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Graham Osborne

Jesus is in nature, but we still need to go to church

Voices Nov 9, 2017

St. Peter's Basilica is seen behind Saint Angelo Bridge over the Tiber River. Jesus didn't just write a book or reveal himself in nature. He founded a Church on earth to guide us, writes Graham Osborne. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

We can worship God whenever we want—and we should! So why go to church at all then?

The first reason is simple: God has asked us to. It is his commandment. We should faithfully follow him in this: “Remember the Sabbath day – keep it holy” (Ex 20:8).

Hebrews 4:9 reminds us of this even today: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” The context of these verses always involves worshipping God as a community of believers, not just as individuals.

The Catholic Catechism is clear on this matter: “those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (Sections 2180-2181).

But we should also observe this day out of our love for God, not just because we see it as an arbitrary ordinance. This commandment is literally written on our hearts, and is made for our good – and to help nourish our friendship with God. St. John Paul II summarizes this attitude of heart perfectly: “This commandment ‘is a defining and indelible expression of our relationship with God.’”

Secondly, Jesus founded a Church on earth to guide us; he didn’t just write a book or reveal himself in nature. If his first followers gathered together in community every Sunday to worship and give thanks, shouldn’t we do that too?

St. Paul teaches that we’re all part of the Body of Christ (Rom 12-5) and called to worship together as a community, not just in solitude. As Acts 2:42-47 attests: they devoted “themselves to … the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers … All who believed were together and had all things in common … Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.”

A few quotes from the early Church will help illustrate this as well. “Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the Resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days (of the week),” writes St. Ignatius of Antioch in 110 A.D.

Similarly, “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because … Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead" (St. Justin Martyr, 155 A.D.)

But now comes a very important distinction. If you should go to “church” to worship God in community, does it matter which church you go to?

In Mathew 16:16-20, Jesus establishes his church upon Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” It is an unarguable fact of history that this original church Jesus founded is the Catholic Church. And if Jesus is the wisest of builders, his house will never fall (Mt 7:24-25).

If this is the original Christian church, and the only one that can trace its bishops and popes back in a valid, unbroken line directly to the Apostles, shouldn’t this be the church you attend?

Furthermore, it is through this church that Jesus left us all seven sacraments – the main sources of God’s grace and help for his followers on earth. If this is true, wouldn’t you want to avail yourself of these graces? If, as Scripture and the Catholic Church teach, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16), isn’t it critical that you receive this, and other sacraments, validly through her?

And along these same sacramental lines comes one of the most important distinctions of all. The Bible teaches that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life … For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink … whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

If Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist – body, blood, soul, and divinity – and the Eucharist is validly consecrated only in the Catholic Church, is it not essential that every Christian – every person – in the world be part of this church and receive the Eucharist?

I’m always saddened when I hear that someone has left the Catholic Church. If they truly believed in Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist, how could they ever leave – no matter how bad things got?

There are practical considerations also. Christianity has now shattered into thousands of different denominations, all with differing and contradictory teachings. How can we as individual believers know with certainty what Jesus truly taught on all the hard issues we face today – things like abortion, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, how to properly understand Scripture, and hundreds of other important Christian doctrines?

Again, Jesus left us his one Church, gave it his teachings and authority, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide it and protect it from error, leaving us a way to know “all” that he commanded (Mt 28:18-20). If we want to know and follow everything he taught, we need to be part of his Church!

Finally, in John 17:21-23, Jesus prays for “perfect” unity in his followers, the same profound unity he has with his Father. Why? Because it is by this perfect Christian unity that the world will come to know that the Father sent him – and that he loves the world just as he loves his son.

Christian unity will evangelize the world. Could there be a much better reason to go to the church Jesus founded?