From infancy onward, my younger sister Eunice and I were taken to church. At sixteen, I declared I was old enough to choose when I would and would not attend. My little English mother quickly punctured my trial balloon. 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 at Lorne Park College, west of Toronto. On Sundays 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.
Having lived since that time in Southern Illinois, Kentucky, Western Canada, Southern Illinois a second time, and the northwest suburbs of Toronto, we are now in an independent living arrangement of a lovely retirement village called Walden Circle, located very near where Lorne Park College once stood decades ago.
Now, given the constraints caused by Covid-19 and some physical infirmities, we “attend” church each Sunday by listening to (usually) three different televised services that provide substance and scriptural teaching. And we have attended an interdenominational meditation onsite at Walden Circle when offered.
You might conclude that, after our seventy-four years of marriage, we attend church in these ways 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 tell us to do so. In the Old Testament there was the weekly Sabbath in commemoration of creation (Exodus 20:8-11) and as a reminder of the people’s release from captivity (Deuteronomy. 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, if there were as many as ten families 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 (Isaiah 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 (Luke 2418-36). 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” (Hebrews 10:27).
Another compelling reason why we maintain the church-going habit is that Scriptures are to be expounded for our profit (1 Timothy 4:13). Some assert that we could read them for ourselves or hear their exposition by means of television, as Kay and I are often doing at present. 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 — or making sure that we observe carefully 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 and focusing on the joy of the Lord. 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’” (Psalm 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 that help to keep a Christian witness alive in our secularized world. For example, we support pastoral ministry to those bereaved, hospitalized, or shut-in, or to parents to whom a baby has just been 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 here and there become lacking in the excitement of active 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, great-grandchildren, and friends. 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.
Image info: James Mann (via flickr.com)