Over the last couple of months, we’ve discussed what it means to be a member of the church. Because the church is Christ’s body which has its life in Him, there are no Christians who are not members of the church. We’ve also discussed why formal membership in a congregation is important. The Christian congregation is where Christ is present for you to forgive and strengthen you with His Word and Sacraments. There are no “lone ranger” Christians.
For the final discussion of this topic, let’s look at the question: “Why come to church?” It’s a question that’s linked together with the issue of church membership, because sadly there are many Christians who want to be on the church roster, but don’t see the need to come to the Divine Service.
Imagine we surveyed every Christian in America today and we asked them one simple question: “Why do we come to church?” What do you suppose the answer would be? I think the number one answer to that question would be something along the lines of “We come to church to praise and worship God.” Now, that is not false. But it is not the complete answer, either. Nor is it the main reason we come to church. By starting with our praise and worship of God, we are starting in the wrong place. We are beginning with our work instead of with the work and promise of God.
reason Christians should be in church is to receive what God gives. And what
does God give? While our order of service may seem complicated, there are
really only two main features of the Divine Service. The first part of the
service is called “The Service of the Word,” and culminates in the reading of
the Gospel and the sermon which expounds on it. In fact, this is why we stand
for the Gospel in the service. So the first main feature of the Divine Service
is the hearing of God’s Word and particularly the voice of Jesus. We come to
worship primarily so that God can give us His Word.
God gives His Word to us to awaken and confirm our faith, so that we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation anew through faith. Here’s what the Bible says about God’s Word:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Rom. 10:14, 17
God’s Word is not like human words. It is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and does not return void, but accomplishes God’s purpose when He sends it (Is. 55:11). God calls you to come to worship so that His life-giving Word can do its work in you. His Word will convict you of your sin, but only so that it can also point you to your savior, and assure you that your sins are forgiven by His cross.
The second part of the service is called, “The Service of the Sacrament.” This follows after the sermon and culminates with the giving and receiving of Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. This is one of the greatest treasures we have as Christians! Our Lord Jesus gives Himself to us in His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We have no closer encounter with Jesus than that. And He does it again and again, week after week, so that we can have the full assurance of His mercy and grace for us.
That is the main reason we come to church! Of course, we do praise and thank God for these gifts in the service, but only as a response to what He first gives us. The main reason for you as a member to come to church is not because God needs something from you, but because God wants to give you everything – all of His mercy and forgiveness in Jesus. As many pastors have said, the church is not a country club for the righteous, but a hospital for sinners. We come to church because we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We are beggars who have found where the bread is handed out.
Occasionally, someone has objected that they don’t really need to be in church every week because they’ve come once or twice and don’t feel like they are really growing in faith. To that I would only say that growing in faith is a lot like growing in strength. You can’t go to the gym once or twice and instantly feel stronger and look better. But when you go consistently over a period of time, you begin to reap the benefits. In the same way, while you do benefit every single time you come to church, you may not realize it like you will when you come consistently for a long period of time. Your faith will grow as it is exercised by hearing God’s Word and receiving His gifts.
I pray that God would lead each of you to treasure your membership in His church and your membership at Zion. You are His precious lambs whom He has redeemed with His own blood. If you haven’t been at worship with us in some time, please come back! Jesus wants to give you your inheritance with us. This Advent and Christmas season is a great time to get a fresh start. If you are here every week, God bless you with an even greater measure of faith and keep you steadfast.
Rejoicing in Christ’s gifts with you,