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April 17, 2024

Dear Church of the Open Bible,

"Do I have to go to church?" This is a question I don’t remember being asked growing up in my parent’s house. But, like many things, it was a question I wrestled with after graduating high school. Do I have to go to church?  Does it really matter and why? Technology these days seems to allow for other options, "Can't I just listen to a sermon online and put on my favorite worship playlist?" These are real questions that maybe you’ve asked yourself.

A good place to begin answering these questions is to ask another, "Why do believers gather together in Scripture?" Though there are many reasons, perhaps the most basic and fundamental is to worship God. Throughout Scripture we find believers gathering together in response to who God is. But there is something about this worship that must be recognized. Biblical worship implies presence: the meeting of God with His people. Gathering together for worship involves the presence of believers encountering and responding to the presence of God among them. 

The first formal location of God's presence with His people was called the Tent of Meeting. Moses would go in to speak with God, and a pillar of cloud would descend on the entrance of the tent. Whenever the people of Israel saw this, "they all stood and worshipped, each at the entrance to his tent" (Exod 33:10). 

In the New Testament, the presence of God is revealed in the gathering together of believers as the church. Paul gives the example of an unbeliever who, after experiencing the revelation of God in a church service, might exclaim, "God is really among you!" (1 Cor 14:25). 

But perhaps one of the best examples of this relationship can be found in the Psalms of David. In Psalm 42:2 we see the desperate yearning of David to meet with God:


My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

      When shall I come and appear before God?

Like a deer longing for water, David’s soul thirsts to meet with God. But look at how that longing is expressed two verses later as David reminisces.

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: 

     how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God 

     with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.  - Psalm 42:4

David longs to meet with God and that longing is satisfied by worshipping together with God’s people. Amidst the many other demands for our presence, it is easy to see why some might seek to alleviate the pressure of yet another one. But when worship is the focus of going to church, it becomes less about checking off a box based on attendance and more about a growing relationship with God based on presence.