Saturday Symposium: Why Go to Church?

Happy Saturday, Readers! Christ is (still) risen!

We’ve had a busy week here at A Queer Calling. Discussion has been incredibly lively, and we’d encourage you to revisit some conversations. We thank God for each and every one of our readers, praying for you all daily. It is our hope that conversations here can be edifying and challenging, helping us better show the love of Christ to one another. Please know that if you’re a student approaching your exam season, you are especially in our prayers.

It’s time for today’s Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, we taking our question from a reader query! In response to Sarah’s reflection on Christian Formation and the Cost of the Culture War, Kathy posed the following questions: Why do we need to go to a formal church any way? Can’t we just gather with believers? Do I really need to take communion? Do I really need to join a study group? How are Christians supposed to be discipled?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!

Blessings,

Sarah and Lindsey

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14 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Why Go to Church?

  1. I am a bit wary of the question, because I think that Church IS, at its heart, ‘a gathering of Christians’ being Christians together- no more, no less.

    The preacher at my church reminded us last week of the description of the early Church in the book of Acts chapter Two. They were the first church, and what they did was:

    1) Listen to the teaching of the apostles
    2) Have fellowship together
    3) Break bread together (I don’t imagine this as a very formal ‘communion’ type ritual, at least not at first – I’m guessing the litrugical bit developed later)
    4) Prayed together
    5) Sold their property and had everything in common and gave the money to the poor (WOW! What church does THAT nowadays!)
    6) More eating together.

    To me this shows that ‘church’ was a way of life and a community, not a once-a-week meeting with a weekday Bible Study group attached. People were really attracted to this community way of life – ‘God added to their number daily those that were being saved’.

    As soon as ‘church’ becomes a building in which we meet once a week and then go on seperately with our lives the rest of the time, it is not the Church any more.

    So yes, we really really need the Church – the community of believers, the chance to learn together, pray together, share life, do good together, eat together…

    But I’m not sure how much we need ‘churches’.

    Maybe this is a bit controversial.

    • Hi Charlotte, thanks for your thoughtful comment here. We think that your observation of church being a way of life is well-pointed for our current context. What does it mean to commit earnestly to sharing life together in a way that erases a lot of ‘old’ social divisions in favor of being built into the Body of Christ? We appreciate the food for thought!

  2. I like, Standing on Middle Grounds response, yet I have been stymied by what the church is and organized religion. It is not evident to me who the Apostles are except those mentioned in the Bible because there are so many divisions of the formal church. Church history is a challenge. Instead of asking ‘why’ go to church maybe we should be asking ‘who’ is the church?

    • In all of my questioning I was reminded of something today by the Priest in the church I have been attending:

      · We Gather as a Community
      · We Proclaim the Word
      · We Celebrate the Eucharist
      · We Are Sent.

      We are sent out into the world each week after church to be Christians and to participate in life and the world around us, doing what we can to bring the intimate messy reality of the gospel in to people’s lives. I think, perhaps, going to church should remind us and prepare us for this.

      • Thanks for the thoughts Kathy. There can be significant challenges of discerning the ‘church’ by looking at the signs outside of the door. Virtually every Christian tradition has local expressions that leave much to be desired. One thing that you’ve noted in your comment is the idea that we gather as the church to celebrate the Eucharist. It can be argued from the historical record that the Eucharist has been the central, if not even in some places and times the only, distinguishing feature of the “Why” of Christian community. Of course, that observation begs the question of “Why would the Eucharist be an important distinguishing factor of the Church?”

      • Kathy, for what it’s worth, the four bullets I like and rounds a whole picture. My perspective, after rather recently returning from a shamefully long separation from “formal church” is this: celebration of the Eucharist = the Church = Body of Christ. That’s probably massively influenced by the faith tradition I was born and baptized into. All I can say as that my recent experience of your third bullet has elicited this visceral “what was I thinking?” response (about my absence), and appreciation for the other bullets has kicked in more gradually as I’ve shaken off the cobwebs from my frontal lobes. But, hey, I’m curious and still parsing the data.

  3. For me, part of church is doing something millions of up other people around the world are doing; celebrating the same thing as them; using the same liturgy as them. One of the things I was always personally saddened by when I ran with the evangelicals was this lack of large-scale similarity with other believers.

    I also need church to find other believers and develop fellowship with them. I’ve been in churches where the study groups are very narrow (read “married people only”), where there’s no real male bonding to speak of (unless you count the $150 discipleship program), and where I can do a real and formal communion, instead if something resembling communion where everyone does their own thing. Catholics are, to me personally, better at celebrating the Eucharist than evangelicals.

    I find discipleship can be informal or very formal. I’ve done both, and prefer the informal meetings with other men instead of a classroom setting which doesn’t encourage much dialogue. A big part of discipleship for me involves relationships, not just having a preacher teach me something out of a bible passage.

    I could go on and on, but as someone who was a solitary pagan practitioner for many years, I personally value the community I can find at church. The church just needs to make sure it makes it available and nurtures it so it’s more than just Sunday service and that’s it.

    • Hi David, thanks for adding a thoughtful idea of how the church draws individuals into community marked by real relationships. There’s an honest question of, “If Christianity is a way of life that connects me to God and to other people, how do I connect with other people? How does my understanding of ‘church’ influence if and how I see myself as a part of a global community?”

  4. standingonmiddleground: The prayers in Acts 2:42 weren’t just generic prayer. “Prayers” there is literally “the prayers” in Greek, referring to specific liturgical prayers. In 2:46 they were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, id., and in 3:1 “Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour,” a prescribed canonic hour of prayer for Jews and in the most historic churches (or at least their monasteries) still a prescribed part of a daily liturgical cycle.Solomon’s Porch in 3:11 was in the temple area. In Chapter 6, they were still preaching in the temple area (“this holy place”).

    Much of the book of Acts is conflict between Jewish followers of Jesus in the temple and synagogues and the Jews who did not follow Him, culminating at 21:26 ff when Paul was thought to have brought Greeks with him to the Temple. Eventually, Christians were cast out of the Temple, but you mustn’t ignore the formal, ecclesial observance of the early Church and the Apostles.

    (All quotes and assertions about Greek or history from Nelson, Thomas (2008-06-17). The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World (p. 1474). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.)

    • Hello

      Thank you so much for the extra information! I would like to observe that I was not trying to say that liturgical or formal ways of prayer are bad – indeed, they can be rich and deeply transformative – what I meant to say was simply that early perceptions of church were holistic, including every part of a community and individual’s life. There is a perception now I think that church is a place to go once a week and that’s it. For me that is wrong – and I do believe that authentic communities which pray together (in whatever format that takes), break bread together, socialise together and help the poor together are attractive to outsiders precisely because they are *not* just obligatory once a Sunday events that can be very difficult for an outsider to participate in or understand. Heck, a lot of churches can seem to be speaking an entirely different language for a newcomer. Compare this to the church in the book of Acts and its obvious that we need to work on being welcoming.

      Some churches are doing this, or are close to it, others aren’t. This cuts across all forms of church. For me it is not a denominational or liturgical issue, it is a matter of the heart.

      Of course, I am non denominational, which has informed my viewpoint…but I have experienced rich worship and deep community in many different denominations across my Christian life. I feel privileged.

      • I agree with most of this. My prior comment was *particularly* taking issue with “Church IS … a gathering of Christians’ being Christians together- *no more* ….” I meant to show it was *much more* than just being together, willy-nilly.

        • Hi Roger and Charlotte, thanks for the dialogue here. We knew there would be conversation! 🙂 Part of the reason why we opened this question up as a Saturday Symposium topic is that we knew there is a lot of diversity in thinking about the ‘church.’ We frequently discuss how one’s Christian tradition influences one’s vocational pathway and options. The idea behind a Christian tradition is to see what has come before, learning from those who have preceded us.

        • Hi again

          Yes, I think we are basically agreeing. By “being Christians together” I really meant all of it – not just hanging out for fun and, conversely, not just showing up to Sunday service – I meant the whole deal, Paul’s idea of praying, listening to teaching, breaking of bread, sharing life, helping the poor, living in community. That’s the aspiration, at least. I think this CAN be informal (“willy nilly” if you like) or informal, and is most likely both.

          • Sorry, that should have been ‘informal’ or ‘formal’…

            One of the best things we’ve done as a church is a creativity day. We did have some formal worship time. We also painted, baked bread, had a time of musical improv, ate together, did light exercise together…

            That was ‘church’ to me. The whole thing.

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