“Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.” Luke 13:10
It is hip for Christians to proclaim, and publish, the tragic inadequacies of ‘the church’. Churches today are irrelevant. Churches today are too professional. Churches today are not missional. Churches today are inbred. Churches today are too political. Churches today are not political enough. The criticism often gives way to wholesale rejection of the church. Why waste an hour and a half on Sunday for church when you could just gather with your two buddies for coffee and doughnuts? “Where two or three are gathered!” is the cry of the disgruntled and displaced Sunday morning Latte community.
Along with the disillusionment comes the faint biblical support. Jesus had his harshest words for the religious establishment. Jesus took the gospel outside the synagogue. Jesus did ministry on the streets with the prostitute and tax collector. And this is true. But it is only part of the truth.
Jesus also went to church.
Of course, it wasn’t the ‘ekklesia’ formed by Christ at Pentecost through his Apostles. It was the synagogue. This was a gathering of at least ten households in a community under leadership, for Bible reading and preaching, for worship, and for care and support.
“And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” Luke 4:15
“And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” Luke 4:16
We often muse, if Jesus were to come today rather than the first century, what would he say to us? Yes, he would challenge vain religion and crippling legalism. Yes, he would challenge lame and lukewarm religious behavior. Yes, he would love the poor and charge us to do likewise. Yes, he would go to the street people, the people of the earth.
He would also look you in the eye and ask you why you weren’t in church on Sunday.
And please don’t claim Christian authenticity when you extol the poor-loving Jesus but get rankled at the church going Jesus. Don’t bless hip obedience and curse uncool commitment. If you do- you and the synagogue ruler of Luke 13:14 are on the same team.
And check it well, it was his custom to go to synagogue. He was known for it. You could bank on it.
Here is why Jesus went to synagogue. And it is very simple. He was one of God’s people, and God called his people to gather together, so Jesus went. They did this at the Temple in Jerusalem, or in synagogues all over Galilee every Sabbath. Jesus, as one of God’s people, obeyed God and was blessed by God through it. Regardless of how relevant those people were (and they weren’t), regardless of how hypocritical the synagogue ruler was, regardless of the misfits, fools, cripples, proud, rich, poor…etc. In actuality, Jesus went in order to regard all of those people.
And there are so many other good and glorious reasons Christians go to church.
We go for fellowship. To encourage one another, to hold one another accountable, to care for each other, to enjoy the family God’s given us.
We go for preaching and teaching. This was a big reason for Jesus’ synagogue going. He was a preacher and the synagogue was where a good deal of bible preaching and teaching went down. You need to be under the preaching of God’s Word. You need to hear what God has laid on your preacher’s heart. You need to receive the Word in that special, spiritual, and corporate way that God designed it to be received. Remember, most of the New Testament were letters written to churches. Jesus’ words of Revelation 1-3 weren’t to seven people, but seven churches.
We go for worship. To adore and praise God with song, with prayers, with offerings. We are to worship 24/7 of course. But God has ordained that we set aside a time for his people, his family, to come around the table. The meal is set, the conversation is sweet, the service is offered, and the Spirit does a special work. I don’t let one of my kids stay in their room with the TV on while our family is around the table. Your heavenly Father doesn’t want you back their either.
We go to church to be the church.
I think of my dear brother Neal Thompson who went to be with the Lord a few weeks ago. He had served at Community Church in Gainesville, Florida as an elder for over 40 years. Neal prayed over me at my installation as pastor as Four Oaks. As a boy growing up in that church I don’t recall a time being at church where Neal and the Thompson family wasn’t around. In fact, it is difficult for me to conceive of that church family without him there. If the doors were open, Neal was there. Neal would teach. Neal would lead in the hymn sing. Neal would stand in the foyer and greet you. Neal was in elder meetings. Neal was at prayer meetings. Neal didn’t go to church. Neal, to me, was the church. Because he was the church, I got to have a church. Because he was the church, hundreds of ne’er do well hippie kids from the University of Florida heard about Jesus in the ‘70s. I’m sure he had his share of disillusionment. I’m sure the people frustrated him. I’m sure he frustrated people. This is all par for the course, and you play the course till Jesus calls you home or returns.
So, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And, it shall be my custom on the Lord’s Day to be in his house with his people.
What about you?