Project Canterbury

Why Do You Go to Church?
by the Rev. Arthur Ritchie

Parish of the Ascension Guild, Chicago
[date wanting, three page pamphlet]

A GOOD many Christian people when asked this question will tell you that they go to Church because they feel that it does them good; that they are edified and profited by so doing. Yet if we stop to think about it, this seems to be a very selfish reason for going to Church. Moreover, it seems to be a reason that often produces bad results. For there are a good many circumstances under which people think they can be more edified and profited by staying at home than by going to Church, as for instance when they are rather tired out, or the preacher is a very dull and uninteresting one. Should we not put the thing on nobler and more Scriptural ground by saying that we ought to go to Church for the purpose of worshipping Almighty God? Of course we do get a blessing for ourselves from the honest offering up of our praise to God; but then we ought not to go to Church just for the sake of that blessing. Surely when we consider all that God has done, and all that He is now doing for us, the very least we can do in return is to praise His goodness and to thank Him for His mercy.

Admitting then that we should go to Church to worship Almighty God, the question naturally arises, How should God be worshipped? What do we mean by worship, as applied to God? We evidently mean the formal recognition of our true relations to Him, whatever they may be. We, sustaining certain relations to God, ought to show, in some way or other, our sense of those relations. But the relations of man to God have been very different at different times. A little consideration of these relations will give us a simple clew to the different ways in which mankind has offered true and acceptable worship to His Maker.

1. While Adam and Eve were yet unfallen, in Paradise, their relation to God was that of the most favoured of His creatures, owing all their happiness to the free gifts of His love. How should they express their sense of this relationship, the relationship of the loyal creature to his Creator? Naturally they would express their homage by offering to Him, upon some sylvan shrine, the brightest of earth’s flowers, and the choicest of her fruits. We are not told that Adam and Eve worshipped God in this way; but we may well believe they did, and the history of Cain and Abel leads us most naturally to the same conclusion. We shall see this in a moment.

2. By the fall of our first parents the whole relation of man to God was changed. Instead of being the innocent son, worthy to draw near to and hold converse with his heavenly Father, man has now become a sinner, deserving death, temporal and spiritual, as the consequence of his disobedience, yet saved from the full effect of both by the hope of a future Saviour, Who should endure the penalty in his place that he might go free. What sort of worship could adequately express the relation between the fallen sinner hoping for redemption and his justly offended God? The offering of a life, the life of the innocent beast of the field, whose blood should be shed in fitting type of the Lamb of God Who should at last come to take away the sins of the world. Abel, sensible of this new relationship of man to his God, brings for his worship the lamb of the flock, and slays it before God upon his Altar. Cain, either disbelieving or indifferent, brings, as his father yet unfallen might have brought, only of the fruit of the ground, an offering which said nothing of human desert of death and of its hope of redemption by the sacrifice of another in its stead. It is not any wonder, therefore, that God accepted the offering of Abel and refused that of Cain.

3. That this idea of worship is not a fanciful one appears from the way in which God directly commanded the Jews to worship Him. It was by animal sacrifice, as the distinct type of the death of our Lord upon the Cross. Therefore every morning and every evening, at nine o’clock and at three, a lamb was slain at the high Altar in the Temple and offered up to God as the acknowledgment by man of his condition of sin, and his hope of redemption through the blood of the Lamb of God.

4. After our Lord had come and died upon the Cross, He founded a new Church which was to supersede the Israelitish Church. And the office of that Church was to put man into a new relation to God, that of a sinner restored to favour and pardoned by the blood of the Cross. And more than that, for the Christian Church also teaches that for the pardon of daily-committed sin, and for all the grace needed by man to live a godly life, the merit rests alone in the Cross of Calvary. What then ought to be the worship of the Christian Church which should properly express man’s sense of redemption by the Cross? Surely it ought to be some action which should commemorate that Cross and plead its merits unceasingly. And if we go to our Bibles we find that this was exactly the sort of worship which our Lord did institute for His Church. For in the night in which He was betrayed, He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, Take, eat, This is my Body; do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper, He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this, for This is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins; do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me. Can we doubt, therefore, what we should offer to God in the Christian Church for the remission of our sins, in grateful thanksgiving for the redemption of the Cross, and as the only offering which has any real merit in the eyes of God? What indeed but the Body and Blood of our Lord which He has so mysteriously and spiritually given us under the forms of the Eucharistic bread and wine. This is the one service which He has commanded us to offer, for of it He said, "Do this in remembrance of me." This is the one reasonable worship for Christians to offer, for of it alone it is said, "As often as ye eat this Bread and drink this Cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come." The offering of the Eucharist therefore is not only the God-appointed mode of Christian worship, but it is preeminently the one which it is most reasonable for Christians to offer, because it expressly sets forth our true relations to Almighty God as sinners redeemed by the power of our Lord’s death, and resting all their hope on its prevailing intercession.

5. And if the true manner of Christian worship be preeminently the offering of the Eucharist, as the whole history of Christianity from the days of the Apostles plainly shows; then we ought to be most scrupulous about attending this service of the Church when we pay our worship. So that we might well think over the matter with ourselves on Sunday morning in this fashion. This is Sunday, the day which God has chosen especially for Himself. The Churches are open, and I know that I ought to go to Church. But for what purpose? To pay my worship to the King of Kings. How shall I best pay that worship? By hearing a good sermon; by taking my part in the songs and prayers of some pious congregation; or by seeking out some Church where I know the Holy Eucharist, our Lord’s own ordained form of worship, will be offered? Surely we ought not to be long in answering such a question as that.

6. Dear reader, think seriously over this matter, for it certainly cannot be one of little moment. You believe in going to Church, but pray think also for what you ought to go. It cannot be for any such selfish reason as your own spiritual profit merely, for often you might get a great deal more of that by staying at home. The only really good ground there can be for your going is that you may worship God with a worship that shall be at once worthy of Him and properly expressive of your own relations to Him. Such worship as this is found in the Eucharist alone. Therefore keep the Lord’s day holy first of all, and chiefly of all, by attending the worship of the Holy Eucharist in some Church where you know it is offered.

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