‘Why go to Church?’
A church is not so much a building to which people go to worship, as a community of faith to which they belong. The original Greek word for ‘church’ (ekklesia) means in fact ‘a gathering’ or ‘assembly’. New Christians are baptised into ‘the body of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 12:13) in which they become like limbs and organs of that body (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-end). In the Book of Acts (Acts 2:42) St. Luke tells how the first followers of Jesus would meet regularly in each other’s houses.
Jesus used to worship regularly on the Sabbath (Saturday) in Jewish synagogues (Mark 1:21, 3:1; Luke 4:15; 13:10) and his disciples did likewise. When St Paul went on his missionary journeys to different cities around the Mediterranean, his first port of call was invariably the synagogue. But when Christians began to be persecuted, rejected by their fellow Jews and driven out of the synagogues, they continued to meet in each other’s houses. And since the main meetings tended to be on a Sunday, the Day of the Resurrection, Sunday gradually replaced Saturday as the principal day of worship.
When Christians meet for worship, their gatherings serve a number of purposes:
- Worship – Worship is first and foremost a natural reaction to the beauty and wonder of God’s world. When we survey the scene from the top of a mountain, for example, and exclaim, “Isn’t it beautiful!” that is a form of worship. The English word comes from the Anglo-Saxon, ‘weorthscipe’, which literally means ‘worth-ship’, ‘attributing to someone or something its true worth’. Christians have experienced God’s love in Jesus and naturally want to meet with one another to talk about him, praise him for all that he has done, and express their love for him (Philippians 4:4-7).
- Prayer – Jesus prayed on his own (e.g. Luke 6:12) but he also worshipped regularly on the Sabbath with other people (e.g. Luke 4:16). He taught his followers that there was a particular value in praying together. ‘Where two or three come together in my name’, he said, ‘there am I with them’ (Matthew 18:20). In our ‘Prayers of Intercession’ we bring to God the needs of his world as well as our thankfulness for all that is good.
- Teaching – The word ‘disciple’ means a ‘learner’. Christians are disciples of Jesus, because he enables them to learn about God, draw closer to him, and serve him better. During a normal act of Christian worship the Bible is read and then explained, expounded and applied to practical Christian living through the sermon (Colossians 1:28, 3:16).
- Fellowship – The original Greek word for fellowship, ‘koinonia’, literally means ‘sharing in common’. Christians are called to live together like brothers and sisters in God’s family, helping and encouraging one another, and sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows. We express our togetherness at many points during the course of a Communion Service, but perhaps most especially at the Peace and when we share the bread and wine.
- Communion – Ever since Jesus ate his final meal with his friends, the main act of Christian worship has centred around a service with bread and wine. The first Christians regularly ‘broke bread’ whenever they met. It was not an optional extra but a matter of obedience, and the same is true for us today. We are commanded by Jesus himself, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’.
- Witness – Christians are called to share the good news of God’s love and to work together to promote his Kingdom (Matthew 28:18ff). At the end of our service we commit ourselves to this task: “…We offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory”.