The emptiness of "going to church"
“And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
“In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
“Be filled with the Spirit…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Ephesians 5:18b, 21
“Where do you go to church?” For better or worse, in our quickly fading Bible belt culture this is one of those get-to-know-you questions. We ask it of other people. We say it ourselves. “I am going to church.” But what are we really saying?
Either consciously or unconsciously, we are describing church as a place to which we go, and consequently, a place from which we leave. We are treating church as a place, an event, a set time. But this view of church merely requires attendance on some regular interval. It requires nothing of our heart. It requires no submission to a God given authority structure, much less to fellow members within the body.
Now don’t get me wrong, attendance is vital. But if our attendance is merely external, it will always be empty. Jesus had greater blessings in mind for us than this when He secured our life of union with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by taking our place in death. Much more than a set appointment on Sunday morning, the blessing of the Church is the blessing of community with other Christians, who together are growing to know and experience this union with Christ. This community is in fact the living, breathing bride of Christ. So rather than simply going to church, we are called to BE the Church.
Why then do we still speak of “going to church?” Maybe it’s that going to church really doesn’t require all that much of us. Anyone can carve an hour out of their schedule if they really want to. But being the Church requires more of us…more than we have to give. To truly be the Church requires a work of the Holy Spirit bringing about new birth, leading to new desires, new commitments, and new depth in our relationships. Those relationships can’t be nurtured or experienced when we fly in and fly out. So the Scripture tells us to slow down. In Ephesians 5:21 the Word tells us to commit to one another, going so far as to use the “s” word. Submit to one another.
This is absolutely more than we have to give, so God gives us what we need. He does so because He loves us that much, and because the blessing He has for us is not found in the emptiness of simply going to church. His great blessing comes through being the church.
At Christ Church, I will often describe us as a people who have been, and are being, transformed by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, the gospel is both. It is the “have been transformed,” and it is the “being transformed.” Both are elements of the gospel of grace. We experienced His grace when we first received Him in faith, and we continue experiencing His grace as we are being transformed. This is all His design: experiencing the on-going blessing of relationship with Jesus in community through the ministry of the Word, through the gift of prayer, through jointly celebrating the Sacraments, and through our mutually submissive relationship with Jesus’ people. Let us receive this blessing with thanks. And in so doing, let us BE THE CHURCH.