Church can feel like an add-on to our weeks. We’ve already invested so much time in going to Tuesday morning moms’ group, writing in our journals and following our inductive studies, listening to podcasts and sermons in the car, humming worship music while scrubbing dishes, and teaching our children the classic Bible stories during family devotions. Is church even important? We have the music, the teaching, the Word, and the fellowship all contained in our pockets. Is it really worth waking everyone up early and piling into the car to drive to church each Sunday to do what we’ve already been doing all week?
Even if you haven’t given up going to church, maybe you still think these thoughts as you buckle the crying two-year-old into his car seat. I know I have. I remember Sundays spent in the foyer shushing and bouncing a fussy baby, wondering why I had even bothered. Perhaps you have those mornings too.
There may be times when going to church isn’t wise or possible—perhaps you have a newborn, someone sick in your home, or another reason preventing you. But when we are able, we should desire to go to the Lord’s house with rejoicing. Sister, let me encourage you that church isn’t only worth it but vital to your spiritual well-being. God has promised to work there—both in persevering and in healing you.
The elements of church are almost always at our fingertips. We can have a library of music, sermons, podcasts, and every translation of the Bible on our phones. We can hold a virtual church service in our living rooms. Within seconds we have access to hundreds of solid resources expounding and applying God’s Word—through books, recordings, videos, and commentaries. How is going to church even necessary?
Given the abundant resources we have, it is tempting to believe our personal Bible study time is the most essential part of our faith. And in turn, we’ve forgotten where God has first promised to grow and sanctify us.
The early church didn’t have the resources we have today. For hundreds of years, the only way to receive Scripture and any kind of explanation of it was by sitting under the preached Word. The only way to see a baptism and take communion was to gather as the local church and participate together. This explains why the Bible issues no commands or calls to sit alone and read God’s Word individually. The only way to receive God’s Word was as the local body of believers. God intended to grow his people through the local church. If personal quiet time were God’s only means of sanctifying us, the majority of the church history would have been excluded from this grace.
Means of Grace and Church
For most of my life as a believer, I saw the means of grace of baptism and communion as nice rituals we did but nothing more. They were good reminders, but oftentimes they seemed to weigh me down. Am I doing enough? Am I committed enough to God? Have I done enough to be worthy of God’s grace? Have I lived up to my baptism? These rites were just another strange practice and a reminder of what I lacked.
But there’s a reason why the church has called these rites a “means of grace.” They aren’t meant to pack more weight on our shoulders but rather impart God’s grace to our hearts after a week of battling temptation in a sin-stricken world.
More Than Water, Bread, and Wine
Baptism is meant to be a reminder of God’s grace toward us. Sinclair Ferguson explores this concept further in his book Devoted to God when he writes, “It does not point at faith so much as summon us to faith. Christ himself, and, yes, all that faith finds in him, is the point—not primarily what we ourselves have done in coming to faith. Baptism says: ‘Look at what is yours in Christ,’ not ‘Look at the faith that brought you to Christ.’” It’s a picture of how God has changed and cleansed us. And as we witness the baptisms of others, we rejoice in this truth for them and remember this truth for ourselves.
In Pilgrim Theology, Michael Horton describes the Lord’s Supper as a “table that God spreads in the wilderness along the way.” The Lord’s Supper (or communion) is our regular reminder of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Each time we partake of it, it reminds us of how he has taken God’s wrath for us and will one day feast with us in eternal life. It’s a reminder of the covenant—the eternal relationship—we have with God as his people.
These rites give us something we can’t find anywhere else. They are more than water, bread, and wine. They are a physical, visual reminder of God’s lavish love towards us. In this way, they sanctify and sustain our tired hearts from living in a wayward world.
In-Person Fellowship at Church
God doesn’t call us to experience these means of grace—preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper—in solitude. Rather, Scripture calls us to gather together as God’s diverse people: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).
As we walk through this fallen world, we’re constantly in a battle to keep pressing forward. We feel the tempting pull toward sin and disbelief. We need our fellow siblings in Christ to help us when we’re limping along or to haul us over their shoulders and carry us. We’re often blind to our own sins we hold so dearly, and we need others to call them what they are. And they need us to do the same for them. Sanctification, though it takes place in our own hearts, happens in the local community.
Sanctified by Truth
Sunday mornings can feel hectic. They are tiring. And at times, they may even feel useless. But God has called us there to grow and feed us in a way we can’t be on our own throughout the week. As Sinclair Ferguson wrote,
“We come on Sunday morning out of a world that has sought to squeeze us into its mould. We add to that our spiritual lethargy. But then we are fed in God’s presence by God’s word, read, sung, spoken, and prayed. We are sanctified by the truth. Then when we come together later in the day, some degree of this transforming of our lives through the renewing of our minds has already taken place. We find ourselves as Jesus prayed we would be, cleansed and sanctified.”
I hope you can go to God’s house rejoicing this week, sister, and that you will see his sanctifying work.