It’s church, people.  Or, it could also be “Christian”, since Christians and church generally go hand in hand.  Technically, Christians are the church.  It’s not the physical structure that people meet at, it’s the body of believers that come together.  Therefore, you can have a “church” in the middle of a pasture, or in an old movie theater, or in your living room.  The point is the people, coming together in the name of God.

And why is that?  Why not just have private devotions?  Why actually get together on a regular basis in the same place?

Because God designed the church.

So what is it?  And why did He do it?  And what does that mean for a Christian?

It seems that the people who have bad experiences in a church (or, heaven forbid, churches), or who do not know much about it, think that it is unnecessary.

Than why does it exist?  Better yet, why does it thrive?  Why do people risk their lives to meet in secret?  Regardless of the persecution of the church, and Christianity, regardless of how it is misunderstood, people continue to step through its doors, helping hands continue to reach out, and lives continue to change.

To be sure, attending a church doesn’t get you into Heaven.  You have to have reached the understanding that Jesus paved the way and bridged the gap, that He sacrificed so we could go free, and to acknowledge that you are in need of what He did.  So, no, attending a church won’t get me into Heaven, but it is necessary to help me be an effective and faithful Christian.  You can say you are on the soccer team all you want, and even wear the jersey, but if you aren’t going to practice and making it to the games than you are really just someone wearing a bright shirt.

I’ll only take a minute to address that troublesome spin-off which is ‘denominations’.  In my experience, which I admit isn’t terribly a lot, denominations do more for causing division than for supporting doctrine.  There are less mistakes to be made, less people to hurt, when our main focus is on Jesus and not on man-made protocol, or personal opinions about such things as clothes and food.  That being said, I don’t condemn or condone any or all denominations.  The most important thing to be considered is whether or not the Bible is being represented and taught accurately.  If you feel that you are honoring God by wearing skirts or by abstaining from alcohol, honor away; however, that is between you and God.  Not between you and me and God.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

I have heard it said that if we want to love God we have to learn to love what He loves.  Which would be His family, the church.  God loves the church so much, in fact, that He modeled marriage to look like His relationship with the church. (Eph. 5:22-32).  There is no greater expression of love than marriage!  To be sure, the church has had several failures throughout history; even now churches fail to appropriately express what God has asked of them.  The letters to the churches that Paul wrote thousands of years ago are just as applicable to us today.  We need to keep in mind that wherever there are humans there is bound to be failure.  There are bound to be hypocrites in a church because there are bound to be hypocrites everywhere.  We all fall short, but the point is for God to teach us how to love and help one another through it all.

Denominations aside, the Bible doesn’t specifically say, “You must go to church.”  It isn’t part of the 10 Commandments.  The Bible also doesn’t say, “Don’t do drugs.”  But it does say that we are to be imitators of Christ, and nowhere do we see Him advocating for the legalizing of marijuana.  We do, however, see Him going to church.  We see Him establishing communion, which is meant to be taken in a group setting.

The early part of the Bible (the first half of the Old Testament, really) focuses a lot on laws and regulations.  You will see the word ‘tabernacle’ and ‘priest’, ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’.  There is a lot about punishments, and even more about sacrifices.  All of this was spoken by God to one man; his name was Moses.  Moses relayed this information to his people, the Israelites.  The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and that didn’t mean He loved an Israelite more than a Canaanite, but the Israelites were supposed to be a representation of what His people were supposed to look like (i.e. act like).  Since nobody knows how to do the right thing off the top of their head, it needs to be taught to us- once God delivered the Israelites out of slavery He sat them all down and said, “You saw what I am capable of, and how much I care.  If you obey my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession.” (Genesis 19:4-5).  In essence, God was asking Israel to marry Him.  Marriage is a covenant.  He would be faithful to Israel if she would be faithful to Him.  That’s how marriage works.  The 10 Commandments is the core of the covenant.

For the record, the 10 Commandments did not introduce ‘sin’.  Just because the 10 Commandments are the first ‘rules’ we see written down doesn’t mean that no one had technically sinned up until that point.  All sin has its roots in idolatry, which is putting something in the place of the Creator.  In the instance of Adam and Eve, they wanted to be like God in knowing good and evil.  Once they understand what evil was they were suddenly introduced to a whole new set of choices, and making the wrong choice on purpose is sin.  Adam and Eve knew not to eat from that specific tree, which is what made that choice the first sin.  The awareness they incurred is what established each sin after that, right down to the ones that I commit.  It is my responsibility to communicate with God to make sure that my knowledge of evil isn’t clouding over my knowledge of good and that everything is in its place, so that I’m not committing sins.  I don’t want to sin because I don’t want to take advantage of His amazing gift of grace.  But before there was grace, atonement, there was the Law.

The Law said that a penalty needed to be paid for the sins an individual committed.  Our sins separate us from God- He can’t pretend that we don’t know what we aren’t supposed to know.  In order to be forgiven, and restored to Him, a penalty must be paid.  This is how life works: you do the crime you pay the time, and then are released back into society.  God required innocent animals to be sacrificed as a way of saying, “Sin causes innocent blood to be shed.  I will spare you and receive this animal instead.”   The tabernacle was generally the place where these sacrifices were conducted.  It was the physical place that God could be.  It was His holy place, and when the people looked at it they knew He was there.

The tabernacle is not the same thing as the church.  Once Jesus came as the ultimate price the need for sacrifices was removed.  It was still practiced, as the culture tended to continue living the way they had always lived, which was under the Law.  The New Testament is ripe with conviction about living under the Law, which negates what Jesus did for us.  We no longer have to go to a building and sacrifice animals to be in His presence; His Spirit lives inside of us if we ask Him too.

So what’s the point of church?

The very nature of God’s presence is relational: the Trinity!  The Trinity is God in three persons.  The word ‘person’ is not to be confused with the every day term for a human being, but the philosophical usage which acknowledges that a person is a ‘rational being’.  This Trinity does not mean one God with multiple personalities.  It doesn’t mean that God is a man who had a son named Jesus, and then has a soul, like us, called the Holy Spirit.  It doesn’t mean that God was God in Heaven, He came down to earth to be a human and went by the name Jesus, and then after Jesus died He became a Ghost.  The Trinity means that there is one God in three persons.  If this doesn’t make sense than you are just like the rest of us.  If you have decided that you have made sense of the Trinity I can tell you right now that you are wrong.  God is not something to be made sense of.  He made us.  We did not make Him.  It is important to clarify who God really is before we continue on thinking of Him like we think of our own kind.

God moves specifically in a corporate setting.  He designed the worship service so that we could have the fullness of the experience [of His presence].  Attaching yourself to a body of believers is more than just showing up to a service.  Everyone has been given different skills and gifts, and these were meant to operate together for the good of the cause.  1 Corinthians 12 goes through this in great detail.  God established an entire system so that His message could be the most effectively lived out and communicated.  All throughout the New Testament we see the words ‘together’, and ‘fellowship’.  This is on purpose.  The disciples followed Jesus en masse.  After He was resurrected Jesus told the disciples to go and wait for Him together, not to just go back to their own homes and sit by themselves.  What happened when His spirit came upon them was the first church service: and it was amazing!  The entire book of Acts focuses on the growth of the church, and what an impact it made.

One person on their own can do some good, but when people common together with a common goal entire communities, even the world, is impacted.  When left to our own devices we always wind up losing a sense of reality, or urgency.  The entire New Testament stands on the back of the church.  The apostle Paul traveled and underwent extreme persecution and suffering to plant churches.  He knew that he was in a race against time.  If the churches weren’t built up, if people didn’t come together, then the amazing message of Jesus Christ would cease to be truly influential.

Going to church is a part of being a Christian.  It just is.  No, it won’t get you into Heaven.  But are you a Christian, or are you just someone wearing a bright shirt?