, repent and worship! All fall short, remember-I am part of all.
I grew up in a house that had the attitude that you don't have to be in church to go to heaven. That is perfectly true. However, as an adult it left me weak and unknowing as a Christian. When the pastor would say, "We all know what happened to Jonah." I'd think, "Well, I don't..." and I'd feel ashamed. If I had been brought to church, I wouldn't have been behind.
My final point is this: If I were to pray and ask God, "God, if I find a good, solid, Bible believing church that follows you and worships in truth, should I go?" what would he likely say? Would he say, "No, please be comfortable and stay in bed, just watch that TV preacher." or maybe, "No, there's no need for you to hang out with hypocrites." Thanks for letting me pick on your statement Jennifer, you're a good sport :)