Why do you go to church? Seriously, I assume you're reading this, but I'd like to know why you go to church... or why you don't go. What did you hope would happen there? How did you hope you would leave the worship service? All of us are on a journey when it comes to faith and that is the same for Christian faith as well. I really would like to hear from you on this, it's not just a question to the air, it's a question I ask a lot of people, and I'd really appreciate hearing from our readers too.
If you've grown up around church, this is the one thing that we are encouraged to "invite" people to. Worship is what we encourage people to commit to. We teach "going to church" to our young kids, we drag our older tired teenagers, we sometimes bribe our friends to come with us and for many it really is something we look forward to, but... WHY?
I've been thinking and praying over this quite a bit over the past 5 years and as I've wrestled with the notion of "intimacy" and the 18-25 year old time of life. I have started to see more deeply that God's greatest desire is intimate relationship with us as individuals so that we would function fully human (God's definition - made in the image of God) with the people around us. Intimacy requires that I reveal myself and trust that when I do, I will be loved and not humiliated. Intimacy, I believe, is the starting point for why we come to church and why worship is so important for us. The opportunity to experience "Communion and Community"
Communion - a common union. A deep connection between two people or better yet, between the Created and the Creator. Best yet, a deep and eternal connection between a loving Father and a dearly loved child. Worship offers the opportunity to experience this communion between you and your heavenly Father in two very special places that are intensely personal. Confession and Absolution and the sacrament of Holy Communion
In Lutheran worship, we take time for "confession and absolution".It is a moment where we are invited to, spiritually and in reality, to take off our masks before God. To confess all the ways I've tried to hide from God because of the things I have done to offend him. As we stand naked before our heavenly Father in the admittance of my lack of living a life to God's standard and for his Glory, God answers our repentance with love. We can look our Father in the eye because he has invited us to do so. In repentance he turns a loving face to us, forgives sin and encourages us to choose life and not death. By the faith given us and the power of the Holy Spirit in us, choose God's way, rather than sin. The reason God can look at us with love is that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin. God turned his justice and judgement of sin from us to his Son who bore the penalty for us. He died the death we deserve so that God could look at us the way he could only look at his son. Intimacy. We share our reality with God, who forgives and shows us the face of love. As Saints in Christ, we confess our sin and need for a Savior, and we are "absolved" or forgiven of our sin, assured of our good standing with God because of the sacrifice of Christ.
In Lutheran worship we take time for Holy Communion where the Bible teaches that Jesus is actually present in, with and under the bread and wine. Translation? What we believe, by faith, is that in Communion, God comes to us PERSONALLY and gives us personal assurance of his love for us and his common union with me... with you. While the confession and absolution portion of a worship service is personal to a degree, it often feels far more communal. We can hide in the community and we can feel far from. In Holy Communion, that gift is intensely personal "For YOU, for the forgiveness of YOUR sin" and for YOUR relationship with Jesus.
One of the great reasons to "go to church" is that it is one of the few places on earth that we can experience this common union with our God. While we can and should be with Jesus everyday in prayer, in the word, in the quiet moments of meditation and in private worship, the worship service offers us a unique opportunity when we gather with others who need that communion with God. And it's that common need for Grace that makes us a unique community, which we will cover next month!
The takeaway? One of the great reasons for going to church is for the strengthening and restrengthening of that union we have with God. The God who craves intimacy with you. Who desires for you to be fully known and loved. The God who knows that the only way that we become fully alive and fully human is in an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. A relationship that was won by Christ alone and is renewed the same way.
Last month, I shared that one of the reasons we invite people to church, one of the core ideas for why we encourage people to be present in public worship is because of the intentionality within worship of "Communion" with God. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was to give us life to the full and the only way that happens is when we are in a Common Union with God through Jesus. Worship is a place where we act on our need for a Savior through confession and absolution as well as Holy Communion. That the deepest core of our humanity is based on the relationship we have with the God that desires an intimate relationship with us. We were created for Him. Sin makes that relationship dead and damaged, repentance and forgiveness renews and restores our true selves - a daughter, a son of the King of Kings.
But there is another reason to gather in worship and that is the Common Unity that we have by being alive in Christ. We may be very different, have different likes and dislikes, skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, and economic realities. But at the foot of the cross, all are equally needy, all are equally redeemed and that common reality gives us the common ground that we need for true Community. Being on our own may be less messy at times, but we were made for community. Our gifts are not meant only for us, but are meant to contribute to the better functioning of the whole of society.
Yes, you can worship in your car, at home, by yourself and you should do this. Yes, you can worship with your family, in your Bible study, and in your small group and you should do this. But there is nothing quite like when people come in a common belief in our need for Communion with God, hear of his great love for us individually and then celebrate with one voice the truth of who Jesus is... There's just nothing like it.
And it's not just in the 1 hour on a Sunday, but the accountability, friendships, affirmations, encouragements, and hard conversations that come from trusted Christian friends. One author has said that sin makes us less human, a step further away from what it means to be truly made in the image of God. In a world hellbent on destroying the humanity of the individual and turning community into a cancer, being part of the Body of Christ, remains one of the greatest tools to stay connected to God in deep relationship with him. Rooted in the extravagant love of Jesus as we seek to live out life to the full.
Going to church isn't about a religious duty. Going to church isn't about relationship with an institution. Going to worship, being part of church, being part of the Body of Christ, is one of the most human things that we do. Made to be image bearers of Jesus who we love, God is conforming us to Christ's likeness - that we would be little Christs in the world, helping others find healing and life in broken and dead places. There is no better place than to be connected to God in Communion with him in a deeply personal way. And there is no better place to be connected to the mission of God and making his glory known, than to be in Community with others who have that communion unity through Christ.
Why go to church? For communion and community, it is ultimately what we were truly made for!