Attending church has been a long-held tradition for many people. Yet, in recent years, there has been a decline in church attendance in many parts of the world. With the rise of secularism and the availability of alternative forms of entertainment and community, many people are questioning the relevance and necessity of going to church. All that makes sense among the general population of so-called Christians, but even real Christians have ask the valid question: why do we go to church?
The idea of actually going to church has become more contested, in part, due to the whole COVID situation. Churches shut down in-person gatherings and livestreamed their services. People began questioning whether there was a benefit to going to church or not. Wouldn’t watching a livestream technically qualify as going to church? I wrote an article in 2020 that explained church fellowship is essential in a technological age. Here I simply want to explore the actual theology about why Christians should go to church. If someone were to ask me the simple question, “Why go to church?” this is how I would answer them.
Going to Church is Commanded
In many cases, this is the only thing that matters. In Hebrews 10:24–25, we are commanded in unambiguous terms, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In other words, Christians are commanded not to neglect meeting together. I don’t think it is possible to argue that this can happen virtually. The biblical authors regularly acknowledge the importance of face to face interaction. John seems to indicate a specialness in gathering together when he writes, “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 John 13–14). We are social creatures, and even non-Christians understand there is no replacing face to face interaction.
Going to Church Helps Us Obey Other Commands
This point is closely linked with the preceding point. The reason God commands believers not to neglect gathering is because there are certain commands that we cannot obey outside of gathering. For example, although people don’t like to think about this, how are we going to confront one another over sin, and if necessary, remove brothers or sisters from fellowship?
Matthew 18:15–18 clearly commands those in the church to take an active interest in the holiness and sanctification of brothers and sisters, and if necessary, to rebuke them in love. Although church discipline is the forgotten pillar of the church, it is essential to a healthy church. We come to church in order to be stirred up to good works, and also to be challenged to live holy lives (cf. 1 Pet 1:15). Those who are not interested in living a holy life are to be put out of the assembly (something which is not possible if clicking a livestream link is all that is required to be a part of a church).
There are many other examples of commands which can only be performed as an assembly, but perhaps communion could be a final example. Paul says, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor 11:33). Paul’s assumption is that the believers will come together (i.e., assemble to eat and drink together). This is only something that can be done by coming together as a church. In fact, it is mandatory.
Going to Church is For the Angels
This is my favorite part of the answer. Usually when people ask about why we go to church, they don’t expect this. However, this is a part of Paul’s response to the Ephesian believers. When Paul explains his role as emissary for Christ to the Gentiles, he notes that the purpose of his proclamation is “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). In other words, God’s design of the church shows off God’s wisdom to the watching “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Who are the “rulers and authorities” that reside in the heavenly places? The use of these terms in Ephesians 1:21 and 6:12 indicate we are talking about spiritual beings (i.e., angels).
It could be that Paul is specifically targeting fallen angels here, but I think Paul is generic on purpose. Paul is saying that God’s wisdom is manifested in how the church exists to all of the watching heavenly realm (good angels and bad angels). In what way is wisdom manifested?
Well, think about it. When the church gathers, you have multiple ethnicities together. You have black-skinned, white-skinned, red-skinned, tan-skinned—you name it—the church is a hodge-podge if there ever was one! The point, of course, is that some of these people and ethnicities would have/should have hatred for one another. And yet, they are united by a common thread—the shared union in the death and resurrection of Christ. They come together and demonstrate the gospel is a world-wide solution, not partial solution.
So, in a very real sense, we must go to church in order to “show off” to the angels. We are a crucial part of the picture of redemption to the watching angels! We “show off” the fact that our God is an amazing God who has saved people from every tongue and every nation. He is not just a savior, He is the all-power Savior who is the only solution to sin for the entire world! And His salvation is effective, changing the very natures of those who embrace Him as Savior and Lord.
In sum, going to church is not just a mere suggestion but a biblical command that we must obey as believers. Gathering together as a church helps us to practice and obey other commands such as confronting one another over sin and living holy lives. Furthermore, going to church is not just for our own benefit, but it is also for the angels. Specifically, when we go to church (as we are commanded to do) we show off the manifold wisdom of God through the unity of His people from every tongue and nation. Asking about why we go to church is not a bad thing to ask. In fact, I love when people ask that question. However, we need to know the answer! And this is how I think we should answer this question.