Why go to church?
Timothy Radcliffe, OP. Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist. New York: Continuum, 2008. 224pp. $16.95.
I read Timothy Radcliffe’s book Why Go to Church? several years ago (probably 2012) in the company of some Anglicans (of the Anglo-Catholic persuasion). At the time, it felt like entering into a parallel universe where words like “church” and “communion” are used but seem to have different, even deeper, meaning than in common presbyterian parlance. While Radcliffe’s discussion is an interesting one, as a reformed evangelical I arrive at the same answer by a different and route.
Why go to church?
The question is an important one. And one that appears, at least by declines in church attendance across the country, to lack a culturally-compelling answer.
Two things have happened to bring Radcliffe’s question to mind once more. First, I’ve had children. Second, I no longer have regular parish duties.
In light of these new realities I find myself revisiting the question especially in light of what increasingly seems like the thin gruel of low church ecclesiology (which fails, in many respects, is a corruption of the lowest ecclesiological perspectives among the Protestant Reformers).
You might be wondering how having children and lacking parochial responsibilities have helped raised this question.
First, children have a remarkable theological dexterity when it comes to trying to get out of going to church. Boil their questions down to their essence and you’ll discover that they’re really asking: what can I get a church that I can’t get elsewhere? Yes, we could read the Bible together at home. Yes, we could take communion together. We could sing hymns. We could invite our small group over. We could do all of these things, to their way of thinking, without going to church.
Second, I’ve had more than a year off since I’ve regularly led worship. It’s amazing the things that seem necessary when you’re paid to do them. When you step into a different season of life it’s an opportunity to reevaluate why you do what you do. It’d be a lie to say that some weekends I don’t feel like going to church. I’ve got a thousand reasons and they’re likely the same as many of yours. No one is paying me to show up anymore–will I still show up?
To answer this simple question I could say that Scripture commands us not to forsake gathering for public worship (Hebrews 10:25). That’s true. I could say “there are no lone ranger Christians.” That’s also true. Let me skip to the end:
Through public worship–through common prayer, through the Word preached, and the sacraments received in faith resting on Christ’s righteousness alone–we receive grace that we cannot receive any other way. Charles Hodge refers to these “means of grace” as “channels” by which the Holy Spirit influences us toward holiness in union with Christ (Systematic Theology, 3:466).
If you want to remain rooted and established in Christ you must receive the grace of public worship. In its absence you will likely fall away from the faith.