Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So Why Do You Go to Church

So why do we go to church?  Just about all of us get up each Sunday morning, put on our Sunday best (or Sunday not-so-best depending on the church you attend), and go to church.  We meet our friends, sings songs unto God, and hear from His word.  We pray and get prayed for.  Many of us even serve, helping the church service run smoothly.  But why do we go?  More important than me asking the question is for you to ask the question to yourself.  Today is a time of self examination and to begin I will give what God says the purpose of attending church is.
And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ-- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.  Ephesians 4:11-16 NKJV
The purpose of going to church is to be trained in service to the Lord.  It is to edify the body, to train up the believers, and to give them a firm doctrinal foundation.  Is that your purpose? For many of us it is not.  Let us look at a few common examples of why people go to church. 

Many go to church to worship.  Please do not think that I am diminishing worship in any way.  Worship is an integral part of a church service and should have a central role in any church service.  The problem comes in making worship the main reason why we go to church.  I say that because worship should be a central part of our lives each and every day.  Worship is not something you only do with a band and a worship leader with your brothers and sisters in church.  If worship is why you go to church, then what are you doing the rest of the week when you should be worshiping?  We worship before the message to prepare our hearts to hear God's message for us.  We worship after the message to praise God for what He is showing us as a result of that message.  If you go mainly for worship that means the message is merely seen as a break between worship sessions and you lose out on what God may have had for you. 

The next reason is much related to the first (and I would make the argument that they are one and the same) and that is many people go to church for an emotional experience.  Many people go to church because they "like" the way they feel when they are there.  Whether it be inspirational uptempo music, a charismatic preacher who makes them feel good about themselves, or friends that they really enjoy spending time with.  We can not judge a church by how good it makes us feel.  This is especially true if you are not living for God.  If you are living a lackluster Christian life, church should be a place of conviction and challenge and not a place to just make you feel better about your fallen lifestyle.  I am not saying that church should not also be a place of rejoicing, inspiration, hope, and healing, but to judge a church on feelings is to allow yourself to be deceived.  If you trust your feelings, you are a fool.  Think of the many times in your life where you did not trust your feelings and avoided hardship and all the times you followed your feelings and found it. 

Next there are the many people who go to church to get something from God.  Many go to church for prayer, healing, prosperity, or some other kind of blessing.  They go to church with their hands out expecting God to just give them the desires of their flesh reminding God of His promise to fulfill the desires of their hearts.  Once again, church is a place to receive prayer and we are told in Scripture that those prayers should include prayers for healing, but that is not the reason we come together.  If that were true, every service would be a healing service, whatever that is.  If you go to church for the main reason of being rewarded by God for doing so, you will be disappointed. 

And then there are the ones with the worst reason to go to church.  These are the ones who go to church to please God.  If you are going to church mainly to please God, then you are going for the wrong reason.  Going to church is not a chore, but something we should look forward to doing.  In other words, it should be something you desire to do.  If you are forcing yourself to go to church, you are not pleasing God nor are you edifying yourself.  You are merely putting on a show and one that does not fool God.  God is not pleased by our works in that we do not impress God with any good we can do.  God looks at our hearts and desires our hearts to be after Him.  God looks to our faith in Jesus and it is only by that faith that we are counted as righteous before God.  Going to church is for us to learn not for us to try to impress God by our attendance record. 

There is one other thing I need to mention.  Many of us have the idea that the role of the church is to bring our friends to in order for them to receive Jesus.  There is nothing wrong with inviting a friend to church.  In fact, it is generally a good thing.  However, church is to train you up to lead your friend to Christ.  If you are not living and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, odds are you friend will not believe in Jesus.  It is hard to believe in the one you call Lord when you do not live like He is your Lord.  It is not necessarily the pastor's job to lead your friend to the Lord through an alter call, but for you to lead your friend to the Lord by your own life with the training you received in church. 

Worship, inspiration, fellowship,and prayer are all important parts of a church service.  They can not be the main reason, though.  It really has to be about the teaching and growing in Christ.  Paul's epistles, which were instructional, were meant to be read to the churches of his day.  They were meant to teach and edify each fellowship they were read to and they continue to edify us to this day.  When you go to church because of the worship, you run the risk of being led astray.  Bethel Church has amazing sounding worship and most of us probably have one of their albums.  However, the theology of the church is filled with heresy.  There are many churches where the people are very friendly, but friendly to a fault where they do not challenge you to grow in Christ.  These are the churches that accept homosexuality as a right way to live.  There are may churches that have great healing and prosperity services, but very few if any actually receive healing or prosperity.  That is of course except for the pastor who lives lavishly through your donations and book purchases. 

In the end, we can please God by going to church, but we do not please Him by going to church to please Him.  We please Him with our desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We please God as we allow ourselves to be trained up into mature men and women of God.  We please God with our desire for more and more of His Word.  We please God with our hearts turned towards Him.  If your church is not raising you up to be those mature men and women of God it is time to move on.  Quality worship and good fellowship do not make up for bad doctrine.  In fact, they only serve to cover the lack of good doctrine.  On the other hand, good doctrine with people after God's heart learning and growing in Christ will lead to true worship and the kind of fellowship that is not just about having a good time but about keeping each other accountable.  A good friend does not smile approvingly as you sin, but a good friend will challenge you. If you are not growing as a Christian in the church you are in, the problem is with your heart or with the church and one has to change.  The time for that self-examination is now. 
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.  Hebrews 10:23-25 NKJV

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