We get a wide variety of questions from listeners — everything from the infralapsarian/supralapsarian debate to the most perplexing details of eschatology, from people who want to know what Calvinism and Reformed theology are all about to people who want to understand the gospel, and even people who want to know why Christians go to church in the first place. We never want to assume questions or answers, so I’ll ask one that I see a lot in the inbox: Essentially, Pastor John, why do Christians go to church, and why on Sundays?
Let’s start by answering the question: Who are Christians? Because I am assuming a question so basic is being asked by somebody who is kind of looking from the outside and may not have a real clear idea of even who we are.
What’s a ‘Christian’?
Christians are people who recognize that, even though, like all humans, we have been created in the image of God, we fall short of what God expects of us; and therefore, we have sinned against him and have belittled his glory by treating the things that he made as more valuable than he is himself. Christians recognize that we deserve to be punished for this. We really do. This is a serious offense against the Creator of the universe.
And even more, we recognize that God is not only just in his punishments, but patient and loving. He has sent a rescuer, his Son, a Redeemer, Jesus Christ, into the world to bear the punishment that we deserve. And so the Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). And that means saved from God’s wrath, saved from God’s punishment, saved from hell and given eternal life.
So Christians are people who have believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who died for their sins, who rose again from the dead, who reigns in heaven today, and who will come again, and they are trusting Jesus day by day as their Savior from sin and judgment and as their supreme authority and as our greatest Treasure.
And those people, Christians, are described in the Bible as not being merely isolated individuals, but a corporate body with many members, because they are all united to Jesus by faith. And it is because of this unity in Jesus, this corporate nature of Christianity, that the church exists. The church is not a building. It is not a structure of brick and mortar. The church is the assembly of Christians gathered to express that unity in Jesus and to worship Jesus.
So the Bible says, “Now you [Christians] are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). So coming together in various assemblies is essential to giving expression to the fact that Jesus died to create a united people, not just isolated Christian individuals.
So we find in the Bible, then, descriptions of those first-century Christians gathering regularly. This is what the question is about: Why do you go to church?
- In 1 Corinthians 11:18 it says, “In the first place, when you come together as a church . . .”
- Or 1 Corinthians 14:23, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together . . .”
So all those texts are followed by instructions for how to behave ourselves in the gathered church. Then we find indications in the Scriptures of what we should do when we come together. So the question might mean: Why do you go to church, or what do you do when you go to church? And so let me include some of these.
All of these instructions in the Bible flow from the fact that Jesus is alive; Jesus is worthy of receiving our regular, corporate attention and worship. In other words, these things that the Bible says we should be doing are not arbitrary; they are organically related to the fact that Christians know and love and follow the living person of Jesus Christ, who died to create a people for himself, a worshiping people.
Singing to One Another
So, for example, it says in Ephesians 5:19 that we should address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord.” So if you go to any typical church, you are going to probably hear a good bit of singing, and that singing is designed to give heartfelt expression of praise to God and praise to Jesus for all that they have done to save us from our sins and from the wrath of God and from hell and from a miserable eternity.
And then we read instructions about corporate praying — not just singing, but praying. For example, 1 Corinthians 14:16 says that we shouldn’t pray in public in an unintelligible way because then other people won’t be able to appreciate what we are saying and say a hearty amen, which is the whole point of public praying.
Preaching the Word
And then we read instructions about preaching the inspired word of God. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching.” And then he adds to the young pastor, Timothy, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). So a regular part of most Christian church services is a sermon where a pastor is called by God and gifted by God to study and understand the Bible, and then he stands up and he proclaims what God has said in the Bible for the encouragement and the strengthening and the unifying and the motivating of the people of God to be about obedience and service among their fellow man for the glory of Christ.
Practicing the Ordinances
And then, of course, we read instructions in the Bible about the Lord’s Supper and baptism — these two ordinances, as we call them, that are supposed to mark Christian gatherings. For baptism it is just a once-in-a-Christian-lifetime event that introduces you, through the death and resurrection of Christ and through the immersion in water, into Christianity. And the Lord’s Supper is that repeated experience of participation with Christ as we eat the bread and drink the cup to signify his broken body and his shed blood for our sins. And different churches do it at different frequencies. Some do it every week. Some do it once a month. The Bible doesn’t tell us how often we have to do it. It just says: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
The Lord’s Day
And if the question means: Why do you do it on Sunday? Why do you Christians go to church on Sunday? The answer is that Christian worship has its roots in Judaism. It was born among Jews. And the Jewish Bible is the first part of the Christian Bible. And among the Jews it was said in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). And the Sabbath day was the seventh day, Saturday, not Sunday. And so there was a one-day-in-seven rhythm as the Jews gathered.
In the first century, when the Christian church was being born through the coming of Jesus, that was the custom, because we read in the book of Acts of Paul going in on the Sabbath day to the synagogues and joining with the Jews to preach Christ. And the reason Christians switched and began to worship on the first day of the week is because Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. And that came to be called the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10). And we read examples of the gathering on the Lord’s Day, or the first day, in Acts 20:7: they gathered “on the first day of the week.” And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 they were to come together and give their offerings on the first day of the week. So, that is why we do it on Sunday. Jesus rose from the dead, created a new people for himself, and inaugurated a new humanity, a new creation with a new day of worship.
So let me sum it up like this: The reasons Christians go to church on Sunday is because we have been rescued from our sins, united with a risen, living Christ and with each other through faith in Jesus. And because of that union with Jesus and with each other, the Bible, God’s word, calls us to regular, weekly expressions of our corporate joy and thankfulness before God in worship — not just isolated Christian individuals scattered around but corporate gatherings praying and singing and hearing God’s word and celebrating the ordinances of Jesus.