Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The 7 REAL reasons why you need to go to church

What are the REAL reasons why you need to go to church?  Not just the good reasons, or the reasons why going to church is good for you, but rather the actual practical reasons why God asks each of us to show up to a building every Sunday.

As I was browsing around the Internet recently, I came across a question and answers forum in which someone asked the question, “Why do we need to go to church on Sunday?” The answer that was voted the best was this one word in all caps: FELLOWSHIP. Most of the other answers tended to sound something like this (I’m paraphrasing): "You don’t need to go to church; God can hear your prayers wherever you are." Others said things like: "We’re hardcore Christians, and we still skip church all the time, but I guess it’s good to learn things with other Christians." Some maintained in a somewhat derisive tone that you are a sinner if you don’t go to church (this was usually followed with the person saying something along the lines of how glad they are that they aren't a christian, so they don't have to worry about it). One person provided a very detailed argument that you should go to church on Saturday instead of Sunday. This, along with some related questions that a friend asked me recently, got me to thinking about the ACTUAL reasons why we need to go to church. Not just the good reasons, or the reasons why going to church is good for you, but rather the actual practical reasons why God asks each of us to show up in a building every Sunday.

I.  Why do we need a church? Why can’t I worship God in my own way? The word church comes from the Greek word kuriake, which means “of the Lord.” The New Testament writers most often used the word ekklesia to refer to the church as a whole, and also in a more specific local sense. Ekklesia is actually descended from two words: ek-, which means “out”, and kaleo-, which means to “call”. This “calling out” is understood to mean a summoning to an assembly, congregation, or council. The writers in the New Testament knew what they were doing when they chose to use the secular word ekklesia to represent a religious gathering of saints, as ekklesia had a special political connotation that, in this instance, implied that this assembly of saints was a political apparatus that operated within the larger political entity that was the Kingdom of Christ on earth. The secular definition (and original use of the term) implies that the ekklesia is a group or a council of citizens that come together to make decisions that affect the local community. More importantly, the use of the terms ek- and kaleo by the writers of the New Testament has direct (and no doubt deliberate) reference to the calling of the faithful out of the world as the elect of God. Thus the word Church can be said to mean a “calling out” to gather those people who are chosen “of the Lord,” so they might take an active part in the government and building up of the Lord’s kingdom.

In Matthew 18:20, the Lord says: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. In other words, if we truly seek the Lord, we must gather together in his nameWhile a personal and individual experience with God is, in my opinion, an essential part of conversion (or the process of being born again through which one truly becomes a spiritual son or daughter of Christ), one cannot enjoy the full blessings of his spirit without also formally becoming a part of God’s spiritual family. That means that one must join with God’s other children in worship as well as through covenant in order to gain the blessings that he has in store for his children. Paul declares this in Galatians 3:26-29:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

As Christ stated in Matthew, this family can consist of as few as two or three people. It doesn’t matter how many members there are in the church because “Truth has never been dependent on the number who embrace it” (Douglas L. Callister, “Knowing That We Know,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 100–101). What does matter is the spiritual strength of and conviction held by each of those members, no matter mow many members there are.

"No matter how large the organization of the Church becomes or how many millions of members join our ranks, no matter how many continents and countries our missionaries enter or how many different languages we speak, the true success of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be measured by the spiritual strength of its individual members. We need the strength of conviction that is found in the heart of every loyal disciple of Christ" (Boyd K. Packer, "The Reason for Our Hope," Ensign, November 2014, 8).

Be there many disciples or few, at least one of those few must be called and sent by God, one who accordingly holds the authority to administer a gathering of saints “in [the Lord’s] name,” as Paul declares in Romans 10:14-15:

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

And further in Hebrews 5:4

And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

There could be three or three billion members, but without someone who holds that priesthood authority to minister in God's name, the church is just a social club. Matthew 18:20 is beloved the world over by people who sincerely seek to find the Lord in a deeply personal way. Unfortunately, many people also misinterpret this scripture to mean that no actual organization or authorized leadership is necessary for a gathering of the faithful to receive the sanction of the Lord and, by extension, to represent His kingdom on Earth.

Note that the scripture says “in my name”. When a policeman says, “stop in the name of the law!” it is understood that he can say that because he is a duly appointed representative of the Law, and that as such he holds the authority to act in “the name of the law”. If I said that to you, you’d just laugh at me, because I am not an authorized peace officer.

Just so, in order to gather together “in [the Lord’s] name”, there must be someone in that group who has been appointed and authorized by the Lord to represent him and to act (and lead the group) in his name in order for a gathering of the faithful to become a part of God’s kingdom. This authority begins when God calls and ordains a prophet, who in turn has the authority to ordain men to positions of authority and leadership in the church (on the local as well as the general level), and so organize God’s kingdom on the Earth. For more on the necessity for and the structure of priesthood authority as a prerequisite to leading and organizing God’s church, I refer you to the first segment of my presentation on the Great Apostasy. In it I produce scripture from the New Testament that amply demonstrates that Jesus Christ did in fact organize a church that consisted of ordained officers such as prophets, apostles, bishops, elders, and deacons while he was on the Earth. Under his direction as the head of the church both before and after his ascension into heaven, the church functioned very much as God’s kingdom on Earth, and not merely a loose collection of philosophically similar followers that each sought God in their own way.

A question such as this, concerning the necessity of a church, usually comes from people who have decided that they don’t need “organized religion” to worship God. Even setting aside the question of authority, I would argue that one cannot truly begin to approach God without religion (and also that in God’s kingdom, organization is incidental to any establishment of religion). Religion, in its pure form, is not an invention of man, nor is it really an invention of God’s. Religion is, as C.S. Lewis declared in his book Mere Christianity, “His [God’s] statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about his own nature.” Just because every person can read the Bible and the other scriptures to begin to grasp these “unalterable facts”, doesn’t mean that every man is a church unto himself (see 2 Peter 1:20-21). Relativistic and decentralized religion has never been the pattern of any of God’s dealings with his children (Biblical or otherwise), and it contradicts the very notion of an organization as comprehensive as a kingdom like the one that God has instituted on Earth. (I will more fully address the importance and purpose of the church as organized by God in point number 4.)

The organization of the church, on the local as well as on the more general level, has a very real and practical value as an apparatus by which the Lord can accomplish much good in the lives of the members as well as in the surrounding community.  Thus the members are commanded to gather together, not only to build the kingdom of God on Earth, but to do so by loving and serving all men everywhere, and by taking concrete steps to act for their welfare.

Alma 6:6  Nevertheless the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God.

Moroni 6:3-6  And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.  And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.  And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.  And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.

Colossians 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

In order that we, as followers of Christ, can act as effective instruments in the hands of the Lord, we must gather together, for we cannot hope to achieve nearly as much good, or to fully live our faith, without the opportunity to work alongside our fellow disciples to learn and act to better love and serve each other and all men. 

Hebrews 10:23-25  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

“The Savior works through a church, His Church,…to achieve needful things that cannot be accomplished by individuals or smaller groups. One clear example is dealing with poverty. It is true that as individuals and families we look after the physical needs of others, “imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.” But together in the Church, the ability to care for the poor and needy is multiplied to meet the broader need, and hoped-for self-reliance is made a reality for very many.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “Why the Church?” Ensign, November 2015).

For a spirited critique of the claim that one can be "spiritual, but not religious" you should read this article from the Huffington Post:  "Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me."

II.  Why do we need to gather in a building? Why can’t we just worship the Lord surrounded by his creations in nature, or in the quiet of our own home? In some ways, four walls and a roof do not necessarily make a church. Many of the most sacred encounters between God and man took place on mountaintops or in forest groves. If God is in a place, that place becomes a temple of sorts by default. Furthermore, your personal worship of God should not be restricted only to a single place or day of the week, and you are free to devote yourself to God in whatever place you may be in.  That said, an essential part of any true worship of the Lord is to demonstrate our devotion to him by creating (and formally worshipping God in) a place that is wholly dedicated to Him.

“I don't believe that it is possible to keep our spirituality on a high plane by spending our Sabbaths on the beach, on the golf course, in the mountains, or in our own homes reading newspapers and looking at television. When the Lord said, "And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer" (D&C 59:9), that is exactly what He meant. We must have spiritual food.

Of course you can live a pretty good life out on the golf course on Sunday. But you don't build your spirituality. Probably you could worship the Lord out there, but the fact is you don't do it as you don't worship Him down on the beach. But if you go to the house of the Lord you will worship Him. If you attend to your prayers in your home with your family you will worship Him. And your spirituality will be raised. The spiritual food which your body requires will be provided and you are much more apt to have this joy.” (Ezra Taft Benson, "The Home and Family," BYU Religious Life Series, Provo, Utah, September 1960.)

The problem with trying to worship on the beach, or in the woods, or on the golf course isn't that you CAN'T worship God there.  Rather, it is that even if you say that you will worship God while you play golf, or walk on the beach, or watch T.V., the fact is that you don't.  There are too many distractions, and moreover if you are honest you will recognize that you are really only there for the sake of your own amusement and satisfaction, and not out of any sense of devotion and dedication to God.

While a dedicated chapel can be a house of the Lord, it is not a “cage for God” (to paraphrase Homer Simpson), rather it is a place where we can go to escape the distractions and the cares of the outside world (see Isaiah 4:5-6), and to become reacquainted with our Father in heaven. It is a place where we can more fully focus on the things of the spirit and open ourselves to instruction from the Lord. It is a place made sacred enough by his presence that holy ordinances can be performed there in His name.

In the case of the Chapel, the most easily recognized ordinance performed there would be that of the Sacrament. The Sacrament is in turn a renewal of the covenants that we make at baptism, which is also an ordinance that is often performed in a chapel building (where the appropriate facilities are available).

In the early days of the Christian church, not long after the ascension of Christ, it was common for the Saints to meet to worship and “break bread” in “house churches.”  These were houses, or portions of houses, that belonged to certain members of Christ’s church, and which had been dedicated to the worship of the Lord. The difference between their “house churches” and your house is that those “house churches” had been dedicated by someone holding authority from God to make their house into a house of the Lord. If a chapel has been dedicated to the Lord by a person holding the authority from God to do so, it has been made sacred, and so the Lord will be there and his Spirit can be felt more strongly there than in most other places.

In that sense, worshipping in a Chapel is more for our benefit than it is for God’s benefit, as it exists entirely as a facility to aid us in our personal journey toward perfection. In a way, we demonstrate our conversion simply by standing to be counted as disciples of Christ in the appointed place (namely a dedicated chapel) and at the appointed time. The same principles hold true for the Temple, but to a much deeper and more profound degree. Many of the Lord’s instructions in the scriptures concerning the construction of a house of worship apply more directly to the building of a temple, but while the Temple and the Chapel both serve different functions within the Church, the reasons for worshipping inside them as opposed to out in nature or at home are generally the same.

While we naturally place great emphasis on constructing and worshipping in temples and (to a slightly lesser degree) in chapels, the physical building itself is less important than the worship that takes place inside.  A dedicated house of the Lord is intended to be an outward sign and representation of the inward dedication and devotion of the Lord's people.  It was with this concept in mind that the apostles Peter and Paul taught that it is the members who form the stones of a spiritual house which is formed and entered into through covenant, and built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone (or as Peter calls him, "the living stone").

1 Peter 2:1-5  Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:9-10  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Ephesians 2:19-22  Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

There have been many who have cited these and other passages to argue that we do not need a building in which to worship since the church and kingdom of God is formed by its members and not by tabernacles made by hands.  They insist that they can stay home on Sunday (to watch NASCAR?) because (supposedly) Christians are no longer required to meet in a building, as an effect of the new covenant established in Christ.

Note however that this notion is not consistent with the practices of the New Testament (primitive) church.  According to the book of Acts, in Peter's day the disciples are described as continuing "stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."  Moreover, the disciples broke bread ( what we call "partaking of the sacrament") from house to house (remember the house churches I mentioned earlier?) and they are also described as "continuing daily with one accord in the temple" in Jerusalem.  The phrase "one accord" is significant here because it means that it was the custom of the disciples to assemble together daily to worship in the temple together at one time. It is also significant that these activities are among those listed as describing the ways in which the church "continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (See Acts 2:42-46).  Clearly it was central to the apostles doctrine that the disciples should meet together regularly to worship both in the churches as well as in the Temple itself.

While it is logical to assume that the practice of assembling together in the temple daily ceased after the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D, it was clearly central among the worship practices of Christ's church in the decades between His ascension and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.  Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that the New Testament disciples met regularly on a certain day each week to worship together, to break bread, and to hear the word of God, and there is no evidence that this practice ceased after the destruction of the temple.  The fact that this worship took place in a building is treated in the Bible record as a given, and so it is mentioned only because of an unusual occurrence that took place during one of Paul's sermons.

Acts 20:7-12  And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.  And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.  And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.  And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

Once again, the building is less important than the dedicated worship that takes place in that building.  When we dedicate a chapel or a temple, we are symbolically dedicating ourselves as a people and as individuals to faithful service and loyal devotion toward God.  As was done in the Bible, when we dedicate a house of worship to the Lord, we symbolically offer it up for His acceptance.  This is one of the "spiritual sacrifices" which Peter mentioned, and others include the offering up of our broken heart and our contrite spirit as part of the ordinance of the sacrament.  We no longer make literal offerings in the sense that we are no longer required to make offerings of animal sacrifices, but the principle is the same.  If the Lord does not accept the house of worship in question (or the spiritual offerings which we make in that house of worship) then it is no different than any other building; for in many ways, the building only gains significance and sacredness when we make it an acceptable offering to the Lord through our righteousness and faith.  The Lord cares more about building a righteous people who are bound to him by covenant than he does about our small efforts to build a house to Him.

Aside from our desire to demonstrate our love for and devotion to the Lord, there is another reason that we choose to worship in a building.  Note that the spiritual household of God is built on the foundation of prophets and apostles.  In this age, as well as in the time of the New Testament church, the prophets and apostles have directed us to build and worship in structures dedicated to the worship of God.

While meeting in a chapel may seem mundane and unexciting to you when compared to the notion of meeting God on a mountain top, remember that wherever God is, that place is holy.  If you reject the teachings of the prophets that we are to worship God in a building simply because it offends your sense of the dramatic, or because it doesn't fit your personal conception of God, you are essentially making yourself like Namaan.  Namaan became upset and disappointed because the prophet bid him perform a mundane task (washing seven times in the river Jordan) in order to realize the miracle he desired, instead of drawing down the power of God in a spectacular and dramatic fashion, which Namaan felt better matched his own idea of how a prophet of God should act (see 2 Kings ch. 5).  Don't be like Namaan was at first, who expected God to come to him on His terms and in the fashion which he expected. Instead, take the advice of his wise (and brave) servants, who reminded their master of the importance of following the counsel of the prophet: "And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?"  If the prophet had bid you to go find God on the top of a great mountain, would you not make great sacrifices in order to travel to that mountain and again to reach the summit in order to encounter the divine?  How then do you rebel when told by the prophets and apostles that you can find God by developing the simple habit of regular and heartfelt worship, which happens to take place in a building dedicated to the service and worship of God?

III.  Is it a sin if I don’t go to church? We have been commanded to attend church and to worship God on the Lord’s day in many places throughout the scriptures. One of the Big Ten is to keep the Sabbath day holy. A more specific set of instructions is contained in Doctrine and Covenants section 59:7-12 where the Lord commands:

Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High; Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times; But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.

Just because we have been commanded to attend church doesn’t mean that you should attend church just because you are afraid that you will be punished for skipping church. Compulsory church attendance defeats the purpose of going to church in the first place. I have found that there is a tendency among members of the LDS church to equate regular attendance with righteousness. This is often accompanied by the implicit conclusion that those who do not attend church regularly must therefore be wicked in some way. While it is assuredly true that those who are truly converted (and who therefore are striving to be as righteous as a flawed mortal can be) tend to attend church as regularly as is within their power, it does not necessarily follow that those who attend church regularly are, by default association, righteous by virtue of their regular attendance alone.

"Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed. By contrast, the things of the gospel are usually less visible and more difficult to measure, but they are of greater eternal importance. For example, how much faith do we really have? How repentant are we? How meaningful are the ordinances in our lives? How focused are we on our covenants?" (Donald L. Hallstrom, "Converted to His Gospel through His Church", Ensign May 2012)

Attending church is meant to be an expression of one’s gratitude towards and love for and devotion to God and his son Jesus Christ (or in other words, an outward expression of our inward conversion to the gospel of Christ), and if you are only there out of fear or out of some grudging sense of obligation, then you are missing the point entirely. This is a question of rules-based obedience versus principle-based obedience. It’s not enough to attend out of mindless habit or the desire to gain the approval of those in your faith community either. In God's eyes, external performance is meaningless unless accompanied by true inner devotion.

Psalms 51:10, 16-17, 6  Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Moroni 7:6-7  For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.

Matthew 6:5-6  And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

"The Savior often denounced those who did without being—calling them hypocrites: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6). To do without to be is hypocrisy, or feigning to be what one is not—a pretender.

Conversely, to be without to do is void, as in “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17; emphasis added). Be without do really isn’t being—it is self-deception, believing oneself to be good merely because one’s intentions are good.

Do without be—hypocrisy—portrays a false image to others, while be without do portrays a false image to oneself" (Lynn G. Robbins, "What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?," Ensign, May 2011, 103).

James 2:17-18  Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

In short we need to be both inwardly as well as outwardly converted to the gospel. If we are truly inwardly converted to the gospel then we will naturally do things such as attend church, which things are vital for our spiritual well-being.

"We must diligently search into, and set in order both the outward and the inner man, because both of them are of importance to our progress in godliness." (Thomas of Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 31)

Elder Hallstrom continues: "I repeat: we need the gospel and the Church. In fact, the purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel. We often wonder: How can someone be fully active in the Church as a youth and then not be when they are older? How can an adult who has regularly attended and served stop coming? How can a person who was disappointed by a leader or another member allow that to end their Church participation? Perhaps the reason is they were not sufficiently converted to the gospel—the things of eternity" (Donald L. Hallstrom, "Converted to His Gospel through His Church", Ensign May 2012).

That isn't to say that you shouldn't go if you don't feel highly motivated to be at church-quite the opposite in fact! What it does mean is that you should do everything you can to become converted to the principle of attending church for the right reasons. The first step towards that conversion starts with making the fundamental effort to BE at church, and you can worry about the loftier reasons for being there once you're in the door. The fact that we have a church to attend at all is meant to be a blessing to us, to aid us in our lives, and in the long run to help us to return to live with God someday. While going to church is better for you than the alternative, simply being present at church is not enough to receive the great blessings that come through living this principle, as Elder Dallin H. Oaks teaches us:

“[Some people] may attend sporadically, but they are not yet enjoying the full blessings of Church participation and service. Others may attend regularly, but refrain from commitments and from seeking the personal spiritual rebirth that comes from yielding our hearts to God. Both kinds are missing some unique blessings in this life. And both are in jeopardy of missing the most glorious blessings in the life to come.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Gospel in Our Lives,” Liahona, Jul 2002, 36–39).

To gain the full benefit of true worship, one must be prepared to make and keep commitments, and to attend with an open heart, ready to be taught by the spirit. Going to church isn’t all about receiving though; a fundamental principle of Christianity is selfless service as an expression of Christ-like love. As Christ is quoted (by Paul) as saying in Acts 20:35, It is more blessed to give than receive. In order to truly experience the full intent behind God’s commandment to attend church, we must come in a spirit of service and giving, without expectation of reward. Where church is concerned, when we stop focusing on “What’s in it for me” at church, only then we will receive the enlightenment we seek.

My answer then, is yes, it does constitute disobedience to God’s commandment to not go to church, but the worrying about whether or not it’s a sin misses the whole point of going to church in the first place.

IV.  I can worship God each and every day, so what’s so special about Sunday? While it is important to love and serve God every day of our lives, and thus be a true follower of Christ in all times and all places (and not just in church on one day of the week, as expressed above in D&C 59:7-12), there is a special significance to the worship that one does in church on Sunday that makes it vital as a foundation for the principles of discipleship.

There is much debate among certain sects of Christianity concerning exactly which day has been set aside by God for worship. I would argue that this is largely a non-issue since even if everyone agreed on the appropriate day, due to the variance amongst different time zones, some people around the world would technically be worshipping on the wrong day anyway. The key is to avoid getting tangled up in the technical aspects of the law, because while the Sabbath day matters, the actual calendar day of the week on which it is held matters less than the principle behind this commandment which is namely that we have been commanded to dedicate one day of the week to the Lord.

So the question remains, why Sunday? Originally the Sabbath was held on the equivalent of Saturday, or the last day of the week, at Gods command. This was done in the likeness of the creation in which God rested on the seventh day as a sign of the covenant that God made with the Israelites under the Law given through Moses (see Exodus 31: 16-17). In the New Testament, it is recorded very clearly that following the resurrection of Christ, which took place on the first day of the week (see John Ch. 20), the saints began gathering “together to break bread”, and to hear the gospel preached on the first day of the week (see Acts 20:7). It appears from the Bible narrative, and it is supported by the accounts of contemporaries of the apostles (such as Ignatius) that the Sabbath day was changed to honor the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week. John subsequently refers to this day of worship as “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10.

V.  Why does there have to be one true church? Does it matter which church I go to? On my mission I met a lot of kind people who maintained that all churches are good, as long as they lead a person to God. Others questioned the necessity of committing to any particular church, as long as they believed in their hearts. I wrote this answer in response to a specific question from a friend, but I also dedicate it to all of those people that I met on my mission.

While anything that helps you grow closer to God is good, doesn’t it make sense to seek out that thing that helps you grow closest to God? Unfortunately, all roads do not lead to God, as convenient as it might seem to believe that. As Paul stated unequivocally in Ephesians 4:5-There is "One Lord, One Faith, one Baptism" He goes on to state in 4:11-16 that Christ himself established the organization of the church:

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (note the singular -body-): Till we all come in the UNITY of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

So to review:
The church organization was established by Christ for:
1. The perfecting of the saints
2. The work of the ministry
3. For the edifying (or building up) of the body of Christ
4. For protection from heresy and apostasy.
5. To the end of establishing UNITY of faith and of the knowledge of Christ
6.That we might become "a perfect man" and so measure up to the full stature of Christ himself.
In doing so we will no longer be children, and we will "grow up into him in all things"

Paul also points out that Christ is the head of the body that is the church, and that the body of the church is indeed one body, "fitly joined together...according to the effectual working in the measure of every part...In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (See Ephesians 4:16, and 2:21-22) This demonstrates that Christ's church was not, and is not, a collection of loosely held sects that vary in doctrine and practice, but rather is one uniform body under Christ's direction through the organization of "Apostles...Prophets...evangelists...pastors...and teachers" which he himself established.

Paul echoes and elaborates on this when he says in 1 Corinthians 12:13-

"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit."

He then reiterates the need for, and the importance of, the apostles and prophets, and the rest of the organization of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, by its very nature, requires great commitment on our part. The great commandment as taught by Christ in Matthew 22:37 is that: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Christ reminds us in John 14:15 that: If ye love me, keep my commandments. Christ has commanded all men everywhere to be baptized (see 3 Nephi 27:20). In James 3:5 Jesus states: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Before my mission, I thought that this scripture referred only to the fact that one cannot enter into heaven without first receiving a remission of sins. However, in my studies on my mission it became clear that the kingdom of God as mentioned in this scripture also refers to God’s kingdom on earth. In order to become a true disciple of Christ and take his name upon us, we must actively join with his kingdom and take part in its edification. Preach my Gospel explains:

“Baptism by immersion is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Savior. In a similar way, it represents the end of our old life of sin and a commitment to live a new life as a disciple of Christ. The Savior taught that baptism is a rebirth. When we are baptized we begin the process of being born again and become spiritual sons and daughters of Christ (see Mosiah 5:7-8; Romans 8:14-17). We must be baptized to become members of the restored Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And to eventually enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What makes this Church the kingdom of God? The reasons are too numerous to list here, but Joseph Smith summed it up clearly when he said: “Whenever there has been a righteous man on earth unto whom God revealed his word and gave power and authority to administer in his name…in the ordinances of the Gospel and officiate in the priesthood of God, there is the kingdom of God…Where there is no kingdom of God there is no salvation. What constitutes the kingdom of God? Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives his oracles, there is the kingdom of God; and where the oracles of God are not, there the kingdom of God is not.” (HC 5:256-57)

VI.  Why is going to Church so important? When you boil it down, the most important thing that we do each week at church is to renew our Baptismal covenants through partaking of the ordinance of the sacrament. Jesus taught that this ordinance is so vital to our salvation that we cannot have eternal life without it. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:53-54). I should point out that it is taught elsewhere (see 1 Corinthians 11, and 3 Nephi 18) that one must live worthily so as to partake of the sacrament righteously, and so the ordinance itself is not what gives eternal life, but rather it is a sign of one’s commitment to live the Gospel and put off all ungodliness and so obtain eternal life through Christ's grace.

There is also a more immediate reason to attend church regularly, and to partake of the sacrament worthily every week. The Savior makes it clear in 3 Nephi Chapter 18 that in order to remain safe from the ravages of Satan and his servants, it is essential that we actively seek to build ourselves upon the rock of the Savior for our own good and protection, as well as that of our families (see also Helaman 5:12). The Savior teaches us exactly what we must do in order to begin to build ourselves on His rock in 3 Nephi Chapter 18. He begins by introducing and instituting the sacrament among the Nephites, and explaining the significance (both symbolic and actual) of this ordinance.

The Sacrament is accompanied by a promise that, if we do always remember Christ, we will have his spirit to be with us. Partaking of the Sacrament worthily is the most comprehensive of the three principles that are essential to building upon the rock of the Savior. It is the principle (and ordinance) that depends the most upon what we do and say and think (and in fact, what and who we are) in every moment of every day.

In Christian parlance outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is common to hear Baptism and the Eucharist (or communion) each referred to individually, as well as together, as sacraments. I like this designation (the use of the term sacrament) as it applies to both ordinances, because in partaking of the sacrament, we are renewing the covenants that we made at baptism, so in effect we are being baptized once again every week. Baptism, and the ordinance of the Sacrament are therefore inextricably linked, and both depend upon the sacrifice that The Savior made for each of us.

When I helped to prepare an investigator for baptism while on my mission, we made a special effort to help them understand what would be expected and required of them upon baptism. This was facilitated by the fact that each baptismal candidate had to interview with a mission leader (like a district leader, zone leader, or a member of the mission presidency) in order to be baptized. During the course of this interview they were asked a series of questions that dealt mainly with the individual readiness of the investigator to take on these commitments.

I remember that, on occasion, some people were surprised that the interview was not a quiz to see what they retained from the missionary lessons, but that it was mainly concerned with the strength of their conversion. Christ makes it perfectly clear that one would be better off not partaking of the sacrament at all than they would be by partaking of it unworthily, and so it fell to us as missionaries to insure that each prospective convert fully understood the promises and commitments that they would be making to and with the Lord at baptism. Before baptism, an investigator had to demonstrate that they had repented of their sins (by, for instance, giving up smoking or drinking, or moving out of a cohabitation situation), in order to show that they were prepared to live up to their covenants after baptism.

It is no different with the sacrament. One must repent continually, and strive to live up to the same promises that any convert must learn to keep before baptism, and which every one of us make at baptism, which we must renew through partaking of the sacrament.

Whether we are being baptized for the first time in our lives, or we are partaking of the sacrament for the one hundredth time, the cleansing and sanctifying effect is the same, if we will live up to our part of the covenant. If we have demonstrated our worthiness to take (or re-take) this ordinance and covenant upon ourselves we will receive a remission of our sins through the blood of Christ, and we will have his spirit to be with us always. As my Mission President used to say, “I don’t understand why anyone would want to be without that for even one minute!”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained it this way:

“Attendance at Church each week provides the opportunity to partake of the sacrament, as the Lord has commanded us (see D&C 59:9). If we act with the right preparation and attitude, partaking of the sacrament renews the cleansing effect of our baptism and qualifies us for the promise that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. A mission of that Spirit, the Holy Ghost, is to testify of the Father and the Son and to lead us into truth (see John 14:26; 2 Ne. 31:18). Testimony and truth, which are essential to our personal conversion, are the choice harvest of this weekly renewing of our covenants. In the day-to-day decisions of my life and in my personal spiritual growth, I have enjoyed the fulfillment of that promise.

I am sorry when any Latter-day Saint does not understand the precious blessing that comes to those who keep the commandment to offer up their sacraments upon each Sabbath day. What is there in life—on the lakes or streams, in places of commercial recreation, or at home reading the Sunday paper—that can provide anything comparable to these blessings? No recreational pleasure can equal the cleansing renewal and the spiritual guidance and growth God has promised those who faithfully partake of the sacrament and honor Him each Sabbath day.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Gospel in Our Lives,” Liahona, Jul 2002, 36–39)

VII.  Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

Once we begin to glimpse the power and blessings which come from faithful worship it will change the way we view the Lord's commandments governing proper and reverent observance of the His holy day.  No longer will we view sabbath observance as a burden or an interruption to our busy schedule (or an interruption of our recreational plans for the weekend).  When we begin to "catch...the spirit of Sabbath worship," we will no longer feel compelled to keep the sabbath day holy out of some sense of grudging obligation.  Instead we will gain a sincere desire to worship the Lord in all places and at all times, and we will view Sundays as a particular opportunity to express our love for and devotion to God and His Christ.

This places a new level of personal responsibility on our shoulders to discipline ourselves instead of relying on a network of rules to compel us to sacrifice "our" time each week to attend church.  This means that we will have to judge and determine for ourselves (with the aid and guidance of the Holy Ghost) exactly what is and isn't acceptable to do on the Lord's day.  However, by freeing us from the law of compulsion and Mosaic literalism, our new understanding of the gospel allows us to learn and grow through the development of personal conversion in the determination to obey God from the heart and according to the direction of His Spirit and not according to the expectations or strictures of any other person or group. 

“The Mosaic injunctions of Sabbath day observance contained many detailed do’s and don’ts. This may have been necessary to teach obedience to those who had been in captivity and had long been denied individual freedom of choice. Thereafter, these Mosaic instructions were carried to many unwarranted extremes which the Savior condemned. In that day the technicalities of Sabbath day observance outweighed the ‘weightier matters of the law’ (Matt. 23:23) such as faith, charity, and the gifts of the Spirit.

“In our time God has recognized our intelligence by not requiring endless restrictions. Perhaps this was done with a hope that we would catch more of the spirit of Sabbath worship rather than the letter thereof. In our day, however, this pendulum of Sabbath day desecration has swung very far indeed. We stand in jeopardy of losing great blessings promised. After all, it is a test by which the Lord seeks to ‘prove you in all things’ (D&C 98:14) to see if your devotion is complete.

“Where is the line as to what is acceptable and unacceptable on the Sabbath? Within the guidelines, each of us must answer this question for ourselves. While these guidelines are contained in the scriptures and in the words of the modern prophets, they must also be written in our hearts and governed by our conscience. … It is quite unlikely that there will be any serious violation of Sabbath worship if we come humbly before the Lord and offer him all our heart, our soul, and our mind. (See Matt. 22:37.)

“What is worthy or unworthy on the Sabbath day will have to be judged by each of us by trying to be honest with the Lord. On the Sabbath day we should do what we have to do and what we ought to do in an attitude of worshipfulness and then limit our other activities. I wish to testify unequivocally concerning the blessings of Sabbath day worship” (James E. Faust, “The Lord’s Day,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 35). 

“How do we hallow the Sabbath day? In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, ‘What sign do I want to give to God?’ That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear” (Russell M. Nelson, “The Sabbath Is a Delight,” Ensign, May 2015, 130, 132.). 

While we have gained liberty through Christ to judge for ourselves concerning what constitutes proper sabbath observance and deportment, there are certain guidelines that should help determine any decision that we make in this matter.

"The Savior’s words help us understand that the Sabbath is a day for doing good. One way to “do good” on the Sabbath is to “go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments … , and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:9–10). Other ways of doing good on the Sabbath “may include praying, meditating, studying the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets, writing letters to family members and friends, reading wholesome material, visiting the sick and distressed, and attending other Church meetings”" (True to the Faith, 146).

“Those who do not honor the Sabbath and keep it holy displease [God]. Some people appear to think that if they have attended religious meetings, or performed some portion of the service required of them on Sunday, they are then at liberty to go to ball games, picture shows, or resorts of various kinds, and still continue to enjoy the favor of the Master. I say to you that if they persist in doing things of that kind, members of the Church will lose their faith; and the Spirit of our Heavenly Father will withdraw from them” (George Albert Smith, The Teachings of George Albert Smith: Eighth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1996).

What we do on the Lord's day matters greatly, because God matters greatly, and what is more, God and Jesus should matter greatly to each of us.   Each week we have been given the opportunity to experience the Lord's rest, which is a phrase which is often used in the scriptures to refer to God's throne and presence.  Sunday is not just a day off from our cares and worries, but it is also an opportunity to enjoy a more intimate acquaintance with our Father in heaven by means of heartfelt worship and observance of ordinances of divine reconciliation.

Throughout the week we become estranged from our Father through sin, error, and worldly distractions.  The Lord's day is an opportunity to cast our burdens at the Lord's feet so we can draw near to him once again as He seeks to gather us as "a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings."  This will only be possible for us if we do not harden our hearts, and if we are willing to "repent and return unto [Him] with full purpose of heart" (see 3 Nephi 10:6 and D&C 10:65).  Humble and sincere worship on the sabbath day, which includes regular church attendance, as well as partaking of the sacrament worthily, is an incredible blessing which is designed to help us to come to the Savior and to experience the profound "healing in His wings" (see Malachi 4:2).

For more on how to get the most out of church go and read "What To Do When Church is Boring: 3 Truths and 5 Tips to Make Church More Fulfilling."

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