Gathering in Church
During the pandemic, God’s people have been unable to gather together to share in worship with liturgy, Scripture readings, prayer and song. Private devotions and online streaming of church services has kept us connected to our routine of weekly worship, but when we are again able, Christians will return to Sunday worship, the gathering together within our church walls.
Over the years in ministry, I have been told by several non-church goers that they still believe in God and spend time with Him, that they can worship in the woods, commune with God in nature or solitude, and others ask, “Why should I come to church?” citing the shortcomings or hypocrisy of God’s people as reasons to avoid church. Any weekly worshiping Christian reaching out to others may have heard these same arguments and have sought how to properly respond. Within this commentary, you get your answer.
First, God’s own Word calls us to gather. The Book of Hebrews explains: After Jesus died and rose for sinners, to forgive sins and justify us before God the Father again, we are exhorted to — (1) “Draw near to God,” (2) “Hold unswervingly to… hope,” (3) “Consider how we may spur one another on,” (4) “Not give up meeting together,” and (5) “Encourage one another.” The full context of #4 and 5 being, “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 approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25).
Again, the question, “Why should I come to church?” Because Christians are not meant to be alone. Some may enjoy moments of solitude for private meditation, or to reduce stress or to tune out the world for a time, but we are not meant to be lone wolves. We gather strength from one another when we gather, strength to live in response to God’s grace and honor Him with our lives by His commands. Our habitual or pet sins we commit cannot touch us while gathered in church, Satan has no hold on us there. We are together, with strength in numbers, enveloped in God’s Word, prayer and praise. All five of the exhortations come to be when we attend weekly worship.
In addition, we come to church to hear the Word of God read. (OK — maybe one could take a Bible into the woods), yet church gatherings expound on the Word, explaining it, taking a 2,000-year-old Gospel text and making it relevant for today’s living. Church is also the place where confession is made, forgiveness is offered, the Sacraments are properly administered, all our senses engaged in receiving God’s grace and cleansing, more than we can gain in isolation.
Let us not forget as we consider our church attendance, that weekly worship is not an obligation, but a privilege, our opportunity to respond to the love, mercy and grace we have been shown by God through Jesus Christ. As we remember Easter, what Jesus did to save sinners, each of us, individually and personally, that our transgressions against God are remembered no more, we desire to respond, to show gratitude for the gift of eternal life. We come to church willingly, not begrudgingly, knowing we cannot thank God enough for redeeming sinners, making us whole again in Him.
The first Sunday back, following the lifting of restrictions, will be a glorious morning. And although the pandemic has closed our gatherings, God’s faithful experienced Easter in a new way, the Word of God is still shared, the Church goes on. Yet soon we will again gather. To God be the glory. This is what we believe!
To be part of our gathering, our churches are: St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fredonia (672-6731 or firstname.lastname@example.org), Immanuel Lutheran Church in Gowanda (532-4342), Trinity Lutheran Church in Silver Creek (934-2002)