From infancy onward, my younger sister, Eunice, and I were taken to church. When I was 16 I made a weak effort to declare that I was now old enough to choose when I would and would not attend. It was a trial balloon and my little English mother quickly punctured it. She put one finger on the dinner table and said, “Young man, so long as your feet are under this table you’ll go to church when church is on.”
Later, when Kathleen and I were first married we lived across the Queen Elizabeth Way from Lorne Park College, west of Toronto. On Sundays, whenever we were not away singing or preaching somewhere, we walked the long gravel lane to the main building morning and evening to join faculty and students in Christian worship. On Wednesday nights we made the same trek to attend vespers.
You might conclude that after our 64 years together we now attend church without thought and by sheer habit, and there’s some truth to that. But we have additional reasons.
We attend church because we are Christians and the Christian Scriptures compel us to do so. Look at the Old Testament sequence in developing Sabbath worship. There was the weekly Sabbath in commemoration of creation (Ex. 20: 8-11) and a reminder of the people’s release from captivity (Deut. 5: 12-15). There were also the special occasions when throngs gathered in Jerusalem to worship in remembrance of certain great events of Israel’s history — Passover, for example.
Much later the dispersed Jews built synagogues where they could meet on the Sabbath and listen to the reading of the Law. It was a weekly practice and Isaiah had even declared earlier that the keeping of the Sabbath gave assurance that God would give his people a special blessing (Isa. 58: 13,14).
On the evening of the day of our Lord’s resurrection, the disciples gathered for what became the first Lord’s Day celebration. (Lk.24:18-36). But as a second generation of believers came along, the commitment to attend worship to some seemed less important. So believers were exhorted: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day [of Christ’s return] approaching” (Heb. 10:27).
Another compelling reason why we maintain the church-going habit is that the Bible exhorts that when his people assemble the Scriptures are to be expounded for their profit (1 Tim. 4:13). Some assert that we could read them for ourselves or hear their exposition by means of television or recordings. But there’s something about being in the company of God’s people for this exercise that can’t be matched. We share a common agreement and respond with a common “Amen.”
We also experience that attending church each Lord’s Day gives a divine order to life and this plays back on the way the whole week is lived. Turning up to worship is like resetting life’s priorities or getting one’s marching orders. That may be one reason why the Psalmist said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Ps. 122:1).
Finally, we attend church because in doing so we join forces with a company of God’s people who are committed to certain ministries in community and beyond. In doing so we help to keep a Christian witness alive. For examples, we support pastoral ministries to the bereaved, the hospitalized, the shut-ins, parents of the new-born. We are instructed on how moral issues in society should engage us. We support gospel, educational, and medical ministries for the needs of people in other lands. Local churches are often the unsung heroes of the Christian mandate to go into all the world with the gospel.
What goes on in church, we admit, can become hum drum or lacking in the excitement of faith. But, as Carl Bangs once said, “So long as the Bible continues to be read in church, there is hope.”
So, as we were taught in early childhood that attending church regularly is crucially important for Christians, so now we pass on that counsel to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We say: Know the Lord; experience him in a personal way; then find a church where you can be loyal and make regular attendance and participation a key feature of your lives.