Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Why do we go to church? Why do we go to church when the hairs are all grey, or not there at all, and the children are few and far between? Why do we go to church when there are more empty pews than full, the voices for singing are sparse, and the music is sometimes less than desired? Why do we go to church when our families, our children, grandchildren, or close friends don’t, or have wandered away and rejected it? Why do we go to church when we are bored with the service, bored with the liturgy, bored with the hymns, or can’t even understand what some of them are saying? Why would we ever, possibly want to go to church?
There are three points that I can think of right away in answer to the question: 1) God told us to go to church, 2) Jesus is there, and 3) Jesus brings us comfort in His Church.
1) God tells us to go to church. Hear how the Small Catechism explains the Third Commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” You notice that there’s no mention of a specific day in the explanation to the commandment because the New Testament has no command to meet on a specific day and take a specified kind of rest. However, having said that, the Israelites dealt with shadows and figures that pointed forward to the true gift of the Christ, but these things were not the Christ Himself. Yet still, God commands them to remember the Sabbath every week. Now we have the true thing, Christ has come. We don’t deal with shadows and figures but with the consummation of God’s salvation in Christ. We’ve got the fulfillment of everything the Old Testament pointed to. How could we ever be out worshipped by the Israelites? How could we, the people under the ministry of reconciliation, be outdone by those under the ministry of the law? Instead, God wants us to encourage one another to gather around the Word of God (Heb 10:25) whenever it’s preached and proclaimed because that’s where God is offering His rest to us (Heb 3:3, 13).
2) The German word the service that the Church carries out every week is “Gottesdienst”, which gets translated to Divine Service. It’s a word that introduces a different dimension to our church service than what we’re used to. Often we might call our service “worship,” which is an alright word to use, yet it also shows that the direction of the service is all coming from us and going to God. Divine Service flips that all on its head. It’s not about us worshipping God but God coming to serve us, to give us His grace in Word and sacraments. Where God is, that’s where His rest and forgiveness are (Heb 3:7-19). We come to church not so that we can serve God, but so that God can come and serve us. Because the fact is, God, doesn’t need our service, He doesn’t need our sacrifice (Psalm 50:12). But we need God’s service. We need God’s sacrifice of His Son for the forgiveness of our sins. We need to hear that we are sinners deserving of death, and hear that Jesus has died for sinners like us, and has sealed us for everlasting life with His own blood. We need God’s service, and God tells us that He’s serving us in His Word and sacraments, which we find in church.
3) When Jesus sent out the 72 to preach the Gospel, He said, “The one who hears you hears Me…” (Luke 10:16). We go to church because there we hear Jesus as the Word of God is read, as our sins are forgiven by the pastor, as the preacher proclaims the Word of God faithfully. Jesus is at the church in a way that we cannot find anywhere else in creation. At church, He is among us with the forgiveness of our sins. He is with us in the font, to join us to Himself and His death and resurrection. He is with us to give us His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. He is with us to speak to us through His Word read and preached. There’s nowhere else that we can go where we find Jesus present among us, except where Word & sacrament are present (which is the definition of His Church). And so we go to church because its the place where we can find Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, come to us.
The church is here to bring you Jesus. Sometimes that can be uncomfortable as He shows us how our old Adam condemns us. But always He is here to comfort, to forgive you your sins and bring you to everlasting life. And that is why we come to church.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider