“Why I Attend Church and What the Church Is,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
In the modern world church attendance is becoming increasingly rare and is also becoming somewhat misunderstood. I have heard it said by some students and professionals that they regard going to church and what happens in church as “mumbo-jumbo.” They have also expressed to me the view that they do not understand why people stand up and sit down during the service and I have even heard it said that the church service is a kind of primitive magic ceremony. Some have said to me that the Bible is a list and group of fairy tales.
These people think that what occurs in a church service is somewhat nonsensical in light of the scientific advances in the world today. I remember my uncle, not deceased, saying in a family dinner that he could understand the moral and ethical teachings and sayings of Jesus but he felt that everything else that occurs in church is kind of silly, and that he sees no point in this orchestrated event. People who maintain this view and say this do not understand the Christian faith and religion and, most of all, do not understand what is occurring in a church service.
I personally am a Lutheran Christian. As Lutherans, we believe that at the church service we encounter Christ and relate to him in Word and Sacrament. We are brought initially into relationship with Christ at Baptism and each time we hear his Word preached and partake in the Communion meal, we grow in that relationship.
In short, many non-Christians do not understand the reason for church-going and that the reason every Christian has for being a Christian is to achieve a relationship with Christ on a personal level. Jesus very specifically informs us that he offers us eternal life through him. He tells us that he is the mediator and the only way. At the church service, we meet and encounter Christ just as we meet and encounter the image of Christ in our lives in all persons we meet, however long or short those meetings may be.
Church-going is not nonsense, magic, fairy tales, or mumbo-jumbo. It is the act of faith of every Christian to meet Christ in Sacrament and Word. In the church service, Jesus makes himself available and in that church service we meet him. In the church service and in relating to Christ, we grow as persons into the eventual eternal life and joy that he promises to each person and which he wants every human being to have and share with him.
I now want to speak of what I conceive the church to be. For some and for many in past times, the church and going to church was something of a social requirement in western societies. This is certainly the wrong reason to attend church, which is not a social club or social convention but sacramental sacred event. This social convention is no long operative in our society and in fact church-going is more of a minority choice than a social requirement as it was in the past.
Another and wrong reason that some may have to attend church is that they enjoy and find satisfaction in the music and liturgy. Again, however artistically valuable the liturgy may be and church music may be, the church work is about bringing souls to Christ and not the art and culture which are irrelevant to its essential role and purpose. It should be noted that the church for many centuries was connected with Western art and music. Handel and Mozart come to mind. This does not lead to the conclusion that this is the role of the church, however good and valuable that music and art was and continues to be.
Another reason for church attendance is that families wish their children to have some background in religion. I recall one man and others say that their children should have something like Church in their lives. Again, this is an incorrect reason. The church’s function is to inform people of the true faith, once and for all, as it was handed to the saints, and not to convey some sort of vague spirituality.
This is what I say the church is. It is the love of Christ in the world. It is where Jesus may be found and where we may find and know him and his love. The church is where Jesus called his disciples from their boats to follow him and where through the trials and tribulations of life. In the encounter with Jesus, we may come to know him and who he is and come to share with him eternal life and eternal joy. In short, the church is Jesus and where we will have life and life abundantly.