Updated: Jul 9
There seems to be a growing number of able-bodied Christians that do not attend church on a regular basis. There are a myriad of reasons given for skipping Sunday services, but I think most of those reasons assume two things: 1) that a relationship with God does not require church attendance, and 2) "that the exclusive purpose of public worship is to help the individual in their private pursuit of moral betterment; in other words it is assumed that worship is a means to an end."*
It is the latter of those two assumptions that I want to reflect on here:
The thinking goes: I want to be a better person. Moral improvement can be achieved through various means. Worship is not necessarily one of them. Therefore, worship is optional; just one of many means by which I can improve myself.
But I contend that worship is an end in itself. We do it for its own sake, not for the sake of gaining something else.
Moral improvement is a benefit of worship, but it is a long-term secondary benefit; additionally it is very hard to notice any such improvement on a week-to-week basis. There are, in fact, many benefits to worship. But we have championed these benefits in place of our duty to worship and the value of public worship has lessened in the minds of many Christians. One can very easily walk out the church doors on Sunday after worship and say, "I just don't feel any better after all of that."
(But is worship made valid or invalid based on how we feel? [Just a question to ponder.])
And the reasons often given for why one ought to attend church regularly reinforce an incorrect assumption.
Below are some reasons given as to why Christians should come to church:
"You should come to church because _________ ."
- "Our spiritual family is only partially present when you are absent."
- You will feel better if you come.
- "By coming to Church you cast your vote for God in a world where God is widely ignored."
- You will get encouragement for the coming week.
- It will help build good morals in you and your children.
In all of these it is assumed that worship is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The correct answer is - None of the Above. We should come because God is worthy of all praise; as the Church proclaims every day in Evening Prayer (Phos Hilaron, BCP pg. 64):
"You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds."
We don't worship to get something from it, whether it be comfort, good moral instruction, moral improvement, encouragement, growth, etc. We do it because God is worthy of all worship and in gratitude of having received His grace, we faithfully offer ourselves up to Him and declare His mighty works.
To the modern mind duty can seem an ugly word; seeming rigid and devoid of joy, bordering on legalism.
And honestly, at times, that's what Sunday mornings might feel like. But our feelings should not dictate our actions and decisions like an unchallenged tyrant. We go, we worship, because it is the characteristic activity of heaven. We say our prayers and offer the Eucharistic sacrifice every Sunday whether we feel good about them or not. We simply trust that the Holy Spirit works in us to accomplish His good will according to His good pleasure in His good timing. But God is the object. He is our focus.
The angelic beings that stand in the presence of God cannot help but say over and over again, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and Earth are full of Your glory." The beauty of the One whom they stand before compels praise from their mouths. This is not for their moral betterment, but to fulfill the very purpose of their existence.
In worship, we join our voices with theirs, voices on earth with the voices in heaven, not to get something we think we don't have, but to give thanks for something that we continually receive.
* Colin Dunlop, Anglican Public Worship, pg. 8