Anne Goetz — Harvard Ichthus
The reasons for gathering as a church have not changed since the first believers were inspired at Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. When we gather together, we are still to devote ourselves to teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and to prayer. Three of these are easily understandable — of course we must learn how to live the Christian life from those more experienced than us, support each other in this great undertaking, and reach out in prayer to our Creator and Redeemer.
But why the breaking of the bread? Why is this so tremendously important? The Eucharist can seem like a relic of pagan ritual meaninglessly preserved into the present. Firstly, the Eucharist is a physical memorial of the concreteness, the bodiliness, of Christ’s death and resurrection. Mystery surrounds what happens during the breaking of the bread, but at the very least, physically eating reminds us that Christianity is not just a religion of airy philosophizing, but is founded on material facts about something that happened to one particular body two thousand years ago. And if the Eucharist is something more than a memorial, then here, too, there is another intermingling of the material and the spiritual and ultimately holy. The bread and the wine do not just touch our bodies, but touch our very souls, transforming us with God’s living power.
Secondly, in eating and drinking the Bread and the Wine, which literally, spiritually, or symbolically have become Christ’s Body and Blood, we enter into the body of believers that spans across the world and time. We join with all who hav ever received the Eucharist in remembering Christ’s death, celebrating his resurrection, and awaiting his coming in glory, united in our single hope under our single Lord. Because the great mystery of our faith, our salvation, was accomplished by a bodily death and resurrection, the whole physical world has been charged with significance. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we look forward to a time when the whole church will be perfectly united, and Christ will be all in all.
Anne Goetz ’11 is an English concentrator in Pforzheimer House. She is the Books and Arts editor of The Ichthus.
Jessica Jinju Pottenger — Princeton Revisions
As humans, we suffer from forgetfulness and unfaithfulness. Without discipline and cultivated habits, our hearts stray from our commitments and we often find that our own willpower is not enough to keep us from sin. We need community to keep us accountable to ourselves and to the God in whom we profess faith.
The author of Hebrews knew that human nature was unfaithful when he wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). The Christians the author of Hebrews was addressing were suffering terribly, and needed a kind of support that could only come from the Spirit and from each other.
In today’s world, those struggling with spiritual matters often find themselves in a similar situation to that of the early Christians in Hebrews. Life is difficult, and it is impossible to endure it alone. Without having a community that meets regularly, it is tempting, often too tempting, for individual Christians to wish they were back in Egypt, to wish they were not wandering the desert waiting for God to deliver them to the Promised Land.
Going to church is, in short, a necessary part of Christian living because living cannot be done alone. Living for Christ often means enduring untidy, tangled relationships with each other, and lovingly working them out. Going to church is a necessary but not sufficient condition to such a lifestyle, as the mere act of going, while important, should only lead up to the climax of getting involved with each other and in each other’s lives so that we can truly encourage each other towards Christ. Just as iron sharpens iron, so too do members of a community sharpen each other – and it is only out in the messy and difficult world that God can work to break us and make us like His Son.
Jessica Jinjiu Pottenger ’10 is majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations and Public Policy at Princeton University. She is a senior contributor to Princeton’s Christian magazine Revisions.
Sarah White — Dartmouth Apologia
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)
Since the days of the early church as recorded by Luke in the book of Acts, the church has had both an internal and an external orientation. On the one hand, the church has served to present the gospel as well as to minister to the worldly needs of the entire community. On the other hand, the church has a special ministry to its members to encourage their growth in relationship with Christ. This can be seen in the verse quoted above, which describes both the intramural
fellowship of the believers and the fruits of their outreach. Attending a weekly church meeting can be beneficial to seekers who are interested in learning more about God, and it is also important for Christians desiring to grow in community with other believers.
In the modern world, one of the best places to hear the gospel message is at church. Through sermons and other Bible studies, the church provides gospel teaching for those who are unacquainted with the message as well as for those who seek continuing growth through the study of God’s word. It is also important for Christians to have fellowship with one another. Many Christians interact with other believers only at church, while most of their time at work and in their communities is spent with those who do not believe. In order to meet, interact with, and build relationships with each other, it is often necessary for Christians to purposefully seek each other out. The church is just such a purposeful community, where Christians can not only interact with and encourage each other, but also build relationships where they can disciple one another and help each other grow. Furthermore, the church organization is an effective way for Christians to gather together in order to serve each other and the larger community. As Christians strive to follow Christ in the world, it is essential that they meet together as His body to learn, disciple, encourage, and serve.
Sarah White ’11 is an English major and Russian minor. She is the Managing Editor of the Dartmouth Apologia.
Michael Giuffrida — Yale Logos
For me, the question “Why go to church?” is, on the surface, easy to answer. I am a Catholic, and we Catholics are required to attend mass every Sunday. All Sundays are holy days of obligation, and observance by attending Mass is mandated by Canon Law. Skipping Mass when one is able to attend is a sin.
This is all true, but not very insightful. Clearly, church should not be solely an obligation. In fact, we, most of whom are no longer persecuted for our Christian beliefs, ought to see church as a privilege.
Until Constantine’s Edict of Milan granted freedom of religion, Christians were put to death for celebrating the Eucharist. Yet Christians still regularly participated in worship, risking their lives for the opportunity to meet and celebrate the Eucharist, an opportunity we take for granted and sometimes pass up. Either our forebears in church history were insane, or there is something in this mode of worship worth dying for.
Church is a great opportunity to gather with fellow believers, worship together, and introduce neophytes into our community. But, more importantly, by sharing in the Eucharist, we share and become members of Christ’s Body. We take part in the sacrifice on Calvary through the Eucharistic liturgy. By obeying Christ’s commandment to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19) we are redeemed. To achieve this redemption and eternal life in Christ, early Christians risked and sometimes sacrificed their earthly lives.
Not to risk our lives to meet in church, not even to devote an hour of our week to God, not to wish to partake regularly in this act of redemption, is tantamount to turning our backs to Christ, which is precisely what we do whenever we sin. If we understand the redemptive power of the Eucharist, and if we hear Christ’s commandment, then we will not only attend church regularly, but do so willingly and eagerly.
We are baptized into a community, the Body of Christ, the Church. With these members we must worship, and “not stay away from our assembly… but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25). We go to church because we all comprise the Body of Christ, and we wish to say Yes to Him.
Michael Giuffrida is a sophomore Computer Science major in Calhoun College. He is the Executive Director of the Logos.