Seven reasons why I need the church

According to a Christianity Today (CT) publication (November 2021), the abandonment of organized religion is a new “public health crisis.” That got me thinking because anecdotally I know this to be the case. We are a committed individualized culture and that has inevitably spilled out into organized religion. We go where we want (not necessarily what’s close). We leave when we want (despite membership vows). We give what we want (instead of pitching in the tithe at least). It can be a lot more than this but it isn’t less.

We have to be taught to be corporate. CT and other publications discuss the very practical benefits to going to church (e.g., reduced health risks, happier marriages, reduced risk of divorce, reduced rate of adolescent depression, etc.). These things are good as we make our way in this world. Yet, these things can be sought and found (at least in some measure) outside the corporate body of Christ.

I’m not sure the church spends enough time self-consciously reflecting on what makes the church unique in the world and why it is necessary (in a logical sense: essential) in a person’s life. Below are seven reasons why I need the church.

#1. I will hear messages I need but wouldn’t seek.

I preach every week. Early on in my professional ministry career, I decided that I (with the elders) would choose whole books of the Bible and preach through them. Once I’d complete a book, I’d move on to the next one. What I have discovered is this process doesn’t allow me to linger on texts or on points that are “hobby horses.” This doesn’t allow me to hammer a topic endlessly–unless the topic is in the text or flows from it naturally.

So, not only do I not choose the text, I am subject to the movement of the Holy Spirit’s illumination as I write a sermon. Many times before worship when the elders gather to pray, I’d say with fear and trepidation, “I’m not sure about this one!” Without trying to sound mystical, the text and the sermon choose me not the other way around.

This is in stark contrast to my Twitter feed, Facebook friend-group, news outlets I choose and Instagram account. Each one of those does what I tell it to do (usually). I work to curate every aspect of my life (as we all do) with the one exception of Sunday morning worship. I don’t even know how much I need messages I would never seek.

#2. I will have fellowship (community) with people I wouldn’t otherwise choose (mostly).

I think it’s fair to say that each of us has a picture in our minds of what kinds of people we’d choose to be in our community. It varies depending on each person but all of that is obliterated at church. God brings to our local church exactly who is supposed to come to our church. One downside of large churches (and I’ve served them) is you can still curate your fellowship by surrounding yourself with people you’d choose. Not so at 90% of all the churches in this country.

And not true at our church. At our small church, we have a large variety of ethnicities, education levels, career choices, family sizes, schooling choices, preferences for food and drink and sports teams. We have every age and have much of the United States represented. What is probably true at most churches is true of us: we are a group of people thrown together by the grace and mercy of God and that’s all. Since this is true, we all have to learn to live with that.

#3. I am lifted out of the common into the covenantal.

I share a street with neighbors. If I “tagged” people, I’d find we all go to the same grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, movie theaters, coffee joints, beer pubs and bathrooms. What God is preserving through the covenant He made with Noah is all around us. We share it in common and it has many really good things about it (I had some shrimp and cauliflower grits the other day…OH MAN…).

It is common all around us except at Sunday morning church. At church, I step into the Embassy of the Eternal. There is nothing common about the Call to Worship, the invocation, the confession of sin and affirmation of faith, the assurance of pardon (!), the prayers, the preaching and the weekly Lord’s Supper. You can’t find this anywhere “out there in the world” because these things are not of this world.

It isn’t just that by being a church-goer I might have a better marriage or less depression; if God wills it. It is that I step out of the matrix and into the real world; that is, with the entrance fee paid by our Savior, we get to stroll in the halls of the “not yet” with the Lord by His Spirit. We step into the rest that He has earned for us that He gives us through the means of grace. It is for these reasons online worship isn’t worship; it is being a spectator as worship is happening. Sure, there’s a time and place for such a thing but it isn’t the real thing!

#4. I am reminded of my citizenship.

I’ve traveled widely on this continent and in Europe. I have been regularly amazed at what happens when I come back to the States and I go through customs. “Welcome Home” is one of the sweetest phrases there is. I remember once I came back from abroad and went through some electronic customs situation and was greeted by no one. It was a dejected feeling to have lost the opportunity for someone to welcome me home.

I’ve been to some wonderful places but I am a citizen of only one. Sunday morning worship is the only place in all of creation where I’m truly “home.” I wonder if we spend enough time contemplating that fact. At church, I am reminded that I am a citizen of heaven–the new heavens and the new earth waiting to be revealed at the return of the Lord.

I like America (a lot). But living here can be hard; harder for some than others. All human communities are like that. I am a citizen of this country but I’m really just a sojourner, a resident alien, a stranger here. These true facts can easily be obscured if we minimize Sunday morning worship.

#5. My sojourning in this life gets fresh perspective.

I mentioned my Twitter feed. When I read it, I feel like Gollum did with the Ring: I love it and I hate it. I try to populate my feed with opposing viewpoints to mine. On those and the others similar to my own, so much seems so daunting, divisive, dangerous. The globe is warming and we’re all dead in a generation; Iran-NKorea-Russia-China all seemed poised to pull the trigger and blow it all up. Gas prices, inflation, national debt, abortion all just pile on and pile on.

Turning away from Twitter doesn’t solve much. The gloomy messaging is all around us. Almost. Inside the halls of the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, there’s no gloom: resurrection. There’s no despair: salvation. There’s no alienation: community. There’s no poverty: depth of soul. There’s no wandering: glory of God. There’s no threat: Christ, the Head of all.

We step into church and these are the emblems and they give perspective on all the rest. Yeah: there’s a lot that sucks out there and there always will be. But inside, where Christ is by His Spirit, I recognize that one day, what is common will be rolled up like a scroll to make room for what is new. I have a stake in that and I am reminded of it each Sunday.

#6. I receive God’s grace.

God is kind and merciful to His people all the time. He even upholds creation for the good of all those made in His image and by His hand. But there is only one place where full measures of grace is dispensed: in the community of the faithful on Sunday morning through the means He has chosen: prayer, preaching, fellowship and the sacraments.

Only on Sunday morning is God invoked to attend to us. Only there do we pray as a body for His help, saying, “Our Father….” Only there is the word of God preached with power by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Only there will we find the Supper table set and the Spirit ministering more sanctifying grace to the worthy eater.

The teaching of Scripture is that we must not forsake the assembling together. To do so, we constrict the grace of God in our lives: He has designed us to worship together and receive His grace. Only in individualized Western countries have we compartmentalized God such that I think might think all I need is “me and Jesus.” Hogwash. Jesus is with me, true. Yet when I am with His Body, He is there in ways I do not receive when I am alone. If there is fuller measures of grace to be had in the corporate worship, why wouldn’t I go regularly?

#7. I minimize what should be minimized.

I will take with me through the grave only one thing: the righteousness of Christ. In heaven, I will greet those rewards that I have earned in obedience to Christ in this life. But those are prepared for me “over there.” That means the things that I have “over here” are important but not ultimate: my health, my wife, my children, my roles, my job and on.

Too often, in the church, we maximize what we should minimize: COVID sure made that obvious! In the church, where all the things of this world hold no place of prominence, I am reminded of what I should give my life to. Serve my wife, love my children, work hard – of course! Live for them? No. I’d never hear that if I didn’t go to corporate worship every Sunday.

Aggregation of COVID Articles: UPDATED 12-6-21

It is easy to find pro-vaccination articles on the mainstream media. Stopping at the CDC website, the WHO website, state COVID-19 websites, etc. provide articles and exhortations to be vaccinated. I have been vaccinated.

At the same time, to be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated has left the realm of individual conscience into the world of Christian love, civic duty, “following the science” etc. In other words, now, vaccinations–an extremely private concern–is now everyone’s business. The government (including leaders who claimed mandating vaccines would never happen or is unAmerican, etc.) is mandating vaccines. Businesses are mandating vaccines for their workers. Families mandate vaccines for each other as conditions of fellowship.

My intent with this post isn’t to debate these matters; others have done so. Neither is it to minimize the dangerous nature of the virus. In the congregation where I serve, our leaders (elders) have neither minimized this issue nor made this issue a public one but have encouraged our people to make their own decisions. We believe that is both biblical and practical as church leaders.

Still, I have this insatiable appetite for research and information. I am a man of science in the sense that I feel obligated to know as much as I can so that I can lead my own family and, if asked, advise the church members where I serve. For this reason, I have been collecting articles that present data (and some opinion) about being vaccinated with the COVID vaccine. It seems, now that we’ve been in this season for some time, studies are producing data that should further inform our decisions.

Below, I have linked to a collection of articles that I have read that I consider worthy enough to present so that any interested reader could view them. As I mention, it is easy to find pro-vax information and opinion. What I present is data that might challenge many of those often strident pro-vax assertions.

As I said, I have been vaccinated as have many others I love and respect. Yet also, men and women I love and respect have not been. I leave it to the reader to decide.

UPDATED: December 6, 2021. “Simply put, the very best scientific evidence currently available to mankind does not support the widely held contention” that these vaccines lower the risk of death in the studied time period.”

Current data suggests vaccines are less effective than previously thought:

Vaccination rates do not correlate to lower to lower virus transmission:

Why are we vaccinating our children?  Having and recovering from COVID provides more protection than the vaccine NEJM on the quickly waning efficacy of the vaccine over time Questions the appropriateness of vaccinating children against COVID; important article showing the flaws in the clinical tests linkage between higher vaccination rates and lower COVID cases questioned documents the connection between COVID vaccine development and the use of aborted fetal tissue “Great Barrington Declaration” doctors and scientists with “grave concerns” about COVID policies This researcher highlights the results of a study done in Qatar that says after 20 weeks post-jab, the vaccinated are as likely to get COVID and transmit it as the unvaxed. No evidence has been found promoting the use of masks in schools reduces infection or transmission rates. US county masked-schools were compared to European unmasked ones Mask mandates in a large Texas county were not found to reduce COVID cases From Lancet showing data that say vaccinated patients with breakthrough cases transmit COVID at similar rates as unvaccinated patients

Vaccinated people carry as much of the virus as unvaxed people A new paper in the European Journal of Epidemiology that analyzed 68 countries and 2,947 US counties found that higher vaccination rates were not associated with fewer COVID-19 cases. Here’s a quote, “In fact, the trend line suggests a marginally positive association such that countries with higher percentage of population fully vaccinated have higher COVID-19 cases per 1 million people.” (emphasis in the original)

CDC data which shows only 6% of all deaths are directly attributed to COVID-19 alone. In all the other deaths, each patient had at least 3 other comorbidities

November 9, 2021

Five Prayer Suggestions for Christians in the Mid-Term Elections

It’s 2022. I try to sample left and right wing news outlets. Mostly, I watch them fill my Twitter feed and I glance at headlines. Lately I’ve seen headlines throughout the spectrum that many believe the House of Representatives will change parties and it is thought so will the Senate. Reminds me of what happened in 1994. Such a thing fills some with dread and others with glee. I wish it wasn’t so; people either weep and gnash teeth or toast with great glee about election outcomes. Seems like elections should leave us with a bitter sweet taste in our mouths.

Lately this is driven with two Branches of Government under the control of one party often leading to one-sided feeding frenzies as if the best place to govern is either the far-right or the far-left. That’s been the case this year (though Arizona and West Virginia have been thorny for the Democrats). In the conservative wing of the nation, a swing back away from this hard-left will be viewed as a welcome event. Too welcome, I imagine.

Yet, back in 2016 when I was talking to colleagues who were eager for a Trump victory I reminded them that should he win, I predicted a rise in nationalism yet should he lose I predicted a revival in the church. Good for the nation on one hand, and good for the church on the other (if “good” for the church = hard times; think: Canada). I’m not doing a victory lap but I wasn’t wrong.

Many politically conservative Christians (and some churches) found in Trump a rescue of sorts since a thriving USA would somehow guarantee a healthy church. We are living the opposite now, I imagine. President Biden’s victory and the ensuing hurricane of efforts to transform our nation into something resembling an unnamed island in William Golding’s imagination have created huge momentum to wrestle the levers of power away from the current regime. This is not surprising but it is as dangerous as it was in 2016.

Here’s the problem. If we are not careful, we will trade one form of gridlock and acrimony for another. We’ve already started to hear the rumblings of pay-back investigations and even impeachment. It has been so tiring and embarrassing to watch the current regime ride roughshod over the opposing party but will the opposite result be any better? Progressives love this year and conservatives hate it; will next year be the reverse? And is that all we can ever expect?

I have five suggestions for prayer.

#1. Pray that if you are a conservative you won’t be too overjoyed if Congress changes color to red. Pray that if you are a progressive you won’t despair.

The ends don’t govern. They never have. Bill Clinton survived and the government did some good things because he woke up to a Republican Congress and he didn’t act the fool. Newt Gingrich was strident but respectful (mostly). Some things need to be conserved and some things need to be changed.

#2. Pray that there would be justice as needed and temperance all around.

People have lied and cheated. Agencies (e.g., FBI, DOJ, OSHA) have been used for political purposes. That needs to be stopped. But temperately. Some hate the USA but most in Congress and agencies don’t. We need honestly and humility and it can happen. The USA is still the greatest experiment in self-government in history.

#3. Pray that liars will be revealed and that people will tell the truth about things.

I’m so sick of social media fact-checkers. We need to pray that people will just tell the freakin truth. That liars will be made known and those who tell the truth will become the new heroes. Sure, health care workers in the midst of COVID were courageous–will the next heroes be those who tell the truth?

#4. Pray that politicians would stop acting like the end of the world is simply an election cycle away.

The sound bites that offer up world-ending rhetoric are ridiculous. No one is reading their Bible. Climate change, Russia-Ukraine, China-Taiwan, Keystone Pipeline, COVID–these aren’t easy but they won’t bring the end of the world. Christian: open your Bible and renew your confidence in the God who Himself upholds the world by the word of His power. This thing will end when He says so.

#5. Pray that the church would equip its members to bring salt and light to the culture.

No one but the church knows how this thing will end. The King is coming and He brings victory–victory! We who are in Him will rise and meet Him in the air and will watch as He vindicates His name and vanquishes His enemies. None will be left in defiance of the King! We don’t need to go into the culture with fear but with faith and the message of the gospel. The culture is reaching for saviors in its own image and we know they are weak. Let’s not join them in their striving but meet them instead with a message of salvation and courage.

Heaven soon.