Last week, we had a conversation about who we are, what we do, and what we believe. One of the things we talked about is coming to church. We all agreed that we felt we needed to come to church. Sam Scott challenged me to preach about why we should come to church. Well, I’ve had a bee in my bonnet for a while about church attendance, so I accept Sam’s challenge and today I am going to lay out why I think we should come to church
I and many other church leaders have ideas about why we should come to church. My main thought is that faith is lived out in community and we can’t have a faith journey without partners to walk with. We find those partners in the church. I’d like to look at our scripture reading this morning from Romans 5 and think about what Paul’s theology tells us about community.
Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 5 is very dense with theology. Most of the letters are pretty heavy. We probably like to read the Gospels better because it is easier to understand stories about Jesus and His disciples than it is to understand justification by faith or standing in grace. I think we can glean from Paul’s statements why involvement in a community of faith is important.
I’d like to start with the 2 main reasons people don’t come to church. Now, I may offend some people, but I hope you’ll hear me out about why I think it is important to overcome these challenges to become regular attenders and active members in this faith community.
First, we have the “spiritual but not religious” group who don’t attend church. I think this group are believers who just don’t understand the value of discipleship. They don’t want to support Christ’s kingdom-building church through service and tithing. They don’t want to be held accountable to their faith or have their beliefs challenged so that they can grow in their faith. They are okay with a stagnant spiritual life. I think this group doesn’t know that salvation is possible in this life and are simply waiting for a closer relationship with God in the next.
The second group are families. I understand that it is difficult to get here every weekend, but it is not impossible to get here regularly – whatever regularly means to you. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to raise children and keep up with all the activities they want to participate in. Parents have difficult decisions to make. I preached about this a few weeks ago. Parents who choose to make church a priority for their kids have a tough row to plow. They may have disappointed kids because they can’t participate in everything.
I have this grand vision that I am going to write a sign on letter to the athletic directors in our conference asking them to not schedule or promote activities on Sundays before 1 pm. I’ve contacted a friend about how to do this. I’m thinking we have more pastors than athletic directors in our conference and all of us signed on to a letter might have an impact. I’m hoping it will go viral and become a nationwide open letter to schools, but I’m still deciding what to say. It may fall on deaf ears, but I feel like the schools need to be asked to help parents.
Kids in attendance is important. Kids raised in a church are more likely to be Christians when they are older than kids who spend Sundays at sporting events are likely to be professional athletes. I understand how important extracurricular activities are. I am involved in Girls on the Run, because I know the value of physical activity, building friendships outside the classroom, and teaching kids to believe in themselves.
I need to layout a little theology before I can get into why we should attend church. We might as well do a little confession while we’re at it.
I want you to repeat after me.
I was weak.
I was ungodly.
I was a sinner.
Paul tells us that while we were still these things Christ died for us. He did not die for the righteous. He died for us. We have been justified by faith. We can’t earn the grace we’ve been given. We didn’t deserve it. God did it through Christ because He loves us. We are justified before God through faith.
More confession. These are more hopeful statements. Repeat after me.
I will be strong.
I will be holy.
I will be righteous.
God’s work is not yet complete. I’ve said before that there is an already but not yet of Christian faith. Christ has died. By His resurrection, God defeated the grave. We are saved, but…we do not yet know the kingdom of Christ’s reign. As Christ said on the cross, “it is finished.” But, the work is not yet complete.
Paul’s language in verses 9 – 11 have a future tense saying that salvation is coming. “How much more will we be saved from God’s wrath.” “How much more will we be saved through Christ’s life.” We have been justified and reconciled but salvation is yet to come.
One last confession. These are present tense confessions. Repeat after me.
I am weak.
I am ungodly.
I am a sinner.
We are in the in-between time. Christ’s work has already been done, but God’s work is not yet complete. We have been reconciled. We find a sense of salvation with God through the knowledge of forgiveness and peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. And, Paul says we now stand in grace.
The peace which is part of present salvation according to Paul is both individual and communal. Paul includes the personal peace of reconciliation between believer and God. He also points to communal peace in the Roman church. This communal peace in the church is the alternative to the imperial Pax Romana of Rome.
Paul says we have peace together; he also says we stand in grace together. “Through Christ we have gained access by faith into this grace in with we now stand.” Paul uses language reminiscent of the Temple. The Temple for the Jewish people was where they gathered in the presence of God. Now, Christ ushers in all believers to grace where we stand together before God.
For Paul, peace and grace are known in community. So, here, now are my arguments, based on Paul’s statements, why we should come to church:
1) We need to come to be humbled by hearing the Good News that Jesus died for us. Paul’s statement is humbling. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Most of the devotions or inspirational stories we read or the spiritual movies we see tell us the story of God’s love and grace. We need to come to church to be reminded that, while God loves us and we were uniquely and wonderfully made in the Divine image, we are sinners who need to confess and repent of our sins.
2) Suffering is lonely. At some point in our lives, we all face something difficult. We have a family in the church who will pray for us and bring us casseroles when life is tough. Paul says suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. The church encourages us to persevere, interprets suffering as that which makes us stronger, and helps us hope in a day when the suffering will be over.
3) We need to work out our faith. Paul says we have been justified by faith and that we have been given the Holy Spirit. When we believe and are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit who gives us gifts. We are empowered to use these gifts for the building up of the body of Christ. We are called to ministries for the fulfillment of these gifts. Within the body of Christ, we are given opportunities to use those gifts and fulfill that calling.
There is one thing Paul doesn’t say in this text about community but he says in all his letters. Paul prays for and gives thanks for the churches he writes to. He writes to churches, not individuals. He plants churches. Paul loves the church because together we are the body of Christ. When we don’t gather, the body is not complete. So, come, because we are not complete without you.