Tuesday, 23 October 2012

why church?

I have asked this question recently not in the broad sense of reflecting on the overall theology of church but from the narrower parameters of what we do on a Sunday.  I have led and preached at many services over the years but the opportunity for the Cartsbridge YF to lead both morning and evening services this weekend has crystallised my thinking. In essence, why do we meet on a Sunday as God's people? Two key answers have developed out of this enquiry...

We gather to encounter God and in doing so we meet each other. We ought to jettison anything that hinders this movement. "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart..." (Heb. 10 :22) is the clear instruction of Scripture. William Temple (former Archbishop of Canterbury) saw this with remarkable clarity when he wrote:
"Worship is the submission of all our nature to God.
It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness;
the nourishment of the mind with his truth;
the purifying of the imagination by his beauty;
the opening of the heart to his love;
the surrender of the will to his purpose -
and all this is gathered up in adoration,
the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable..."

Flowing naturally out of this meeting with God is the sense in which we are resourced to live for him. The vast majority of life is spent out with the formal structure of church. Therefore, it is of vital importance that, as we encounter God through worship and Bible teaching, we are given resources to life a faithful life in the community where we live, work and play!

I wonder...do we make things too complicated? After all, what takes place on a Sunday is primarily about an encounter with God in worship that leads to our equipping to be disciples of Jesus in the world.


  1. Very interesting & a good post.

    RE: gathering to encounter God, and in that we meet each other. I agree. But...what about we gather to meet with each other, and in that we encounter God? That's kind of how I make sense of the 'where two or three are gathered...' passage. God is everywhere, so it really makes no difference how many people get together - we don't need to invoke God's presence by what we do. But when we connect as individuals in community, we get a chance to encounter God through others, through relationships, through conflict, through love...

    This doesn't negate the need for Sunday church, but it does shift the importance from Sunday morning, to ALL of our encounters with those around us. What is God doing, and how is he being revealed between Sunday lunchtime and the following Sunday morning?

    Thanks for triggering some thoughts! Keep it up :-)

    1. Thanks for your comments, Greame. Been reflecting on what you said and find I resonate with a lot of it. One thought...does "gathering to meet each other we encounter God" move the primary focus from him to ourselves?

  2. Interesting post Iain. I read a quote once by Robert Louis Stevenson which made me smile. It was from his diary and went something like "I went to church this Sunday and did not get bored".

    For what it's worth, I think the encountering God thing is key-if it can happen in all encounters as Graeme says, then it should certainly happen on a Sunday...

  3. Interesting blog, Iain. I pondered it for a few days and it helped me really think about the issue. Thanks for posting! I agree with Graeme that it's in meeting together we encounter God. We can encounter God individually by reading bible/singing/praying.......so what makes church different? I don't think we necessarily encounter God 'better' at church, but rather we encounter an aspect of his character we cannot do alone. I like the idea that the community of church is mirroring the community of the Trinity. The issue I have is that on many occasions, i encounter God more out with a formal church setting......and on some occassions have withdrawn away from church to gain clarity of faith.........so why go to church? My conclusion is if i didn't attend church as a christian, then the community aspects of God's character (played out in the trinity) would be something i never really understood or experienced, or had the opportunity to live out (acts of serving within a community) It reminds me of God at the beginning of time deciding he wanted more community than was present in the Trinity, and making Adam. The essence of church is creating a community.....a sincere christian community. Is that why more churches are placing less emphasis on a sunday service, and more on small groups? The phrase makes me cringe, but lots of churches talk about doing "life" together and i think that captures it nicely. An interesting read is a book called The churchless faith by Alan Jamieson, a theologian who did his phD on why christians leave church and how they continue a faith after it. It's helpful for seeing gaps in our current system of church and thinking of ways to fill them. I guess the counter argument is 'do we then prioritise community above God'....and make decisions on a horizontal, rather than vertical level, putting community before God (i.e. unity before the bible). You managed to articulate yourself much more succinctly.

  4. Hi Jenna, thank you so much for your comments. I have put a 400 word ceiling on my posts. Your reply is in danger of breaking this rule. Haha! In all seriousness, the way you (& Graeme) have expressed your thoughts is very helpful. The community aspect of church is one that we need to give much greater thought to. I plan to develop this in future blogs. So watch this space and see what you think.
    Oh, and I have just ordered Jamieson’s book…

  5. Interesting blog and discussion Iain. I'm off to see what else you have written...