Why Go To Church?
by Father Gerard Monaghan
used with permission
Editor's Note: This article was written in response to a letter sent to the site. The visitor wrote:
"My name is Gail. And I am 33 years old. For the longest time, I have wanted to be baptized. But there is one problem, I do not go to church. But I do believe in God and the Bible. I think that most people, especially the ones I have met are hypocrites, in the church. I figure as long as I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord I don't need to go to church. Because after all didn't Jesus preach in the fields. Out in the open. I am a Christian, but have no church. So I was wondering, how does one get baptized when they so desperately want it, but don't go to church? I would appreciated if you could reply back. Thank you. Sincerely, Gail"
Father Monaghan replied:
To answer all of you questions would take a couple of hours, therefore I will stick to the main points.
1. It is wonderful that you want to be baptized. You said that you believe in Jesus. Therefore I will assume that you must read the Bible. The Bible will give you great insight into the life of Jesus. Although Jesus preached out in the open, the Bible states very clearly that "Jesus went to the temple as was his custom." That would mean that he actually saw the value of worshiping in the midst of a community. As a matter of fact, he would have perfectly fulfilled the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath.
2. "I want to be baptized but I don't want to go to church." The question I ask in return is - "is there any difference between worshiping God privately or in the context of a faith community?"
First, according to scripture, Jesus would go off privately to pray. Therefore, I agree that personal prayer is absolutely essential in nurturing our relationship with God.
I would also contend that communal prayer is also essential in nurturing our relationship with God. Your question shows your sincerity in seeking God. However, without the Church you could not be baptized. Therefore, by acknowledging the church as being the place where you would be baptized, you are agreeing that there is a difference between worshiping God on your own and worshiping God with a community. The community is a source of spiritual strength. Jesus said that wherever two or more are gathered in his name he is present. It is the Church, through the apostles, that Jesus Commanded to "go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit" The church is a source of God's Grace through the celebration of the sacraments. In other words the Church is a way we can strengthen our relationship with God through the celebration of the sacraments.
The purpose of the Sacrament of Baptism is to unite one more perfectly to God. In Baptism you become a Child of God and a sister of Jesus Christ. You also become a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. That means that you are not alone in your faith but you can depend on the faith of the rest of community as a source of strength. You mentioned that you do not want to go to church. The building is only a place where the Church (the people of God) come together to worship their Lord and saviour. By praying together in the church we hear the Word of God, we come to a deeper understanding of its meaning in our lives, and we celebrate the Eucharist (the last Supper, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and the resurrection) and then receive the Body of Christ as our spiritual food. Praying with the Church is absolutely essential because we have a fuller experience of the Resurrection of Christ.
3. "People who go to church are hypocrites." There is always room for one more so please come and join us as soon as possible. The word "hypocrite" comes from the theatre. It means to act a part or to pretend. Jesus used that word in reference to the Scribes and Pharisees. People who were trained in the Law but only pretended to follow it for the sake of appearances but their hearts were actually far from God. Ironically, Jesus said "I came to call the sinner" "the healthy have no need of a physician but the sick do" "there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner that over a thousand righteous" "father forgive them" and on Easter Sunday after he Rose from the dead he appeared to his apostles and gave them the authority to forgive sins - "who's sins you forgive they are forgiven." Therefore unless you are a sinner Jesus didn't come into the world for you. Therefore a prerequisite for joining the church is to admit that you are a sinner. As a matter of fact people don't go to church because they think they are perfect, they go to church because they realize they need God's help to live their life in a way that will lead them to eternal life. And for those times when we sin, we have the sacrament of reconciliation in which Jesus Christ through His priest forgives us our sins so we can truly begin again. What God desires is that we faithfully try to Love God and our Neighbour with our heart, soul, mind, and body.
I hope this explains why going to church and being baptized cannot be separated. Most parishes have a program that would allow you to learn more about your faith prior to making this commitment.
May God bless you on your journey and may you experience the Joy of being baptized, I remain;
Yours in Christ, Fr. Gerard Monaghan