Why go to church on Sunday?

Published 4:26 pm Thursday, February 1, 2018

Or Wednesday? Or anytime except, of course, at Christmas and Easter. It seems that today most Americans do not attend church much at all, a dramatic decline from just a generation ago.  Who to blame, a favorite game of moderns, for this decay? Gays? Muslims? Too few Commandments chiseled on courthouses? No religious freedom for bakers? Too many flaws in organized religion? It doesn’t “speak” to your individual needs? Secularism?   Sunday football games? “Do it yourself “spirituality? Christians themselves? Yet all of these together might be insufficient yet palliative. Let me suggest a different perspective.

First, regardless of what kind of Christian you might call yourself, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, New Age, Universalist, non-denominational, evangelical or otherwise, you actually have to practice your faith and its principles and not simply declare or sanctimoniously wrap yourself in it. Yes, Christianity does have principles as all major religions do, and they might generally if not wholly be characterized by the canon of the Catholic Church and the thirty-nine articles of the Anglican Church, all partially summed up in the Apostles Creed and Ten Commandments. Then too, the sacraments, perhaps described as manifestations of God’s grace to us and our public acknowledgement, have to be observed, some only once but others repeatedly. Seven overall remain today, baptism, confession, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, the Eucharist, and the last rites or the sacrament of the sick and dying.   

Then, too, you similarly can’t really be Muslim or Jewish if you don’t follow their established principles, things like the Pillars of Islam or keeping the Sabbath. Muslims must prescriptively pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, give alms, make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime, and acknowledge that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad his prophet, all embodied in the Qur’an and Sharia law. 

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Jewish? Their principles derive from the Hebrew Bible and commentaries like the Talmud, Midrash, and Mishnah. To be a practicing Jew, you should keep the Sabbath, circumcise young boys, and practice Kosher. Still, none of these encapsulations contain the entire content of their religions nor should they be expected to.

Yet what these brief theological summaries leave out is perhaps the most essential, their practice. If you’re Christian, Jewish, or Muslim then you authentically must do certain things like being baptized, confirmed, going on a hajj, giving alms, keeping the Sabbath, or being circumcised. If you don’t, then you’re not really a practicing Christian, Jew, or Muslim, but, instead a titular one whose faith is “resurrected” every Easter or Christmas, an “online” one radicalized by a false Imam, or, as Daniel Kaplan jokingly maintained, so “good at being Jewish you don’t have to practice.” 

Yes, you really do have to go to church on Sundays, not only to practice the elements of Christianity but also to do it repeatedly and publicly within a group of believers. You might also have to learn about your religion either in Sunday School or confirmation classes. Yes, the design and purpose of religious practice lies in repetition, in doing things like praying, reciting the Apostles Creed, unison readings, singing hymns, and participating in the Eucharist.  Moreover, in order to participate within a group, you must become a member either through a rite of initiation or being born again, obligations many shun these days. Can you do all this at home without a pastor, priest, Imam, or rabbi? Of course, but, like daily Bible readings, they seldom are done except occasionally.    

So why has Christianity declined? Why did our parents and grandparents go to Church two or more times weekly while we do perhaps only annually? Were they less tired and overworked? Do we have more distractions today? Really? Assuredly, my parents thought TV “the devil’s doing” while Grandma refused to read anything except the Bible or turn on the radio on Sundays. What about movies and convertibles with rumble seats? No gays back then? No threats to Christianity like Godless Communism and Elvis? Lastly, as Pogo once said, perhaps it’s because “We have met the enemy and it is us.” As Christians, we need to practice and not just proclaim our principles more.                  

Milton Ready, Tryon, N.C.