I know several people who are adamant that church isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of being a Christian. By church they do not mean a member of the global expression of the group of people who call Jesus their Lord, but they mean church as the weekly gathering of local believers and non believers, at a specified location, at a specified time, for the purpose of expressing their faith and worship through singing and teaching/preaching. It is this latter idea that is being rejected by some. Verses fly back and forth on both sides of the issue, often the same verses just interpreted differently, and there is contention.
I have patiently listened to both sides of this argument, as best I can, and I remain convinced that while a decent case can be made that there is no biblical rule that demands a group of people get together on Sunday morning (or at some scheduled time each week) to sing and be taught, I am just as convinced that to avoid this practice is treacherous to the condition and sensitivity of one’s soul. The “don’t go to church, be the church” statements are well-intentioned, and I often sympathize with the frustration. But the question is not “how good is church?” or “what do I really get out of church?” or “can’t I find better advice, direction and experience somewhere other than church?” These questions betray our persistently crooked ways of thinking about Christianity. We somehow believe that gathering to worship God is our most creative and best practice for becoming better people on a day-to-day basis. I can only assume that there are those in the world who believe that each generation groups get together to figure out the most effective way to enrich people’s lives and help them make better decisions, and getting together for 90 minutes one morning each week continually emerges as the best possible method for accomplishing that goal.
We do not gather each Sunday because we’ve found the most pragmatic way to have better Mondays. We gather because there is still a unique and mystical quality to people from all walks of life, multiple races and ethnicities, from varying socio-economic strata coming into the same place to say something as audacious as “Jesus Christ, the man who is God, died on a cross and was raised from the dead so that we could be forgiven for our wrongs and live forever in a perfect version of the world.”
Church is not so much about figuring out how best to spend our money as it is about repeatedly coming back the one touchstone that makes us unique in the world. From that touchstone we are compelled to talk about the implications, to think through how our lives are supposed to be lived in light of what Jesus did, certainly. But never let it be said that we, the church, are competing for market share in the world. If we are entering a competition with the culture to see who can produce the fastest tangible results, the church will (and in a way should) lose almost every time. But, in the realm of what the church is supposed to be and do, there is no competition for there is no one else in the category. Declarations of the divinity of a man and His physical resurrection, not to mention the eternal implications of it, are still fairly unique in the world. The church stands alone as that place.
Sunday morning still means something, if for no other reason, than because there isn’t another place where the entire reason people come is to declare Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected. The gathering matters. The message matters. The only thing that renders Sunday morning marginalized is when the church strays from the message that it alone is tasked with announcing. As Miroslav Volf puts it,
And so on Sunday morning I happily leave my newspaper at home and head for a church whose primary purpose is neither to enlighten nor empower me, but ‘to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’
– Miroslav Volf, “Against the Tide”