One of the saddest things afflicting Christians today is a lack of real enthusiasm in coming together to meet God. Attending many Charismatic events, I see people really on fire for God. Stadiums are packed full, miracles take place, and people go home with a nice feeling in their hearts. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t admit that this is a good thing in itself.
Yet I hardly saw the same number of people at discipleship seminars, stewardship workshops, and some of the other conferences which are perhaps deemed a little boring. Many of these workshops seem to be attended by only a handful of people. This is not to mention yet regular attendance at Bible study classes and prayer meetings in many churches. And this got me to thinking.
As time went on, I met people who identified themselves as Christians yet never went to church. Some claim they have busy schedules. Others claim they feel lonely in church, or that the message seems tired and to lack inspiration. Some are exhausted by the focus of churches on programmes. It seems to me that many people don’t really understand what churches are about.
Modern-Day Perception of Churches
If we really examine the way we used to picture churches in an honest manner, especially when we were non- or young believers, we may come to certain discoveries. These used to be the way many people view churches and some still do so today:
As an organization: ‘The church has a leadership board and most of the decisions are made by them without referring to the congregation. Vision and purpose of the church are decrees made by the ultimate leader in the church. If anyone in the congregation finds a problem in the way the church seem to be heading, they’re not supposed to question or bring into discussion their concerns but to be obedient to their leaders. Some churches, even Protestant ones, haven’t changed much since the days of the Reformation’.
As a Social Club: ‘If you want to be a part of the church, you have to adapt a certain “code”. You’re supposed to dress a certain way, worship in a certain way, and think a certain way. The mindset seems to be if people have different ways of doing things, they must be wrong’.
Whether these are true kinds of perception or not, these types of understanding frighten people. Yet, even among people who do make attempts to go to church, many might not have a complete comprehension of what churches are:
As a religious building: It is the place where Christians worship their God.
As ‘entertainment centers’: It is the place where I can see God perform miracles, people prophecy, or enjoy good music with the latest band equipment.
As hospitals: It is the place where you heal emotional, medical, or spiritual wounds.
As schools: Churches provide affordable education for kindergarten children or for the less-advantaged.
As ‘social clubs’: It is the place where I can hang out with people who are the same wavelength as me and where I can feel justified.
Most of these are blessings that God has bestowed on His people. Many are also essential and meaningful functions of churches. However, the problem comes when we have a limited perspective. People inevitably end up in disappointment if churches have failed them in any of these areas.
If we really want to understand what church is about, we need to examine it in the light of what it meant to Christ’s followers during His day.
The Early Church
While healing, education, and a sense of belonging flourished in the Early Church, they did so in circumstances that were extremely challenging. One could say that all these things thrived despite the circumstances.
The early followers of Christ did not have the advantage of great musical bands, many of the prophetic exhortations were not about wealth and earthly comfort, and they were a minority despised by the mainstream culture. Many did not even have an allotted building to meet in. Nevertheless, the early Christians possessed an understanding of what church is.
Churches play multiple roles in a society; they serve as a place of worship, places of joy and comfort, healing centers, schools, and a place where we can truly belong. What other body fit all these into one? It is a community.
Churches are foremost communities, and because we are set apart by God, we have a unique collective identity within that community. Because our unique collective identity is established by God and through Christ, our focus as a Church must be upon Christ and God. Even today, churches that understand this almost invariably grow rapidly.
Why Do We Go To Church?
Paul refers to the Early Church through the Greek Word ekklesia, a word which occurs in the New Testament a total of 115 times. Generally, ekklesia in the Classical Greek was used to refer to “an assembly of citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly”. The word as used in the New Testament is taken from the root of this word, which simply means to “call out.”
Because one of my goals in this article is to keep things simple, I will not go into this but certain connotations are clear. I will just simply state what I believe is the chief foundations for churches. Why do we go to church? The primary reason must be as an act of obedience to God who has called us out to Him.
Among the higher-listed commandments that God handed to His people through Moses was one about keeping the Holy Sabbath. This commandment was listed just below the ones concerning the Lord Himself. Jesus Himself showed an example to us in Luke 4:16:
16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.
Why does God place such importance in this? In Hebrews 10:25 Paul urges the early church not to neglect [their] meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of the Lord’s return is drawing near.
Paul recognizes that when we were born-again as Christians, it is no longer just about us. We are now a part of the Body of Christ, also known as the Family of God. Like all good and strong families, each member in the Family of God is inter-dependent upon the others. This reflects a true unity and what happens to one member of the Body should affect the other members of the Body. We must look beyond ourselves when we go to church.
Acts 2:44-46 gives us a picture of what the church is really all about:
And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.
And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
Church is where we worship God, and it is also where we learn to be accountable to the others in God’s family, where we receive the preaching of the Bible that will help set the direction for our lives, where we can learn to define what we believe, and where we can have an outlet to serve others beyond ourselves. It is where we learn what it is to be a people of God, love our brothers and sisters, and being loved in return.
When we go to church, let it be out of a heart of obedience to God. Let it be a holistic thing including disciplining ourselves. Let us prioritize what is truly important in God’s eyes, that we are really going because we consider ourselves as part of the Family of God, and that we are not just looking for people to entertain or feed us, but rather in maturing and discovering what we can do as a service to others now that we are part of His family.
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– by Jason Law CM, May 9 2015