Why should I go to church? This is a common question. Ask your church going neighbors why they go to church and you will probably hear that they go to be fed, or be inspired.
Thirty or forty years ago it was common to hear people say they went to church because they did t want to go to Hell. My former neighbor told me he went to church because, in the event of Christ’s return, he didn’t want to be left behind.
Scripture could be cited to answer the question. The most used is probably Hebrews 10 which reads, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This passage was mentioned often in the evangelical denomination of my youth. The portion that seemed to be emphasized was, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” I remember thinking how terrible it would be to get into that habit. When I heard this verse read preached I remember feeling self righteous pride that I was sitting in the pew that morning. I also remember feeling terrible when someone mentioned it to me because I didn't show up.
Memories like these hold no terror for me now. I have been out of that environment a long time. I have found that unnervingly cheery church outlook of the Episcopalian. Today I am able to read this verse without my brain supplying a mean-spirited tone. I have learned to turn off my former self-righteous or guilt ridden responses.
Today this portion of 2000 year old scripture offers fresh insight and challenge for me. Think about it; has anyone ever sincerely told you they go to worship out of a desire to encourage people? Have you ever woken up on Sunday and thought, ‘I am going to go this morning. Last time I saw Martha Sue she looked discouraged. I know what to do! I need to inspire her to love and good deeds.’
There were periods in my life when fear motivated me to attend worship, and attendance became an obligation. Later in life I was constantly told that I should be fed by my worship experience. I remember hearing a preacher say that if the pastor and worship team were doing their job I would leave worship inspired to live a victorious life. It’s a nice thought, but when I searched for a spiritual high every Sunday, worship eventually felt like dull drudgery that never met my needs or satisfied my hunger.
Given the choice between these three answers to our original question, I will choose the answer from Hebrews every time. Imagine a parish full of people who choose to attend because they wanted to encourage and motivate people. The fear of Hell is not a healthy long term motivation. The desire to be inspired and fed is good, but if it is our only motivation it will turn us into church shoppers and mere consumers of faith.
Of course these are not the only answers to the question. Next week in the Rectors Corner I will present a fourth option.
See you in church!
Fr. Tom +