What’s the Point?
I remember being around 8 years old, going to a church where a guest music group was performing, seeing their table of CD’s being sold in the church lobby, and wondering if I should flip that table over.
It’s not that I had a robust theology of worship worked out at 8 years old. Rather, it simply reminded me of one of the most memorable passages of John’s Gospel: when Jesus cleansed the temple.
To this day, I don’t know if my 8-year-old inclination was misplaced, but as I grew older, I wondered more and more, “What is the purpose of church on Sunday?”
If someone who had never gone to church before asked you, “Why do you go to church each Sunday? What’s the purpose?”, how would you answer?
Idolatry in Disguise
Looking back to that episode of Jesus in the temple, we can learn much about our own hearts.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
On the surface, what they’re doing is good: They sold doves to make sure the poor could still sacrifice to God, and they exchanged money so that those far away (perhaps even the foreigner) could sacrifice to God too. Yet Jesus is enraged. He cracks a whip to startle the animals so that they scatter; he flips the tables with all the money which had been sorted and organized and counted; he commands the people to get out.
Jesus’s response seems outrageous until you understand what the real problem is. Jesus said, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16). The temple was supposed to be a serene place of prayer, repentance, and worship, but they had turned it into a busy and chaotic marketplace. This was one form of idolatry, worshipping God our own way.
The problem for them is the same problem that threatens us today. We’re often led astray by idolatry disguised as good intentions.
Know, Be, or Do?
When it comes to the purpose for church on Sunday, I think there are a few common ideas sincere Christians would have in mind:
- “I go to church to become a better person.”
- “I go to church to learn more about God.”
- “I go to church because it’s where I give back and serve.”
But this reasoning begs an important question: Is our Sunday gathering about what we are supposed to be, know, or do? Or is it about something else altogether?
Surveying both the Old Testament and the New Testament, we see this idea expressed throughout: to behold God’s glory and worship him. We see it, as one example, in Psalm 117:1-2, “Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”
As a pastor, I do hope we experience life change in worship, that we learn more about God, and that we put all of this into practice to serve one another and our community. But the primary purpose for gathering each Sunday is something else altogether—to behold the glory of God and worship him.
A Call to Worship
Many churches begin their Sunday service with a “Call to Worship,” and this helps us in at least two ways. First, it reminds us—whether we are pastors, church members, or first-time visitors—that the fundamental reason we gather each week is to reverently behold the glory of God and respond to him in worship. Despite the ulterior motives or good intentions any one of us may bring to church, a “Call to Worship” gets us all together on the same agenda—on God’s agenda—to open our hearts to his word, respond with our mouths in praise, and love one another as God has loved us.
It also reminds us that our call this hour is to worship—not to learn behavior modification tips, hear a theological lecture, or be inspired to volunteer. Without this clarifying focus in mind, we can mask our ideas as good intentions and be led astray from God’s own purpose for our gathering.
Yet, when we behold the glory of God in worship, we will change more radically, we will learn most deeply, and we will be compelled most sincerely to serve others. No one who has seen the glory of God can leave unchanged, untaught, or unmotivated, and the kind of change that experience brings is far more lasting than anything we could ever manufacture for ourselves.
So may we never become deceived by our own ideas masked as good intentions. But instead, may we remain committed to bringing to God what pleases him, knowing in turn that it is far better for us as well.