I’ve been reading all the post that have been written in the wake of the recent survey by Pew Research on religion in America. While all sectors of Christianity have fallen, the mainline churches have again, had a steep decline.
Around the same time, there has been some talk about ecclesiology or the study of the church. What is our theology of church? Why does church matter?
To put a more blunt question: why do I go to church?
Of course I could be a smartass and say “because I’m the pastor,” but I want to give a real answer. Why do I go to church? Why do I need church?
I need church because it has and continues to save my life.
When I was in my tween years (we didn’t call it tween way back in 1981), I remember going to the weekly Awana meeting and memorizing verses. I also went to a Christian elementary school where we had to memorize passages as well. It was around this time that I remember learning the Romans Road, a number of verses in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome that centered around salvation. There was one particular verse that I tended to cling on to; Romans 5:8. I can still remember it: “But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
I don’t think the people who taught me to memorize this verse knew it come in handy a decade later when I came to terms with my sexuality. While it took a while to accept myself, I never thought God hated me. I knew I was loved by God no matter what. I could only learn that in church, not on a mountain.
I need church because I need to hear God speaking in the sermon and in the songs sung. Yes, I know God can speak in nature and we should be attentive to this. But it is in church that I hear God. It might be through the pastor’s sermon. Or maybe it was the hymn of the day. At some point, I hear God. God of course, can be heard anywhere, but it is at this particular place that I expect to hear God. Maybe they are words of assurance or a word to get up off my behind, but this is the place where I have the clearest reception.
I need church to learn that life isn’t about me. The danger of 21st century living is that it is centered around one person: Me. Our daily lives are all about having the best post or tweet- or having the best car or house. But it is at church, we learn about a man named Jesus that gave up his own life for others. I learn that I am to go and do likewise, to live for others. Yes, you don’t need to go to church to feed the poor. But it is only church where the sacraments and my life intersect. It’s where I’m called to be like Jesus, who lived for others.
I need to church to remind me that this isn’t all there is. The big temptation in life is to believe that there is nothing beyond this reality. No heaven or hell. No God or Jesus. No miracles. The world tells me this world is all there is. It tells me to be merry, because this is all we have. But church reminds me that there are things in creation that we can’t explain. It tells me that there is something more to this life than making money. It asks me to believe that some hippie guy from Galilee was really the son of God, the one that gave us all freedom through his life, death and resurrection. It tells me that water, bread and wine mean more than just water, bread and wine. It reminds me that one day I will be resurrected just like Jesus. The world says this is all there is. The church tells me no, there is more, so much more.
I need church to tell me that the church is made up of all kinds of people. When I was an Associate Pastor, I remember dealing with Ernie, an elderly man that is mentally impaired. Ernie had no “inside voice” so he will speak up during Sunday worship and he can sometimes bug you to no end. But he also has a wonderful smile and laugh. Ernie reminds me that he is a child of God. He reminds me that the church is made up of all kinds of people, some you like and some not so much. But in church I can’t self-select and pretend that the kingdom of God isn’t not for them. No, we end up with people we can’t stand, but God reminds us they are children of God as well. In a society where we can create a world via social media where everyone agrees with me and look like me, church is one of the few places where you have to you are forced to learn that they uptight Republican from the burbs or the granola Democrat from the city are our brothers and sisters.
Finally, I need church because I’m a sinner. I know that word isn’t very trendy these days. But the reality is, I am a sinner. I make mistakes. Church is like an AA meeting in reminding me that all is not well with me. I need Jesus. I need my sisters and brothers in Christ to help me become more Christlike. Church is a place where I can’t pretend everything is okay, because it’s not. It’s a place where there is love and grace, but it is also a place that pushes me to be a better person, not because that’s what I need to do, but out of love for Christ has done for me.
So there you have it. I don’t know if it’s be best list, but that’s why I need church. Church matters.