One of the most screwed up ideas we have gotten is that somehow or other we are doing God a big favor by going to church on Sunday morning. It is as if God is the one who chiefly benefits from our presence (probably by getting our money in the offering). What a terribly backwards view of things!
We don’t go to church to do God a favor; rather, we go to church to receive the favor of God. We go to church to receive Christ and His gifts. God serves us with the favor of His grace. We do not serve Him with the favor of our attendance, the offering of our time, and the sacrifice of our desires to do something else with the couple of hours we spend in church on a Sunday morning.
Nor do we go to church to serve God. It is God who serves us and without this service of God we can do nothing at all. We need Jesus. We need His gifts. We cannot begin to serve Jesus until He first serves us with His Word and Sacraments. Only Him whose humble obedience to the Father has procured our salvation can present us to the Father as His own and send us forth in His name with His Word.
Our Protestant cousins are all agreed — from the Calvinists and their predestination to the Pentecostals and their spiritual gifts to the Evangelicals and their feel good focus. God does not act to give to His people the forgiveness of sins, salvation from hell, and eternal life by means of the speaking of a man (pastor) or the earthly elements of water, bread, and wine. Lutherans insist our Protestant cousins are wrong. It is our belief and teaching that the man who wears the stole speaks for Jesus Christ Himself to forgive our sins — as sure and certain as if it does not look or sound like our pastor but Christ Himself. God does not borrow the mouth of this man because of the pastor’s personal piety or righteousness. He is himself a sinner whom God has redeemed and has no claim to the authority of the Word because of his personal holiness. He may be flawed and his faults obvious to us — remember how God spoke through Balaam’s ass and the flaws and failings of the patriarchs and prophets. Our confidence lies in the means of grace. When this mere man we call a pastor baptizes, absolves, preaches, and administers the Lord’s Supper, there is God at work through the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth and each of us as individual members of it. God’s Word declares it. It not a choice — the church and the ministry or not. It is where and how God has chosen to work. Period.
We go to church because God is there, doing what He has promised through the means of grace He has appointed. Period. Church shopping should consist only of finding a place where the Word of Truth is taught in all its purity and the Sacraments administered as Christ intended. We do not hop around trying to find a church that fits but a place where the voice of Christ speaks and the hands of Christ deliver to us His grace in the sacraments — all through the intermediary or instrument of the ordained pastor. If we judge a church on other merits or another basis, we miss the forest for the trees. Personal preference, a place that fits me like a glove, a place where I can do my thing for Jesus, etc… these only distract us from the one thing needful — Christ working through His Word and Sacraments.
We have confused going to church with eating out and seeing a movie. We go to the place that fits our taste, peruse the menu to order what meets our desire du jour, eat to our enjoyment, pay the bill and look for the entertainment to cap the evening. We are starving ourselves to death while right in front of us God is delivering the feast of His riches in the Gospel and the Sacraments — for which we cannot pay but may respond with thankful gifts and which are not the domain of a gifted entertainer whom we enjoy but the pastor whom God has appointed to speak the truth in season and out (when we want to hear it and when we don’t). Such is the sorry state of Christianity in Australia when we think we are doing God a favor to show up on Sunday morning and figure He owes us at least a good time for all our trouble.
So what will you be doing Sunday morning and why?