My Neighbour Wants to Know Why They Should Go to Church
7/22/2019 3:56:43 AM
Hebrews 10:19-25, 32-36
July 21, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Why are we here? I don’t mean “why do we exist?” but rather, “Why are we here at Priory? Why do we gather every week to do this thing we call church?”
We are continuing our series today on “My neighbour wants to know…” This week’s question is a little ironic- “Why go to church?” It’s ironic because I’m preaching it to all of you who have come to church! The people who need to know the answer are likely not here! (Which is why I’m so glad that many people read my sermons at home. If they’re not here at Priory to hear it, then there’s a good chance they need to read it!)
This series, though, is not about answering your questions, per se, but questions you may encounter with others you know. So please, apply this message to yourself, but also think of it on a higher level. Think about “How would I present this to somebody who asked me?” Perhaps you have a family member or friend who doesn’t go to church, like your “reach one”, and think about how you’d present this to him or her.
If you’re following along, please write the name of your Reach One on your outline. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here at Priory we encourage every one of us to prayerfully consider someone we know that doesn’t follow Jesus. Then commit to praying for this person regularly, praying two things: first, that the Holy Spirit will help them take steps towards faith in Christ and second, praying that we commit ourselves to cooperating with the Spirit to that end.
Our question today is: I’m a happy person and don’t feel like I need to go to church. I know about God already. Why go? There are two different facets to this question- first, coming from a non-believer. Second, coming from a self-professed “Christian.” We’re going to focus on the second possibility- that of a person who calls themselves a believer, but doesn’t want to go to church. If you know someone who doesn’t call themselves a Christian, the answer to the question is so that they can meet Christians, learn about Jesus and see Christian love in person. The trickier question is about the person who thinks of themselves as a Christian and doesn’t want to go to church.
In the New Testament, in particular the book of Acts, we read that the first generation of Christians gathered together often to worship God together, to eat together and to learn together. They began meeting on Sundays in honour of Jesus’ resurrection happening on a Sunday. Jewish Christians continued to worship on Saturday, the Sabbath, as well as celebrating Jesus on Sunday. There are numerous other passages that only make sense if Christians gather together regularly and enter into meaningful relationships together. Nowhere in the Bible is there a description of Christians living in isolation. There is no room in the New Testament for “Lone Ranger Christians.”
Let us consider one passage that specifically addresses the issue of those who stop meeting with other believers!
What It Says
The book of Hebrews is the most complex in the NT. It flows from one topic to another and then back to the first. It also draws heavily on the OT, in particular issues of worship, priesthood and sacrifice. We are going to highlight a few of these connections as we examine our passage, which actually links closely back to Chapter 4.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place…” This is a reference to the sacred chamber in the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant rested and where it was said that God himself dwelt. This is where Zechariah went to offer the annual sacrifice and encountered the angel who told him about his son John.
To enter the Most Holy Place means to enter the presence of God. In the temple, this place is cordoned off by a curtain. The high priest, once a year, could enter God’s presence through this curtain. The high priest entered once a year to offer sacrifices, but entered with great fear and trepidation, even as it was a great honour! The other priests would tie a rope to his ankle so that if he was struck dead in God’s presence, they could pull the body out and not have to enter the Most Holy Place themselves! In Hebrews, Christians are encouraged to enter God’s presence through a different, metaphorical curtain- Christ’s body. And they are encouraged to do this with confidence!
Jesus’ death on the cross opens the way for us to enter God’s presence at any time! This new way into God’s presence is a “living way” in contrast to the way of sacrifice in the OT, a way of death- at least death to an animal. Now, any Christian can not only enter God’s presence, something no ordinary Jew could ever dream of, but believers can actually draw close to God! They need not lurk in the dark corners of God’s throne room, need not enter the door and slip quietly to the side. Rather, they can approach God himself, drawing close as a child draws close to their father! Again, the author uses images of OT worship, washing and sprinkling to signify holiness, as we are filled with assurance of our faith.
As we approach God, we are to hold unswervingly to our hope in Christ. Approaching God is a terrifying thing. Our only hope in approaching God is in Christ Jesus- that he has forgiven our sins and cleansed us, reconciling us to God. So we are to boldly approach God through Christ, holding tightly to our hope in Christ. And as we do this, we are to consider, to rivet our attention on how we can spur one another onward in love and good deeds.
As we approach God, holding onto our hope in Christ, we are to encourage one another to live out the results of approaching God. This is the remarkable thing! Approaching God results in a response in us. That is inevitable. This is what we see in Rev 4-5, the great throne room scene in which all the creatures are worshipping God and the Lamb in response to who He is and what He has done. Worship is our appropriate response to God. But the amazing thing is the form this worship is to take.
At least in part, our response to God consists of agape love and good deeds. And part of that agape love, being concerned with the well-being of others, includes encouraging one another, spurring one another onward in love and good deeds, spurring one another onward in responding to who God is and what God has done for us in Christ. Then the author gets specific- he says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” This is remarkable. Even in the early church- within a lifetime of Christ, Christians already started to give up going to church! They started giving up on gathering with other Christians for the sake of worship!
Drop down to verse 32- We see that in the past, “those early days,” these same Christians had withstood persecution in some form. Under persecution, these early Christians stood together in solidarity. In difficult times, these believers stood together with confidence, keeping their eyes on their future rewards in Christ Jesus, counting it as small loss to have their property confiscated. But now, in better times, they need to be reminded of these things because they’ve given up gathering together for worship. They need to be reminded to come into God’s presence, to hold fast (once again) to their hope and to spur one another onward, not giving up meeting together! During hard times, meeting together was easy. During comfortable times they fall away. William Barclay, the NT scholar, puts it well: “It is easier to stand adversity than to stand prosperity. Comfort has ruined far more people than trouble ever did.” [William Barclay, Hebrews, p. 150]
Why Church Matter
There are a couple things to see from this passage. First, it is significant to see that early Christians fell out of the habit of meeting together. Satan really doesn’t want a group of different people who’d normally not be in the same room, gathering together to bear witness to what Jesus has done for them!
Gathering for worship is a response to God’s work of uniting people in Christ. In Christ, there is no Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female. Jesus draws people from all nations, giving them the opportunity to boldly enter the presence of God through him, empowering them to love and good deeds. When we gather together, from all our backgrounds and with all our differences, and as a group we approach God and worship him, we are a picture of the worship that happens in Heaven!
Gathering for worship bears witness of the work Christ has done to the world. We not only gather to experience God’s presence, but to respond to the unity Christ brings to us. And as we gather, we have a responsibility to one another.
Because God is relational, worshipping him is also relational. When we worship God, part of that worship is to live our agape love, which manifests most visibly in good deeds to others. So 1- we have a responsibility to live out agape love, but 2- we also have a responsibility in love to spur one another on in love too!
This spurring on happens when we gather together. I’m encouraged when I gather with you. You encourage others when you gather here with us. Our breadth of differences, all brought together to worship God, encourages us to live out the reality we so easily forget that we have access to God and can approach him in confidence!
We have an obligation to one another to gather together to spur one another onward in response to our access to God. We must remember this other-centred reason for going to church. Going to church is not, must not be, just about us! It’s not just about what we want, if we feel like going, if we like the service. We must remember that by attending, we encourage others. We stand with them in good times and bad, and in so doing we bear witness to the transformation Christ has worked in all of us!
Answering The Question
So now we have a foundation for answering the question as to why one should go to church. Remember, if your confronted with the question from a non-believer, the brief answer is that going to church allows them to meet Christians and learn about Christianity directly, seeing the love of God in action. But for believers, the answer is different. We need to begin with questions about what God has done for us first!
Our reason for going to church is theological. It is because we can gain access to God’s presence through Christ that we gather together to gain that access as one people. We gather to learn from one another, to devote ourselves to God’s word (the Bible), and to join together in responding to what God has done for us and in us.
Our reason for going to church is relational. Because God is love, and love is a relationship word, God, in the Trinity, is relational. He also seeks to be in relationship with us and for us to be in relationship with one another. So our response to what He has done for us in Jesus is going to be relational in nature. It’s about our relationship with God but also our relationship with one another. We gather together because God has told us to love one another! That doesn’t mean having warm feelings for one another, but rather it means being primarily concerned with one another’s well-being, in particular our spiritual well-beings! So we gather together to praise God, to pray together, to support one another and to encourage one another.
Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger! Also, we don’t go to church to “please God,” to earn his approval or his love or his acceptance. Going to church doesn’t earn us brownie points with God! Don’t make that mistake. It won’t reconcile you to God. Only Jesus can do that!
But if you are a Christian, going to church is part of growing to be more like Jesus. It is part of your response to Jesus and what he has done for you in reconciling you to God and to one another. Skipping church, thinking you don’t “need” church is a mistake. So how do you answer a Christian who says they don’t need to go to church?
You may not think you need church, but maybe church needs you! To be honest, we all need to be at church regularly. We all need to be challenged to enter into relationship with people different than us, to practice agape love for people we wouldn’t choose to be friends with!
But, if you really don’t think you need church, what about other people needing you? Other people need you to join them so that they’re encouraged. They need to be reminded that you love Jesus too, that they’re not alone. If they’re going through a tough time, they need to see you bearing witness to what Jesus has done for you! They need to be reminded of their hope by seeing you hope!
Don’t fall into the trap of looking down on people at church. Don’t think, “I really don’t want to have to associate with those people,” or “I don’t need those people,” or “What those people are doing is beneath me,” or “I don’t get anything out of what they’re doing.” That’s actually spiritual snobbery! It’s quite conceited! Frankly, you’re one of “those people.” You’re not better than the people who go to church. There are people there who, under normal circumstances, would likely think the same of you! But that reflects our fallen nature. That reflects our old self. It is inconsistent with new life in Christ! In Christ, we are to love our neighbour, including our neighbour in the seat next to us at church. Not attending church because of people is a sinful attitude!
Millions of saints, over two thousand years, know better than you. Since the first days after the Resurrection of Jesus, his followers have been gathering together to worship him. This practice has carried on for two thousand years! Millions of Christians not only made it a practice, but made it a priority to gather for worship. Do you really know better than all of them? In persecution, Christians appreciate gathering together. To stop during easy times means Satan has tricked you so that he can more easily trip you up so that you miss out on what believers in persecution know is so valuable. That’s why, even if you are happy, and know about God, you should go to church! Amen.
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