Monday, August 6, 2012
Why Go To Church?
From the start I admit I borrowed the title for this post from Pastor Tim Stevens of Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. And, throughout this post, I quote from his article appearing in OUTREACH NEWSLETTER’s email from August 6…today. So, why go to church after all. Many of us who surf blogs and get our appetite whetted by information on apps live and die on the computer. We listen to talkshows, archived sermons, etc. on the computer. Yet, going to Church is much more than a sanctified info-dump or spiritual soak-up of helpful information. If we wanted that, we could find some book of practical. Thank God, His word is not just practical advice. It’s salvation from Christ alone to us. Now, Pastor Stevens voices his first reason of why to go to Church this way: Why Go to a Church Service When You Can Watch Online? ByTim Stevens “1. The church needs you. I’m not talking about the building or the organization. Rather, the people of God need what you can offer. Your physical presence, words of encouragement and acts of service—combined with what others bring—is what makes the people of God. When you “go to church” with missional eyes opened wide, you arrive early and stay late, you engage in conversations with other followers of Jesus, you look for people who need to be encouraged and you lean into “coincidental” conversations with people that God will bring along your path.” Notice that in his first explanation, he implies that we have something the Church needs. Without saying as much, Pastor Stevens seems to assume you have a kind-of-sort-of basic assumption of 1 Cor. 12 or Rom. 12 where the apostle Paul describes the of Christ in the terms of a hyman body. However, does the Church really need something each of us has? No. From Acts 17 we read Paul’s answer in saying God doesn’t need each of us as if He can work apart from our hands. Sure, the idea that the Church needs us may sound tantalizing, inviting warm, and fuzzy. It may make us feel good. It might give us a martyr complex if we get rejected by some clique or other. But, what is the Church in the first place? Instead of needing us, the Church is the body of Christ, marked by the gathering around our Lord’s preached Word and administered Sacramentsl—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (1 Cor. 11:23-26, 1 Cor. 12:13, etc. God gives His Church His Word to preach and teach so that we all confess His Name. (Rom. 10:8-d10 We need Christ’s own calling and sending a pastor to us to rightly preach His Word and administer His gifts. Rom. 10:14-17 The Church has the proclamation of unity. (Eph. 4:1-6) That way, we aren’t each believing what we want to or devising our own interpretation of Holy Scripture. So, in short, the Church does not need each of us to carry out its work. Rather, through the Church, our Lord draws us to Himself to give us the means of grace which we need. “2. It’s not just about spiritual food. If going to “church” once a week was just about gaining what you need spiritually to make it through another week, then tuning in online would be just fine. You could get what you need on Christian radio, reading books, studying the Bible or watching your favorite TV preacher. But the purpose of church is so much broader than that. It is about corporate worship, praying and studying the Bible together, serving one another and reaching out in mission together. This can’t be done in isolation.” We can be right on somethings for all the wrong reasons. Pastor Stevens is right in that we need to be to gether. WE need more tyhan just a “spiritual” message. Now, that’s where His conclusion ends in it being right. Even if we were to get our weekly fill of that something spiritual, we couldn’t get it on the internet or by a radio/TV preacher. Why? The Church doesn’t just give esteem- or how-to- based pointers. Trhoguh the Church, our Lord gives us all of Himself—His asbsolution after our public confession of sins, His Word conjoined with water for faith’s beginning in Holy Baptism. (Rom. 6:3-4, Gal. 3:26-27) Throguh the called servant of the Word’s hands, our Lord in public places on our lips His body and blood for our forgiveness. (1 Cor. 11:23-26) You can’t get any of that with your head on a pillow and the latest insight for your life dribbling into your ear. You can’t get that as you watch Mr. Smily Teeth lead a stadium full of folks in calling out: “I’ll never be the same.” In public, together, God draws us; we confess our unworthiness; He dispenses His grace to each of us; we thank and praise Him. AS far as our mutual love for each other as Christians goes, we speak in care, friendship, and concern the compassion that grows out of the faith our Lord grants us. Yet, Pastor Stevens presses his point:”3. You need the church. You need the “church” (those people who are followers of Jesus and gather together with your congregation) more than you think you do. There is so much in Scripture about the relational aspects of the church—love one another, be devoted to one another, encourage one another, instruct one another, greet one another—and these can’t be done as well in a virtual environment.” That’s true to a large extent. Yet, how do we get to such mutual love and concern? Stevens, here, wants to make the cause into the effect and the effect into the cause. Nobody comes to Christ unless Christ Himself draws him/her. We encourage each other not to give up meeting to together as some have. (Heb. 10:25) Yet, even there, our Lord draws us with a purified heart to hear and trust His Word. While Pastor Stevens approach our need for the community of the Church from a psychological point of view, Holy Scripture has primarily salvation to eternal life in mind. See also Eph. 4:14-16. Than answer the question: Who does the drawing or gathering of His people? It’s not us. It’s Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Now, whose point of view is Pastor Stevens taking in the following statement? “4. The church is a living organism. You remove your pancreas or esophagus or left arm, and it will cease to live outside your body. The New Testament knows nothing about a Christian who is not connected to a church. Your gifts, skills, ideas, service, leadership, resources, love—everything you have to offer—is a crucial part to a congregation thriving.” Nice try! But, again, this misses the point. Sure, we can offer our time, talent, and treasure in a local congregation, circuit, district, or synod. Yet, we can’t do that unless Christ engenders in us love for our neighbor as He directs our trust in Him and 2. Gives us someone’s need for which and for whom He already died. No matter what aspect of our life together arises, Jesus has already gone graciously when no one else has dared to go before….through the cross. Here’s another reason Pastor Stevens gives. He says: “5. Your presence matters more than you think. Many times we think we won’t be missed. I don’t vote on election day because it doesn’t really matter. I don’t show up for my kids basketball game because he won’t even notice. I commit to the work day, then stay home, because surely they have enough people. I stay home and watch the service online, because in a church with 5,000 people, who will even notice that I’m not there? But that is so short-sighted and inaccurate. You underestimate the significance of your presence when you think it doesn’t matter. You undervalue the power of the Spirit of God residing within you when you believe staying home is just as good as showing up. You possibly miss what God wants to do through you and for you when you stay home.” Okay, in response to this, we go back to the marks of the Church—people gathered around the Word preached rightly and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s command. The Church isn’t going to miss my voice belting out th eTe Deum or “This Is The Feast” if I’m gone. One person’s questions during Bible can be picked up by another who offers just as relevant insights into the text of God’s Word. Even if we’re the one ot switch the air conditioning from upstairs to downstairs, someone else can step in if we’re not there. The point, made with exaggeration, is this: We don’t go to Church because, without us, it lacks something. The Church, as Paul explains in 1 Cor. 3 is no cult of personality. And, the time for celebrating the Lord’s Supper is no time for a center aisle shoving match (1 Cor. 11:17-22, 29-34) It’s not time ot swing wide the gate either for folks who don’t confess as we do. Rather, in drawing us: Our Lord gives us Himself free for the the trusting in Him. In love, we serve each others needs and proceed to our daily vocations between the Sundays. Now Pastor Stevens asks: “So, why provide online church services?” “• Because there are lonely, isolated people in the world, and it provides a bridge to them so they can eventually take a step into a community of faith.” It’s true. There are many lonely, isolated people in need of hearing God’s Word. Some may be fearful of a large (or small) corporate gathering of God’s people. Now, some “mission-minded” agents say what Pastor stevens say s is right. There’s a problem, though. The internet or radio broadcast is not just a “mission outpost.” It’s media by which the same preached Word reaches those who may feel in distress. The Church, in the hands of loving friends , a real, caring pastor, etc. brings someone who feels lonely honest friendship and consolation. Again, the Church is not just a change agent of spiritual info-dumping or a harbinger of the how-to. Rahter, as the members of Christ body receive all of our Lord in Word and Sacrament, so they in love desire that someone in distress receive all of Christ, in all His promises, too. “ • Because the Internet reaches billions of people all over the world, some who are not close enough to participate in a vibrant church.” Well, maybe, sometims. Yet, you and I do well to use broadcasts and podcasts for this reason after we have done our homework 1. With our home pastor who may know of a congregation near our temporary remote location and 2. By searching the internet to see if a faithful congregation is near where we will be. To this end, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and and Issues ETc. website have resources whereby you can find a congregation where you’l get the Word preached rightly and the Sacraments administered according ot Christ’s institution. “• Because there are times when you are out of town, on vacation or away at college and it gives you a link to stay connected to your church.” And, here I would actually agree with Pastor Stevens to a point. Yet, for the same reasons I mentioned above, we do well to find a local congregation where we go to school, travel for busness, or vacation. Then, we do well to speak with our pastor so they can affirm our congregation of choice. They may be able to call the pastor of the congregation where we intend to go so that he may know we are in good standing, especially with regard to receiving the Lord’s Supper. “• Because it serves as an easy invite tool for your friends who aren’t ready to step into a physical gathering, but they are hurting and need Jesus, and an online service can help you reach them.” That’s true, again to a point. Yet, see my comments under the first reason for having online services and sermons accessible to the public. In addition, though, I add two reasons First, having recorded and archived services helps peole go back later on in the week to hear again the message preached to them in person. Secondly, online/recorded services/sermons bring the comfort of God’s Word to people who are shut-ins or temporarily ill. They get to hear the same preaching as everyone else and, then, when their pastor comes for a visit, he brings the them Christ’s very body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine in Holy Communio. Worship as a corporate drawing together of Christ’s body does not begin with us. It starts with our Lord and ends with Him for our eternal life.