Your kids have asked you this question. Actually, let’s just admit it- you’ve asked this question.
Why do I have to go to church every week? It’s not always fun, I have lots of other things I could be working on, and I don’t always feel very spiritual. Some weeks I’d rather avoid church and churchy people altogether. So, will God be mad at me if I miss church? What if I quit going altogether?
Hebrews 10 contains a couple verses that we pastors typically use to prove why you need to go to church: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)
On the surface, this is an encouragement to keep meeting together, that we can’t do life alone. But, in context, these verses are much more powerful than just reminding us that we need to meet together to stir each other up for good works. Further back in the chapter, the writer has been comparing the Old Testament priests with a new and different priest, Jesus. Listen to what he says, in possibly my favorite paragraph in the Bible:
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:11-14, ESV)
Isn’t that fantastic? When ancient Israelites went to church, they had priests who would sacrifice animals and sprinkle the blood on them. Every day these priests were at their work, and the work was never done, because the people kept sinning and needing to have their sins covered. For over 1,500 years, the priests offered these sacrifices- every day, standing, toiling, interceding.
But Jesus made one sacrifice. And His sacrifice was Himself; He was both the priest and the sacrifice. And this sacrifice was made not on an altar, but on a cross. And He only had to do it one time and it was powerful enough to forgive the sins of billions for all time. And then what did He do? He sat down. He doesn’t need to ever offer another sacrifice, His work is done. And now He is sitting at the Father’s right hand waiting. What’s He waiting for? A footstool, something to prop His feet up on. And eventually, His enemies will become that footstool.
That’s power. By a single offering He not only made peace between God and men, He also perfected God’s people. It reminds me of the television show The Wire. In the show, there are a couple of drug lords named Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell. Wherever Avon and Stringer go, they have bodyguards who carry guns. But, they themselves never carry guns. Why? Because they would get arrested for carrying guns. That’s why they pay less important people to carry the guns and protect them. They don’t need to carry; everybody already knows they’re the last people to mess with. So, if you want to know who the real power players are on the streets of Baltimore, it’s the ones who are unarmed. So, with Jesus, He doesn’t need to be standing and toiling; the powerful One is seated. He did everything necessary to secure the eternal destiny of His people, and now He sits.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19-23 ESV)
In the Old Testament, not many people were allowed to go in to the temple in Jerusalem. Even fewer were allowed in to the Holy Place. And only the high priest, once a year, was allowed in to the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was- and even he had a rope tied around him in case God struck him dead; since no one else was allowed in, they would have to drag him out.
When we go to church, we are not just going to a nice, functional space that holds 300 or so people and has musicians and deacons and pulpits. We are entering the Holy of Holies. We are going to the most intimate place of communion with God. Not because we deserve it, but because Jesus has paid the way, and He invites us to go to this most holy place. That’s what it means in verse 23 when it says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” The writer to Hebrews doesn’t mean, let’s be obstinate about our written confessions of faith; he means, let’s believe the gospel so much that we will be so confident in Jesus’ victory for us that we will draw shockingly near to God with full, joyful hearts.
So, back to our original question: Why do I have to go to church every week? Well, you don’t have to go to church every week. There is no righteousness, no merit badges, to be won or lost by good or bad church attendance.
But, this is why you should engage yourself in worship with the church as much as possible: Because you need to believe that what Jesus did is true, and it needs to become your story, it needs to get in to your heart and your mind and your self-talk. Our hearts are naturally wired to believe that we have to earn everything we get in life and that we are only as good in God’s eyes as our ability to do good things for people and resist temptations to sin. But, the gospel says that Jesus has won our standing with God, apart from any of our solitary efforts, and now He is doing glorious things through you and the rest of His people.
There are many reasons to go to church, not the least being that the people there need you and you need them, and that the world needs the church to be on mission, but the greatest reason to go is to be able to enter the Most Holy Place to commune with God and celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and evil. What a privilege! It’s almost too good to be true, isn’t it? So, go to church and God the Holy Spirit will help you believe the unbelievable.