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Why Attend Church?

August 3, 2012

Why attend church? Good question… how would you answer it?

This week I was reminded of two possible answers.

I happened on the first answer in a book entitled “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty” by Dan Ariely. This book, written by a behavioral economist at Duke, is meant to challenge readers’ preconceptions about dishonesty and urge them to take an honest look at themselves. The author describes, using extensive sociological studies, the pervasiveness of dishonesty and the far-reaching impacts of its presence. The bottom line? Most everyone cheats, at least a little.

Okay, that’s not a huge surprise. But Ariely does not leave the matter there. He then identifies practical and proven methods by which readers can maintain higher ethical standards. That’s where it gets interesting.

As Christians, we know that everyone battles with the temptation to be dishonest. The observation that all people are (a little?) dishonest seems self-evident, and Ariely’s restatement of that truth seems a little ho-hum. We recognize that we often ‘fudge’ the truth, to ourselves and to others. So that part of his research does not seem terribly enlightening. But when Ariely turns to methods of maintaining higher standards, I find real enlightenment. In his research, he and his colleagues discovered that the reminder of a moral code or standard dramatically reduced dishonesty for a short amount of time. Even more astoundingly, this result occurred in test subjects regardless if they personally ascribed to the remembered moral code! Wow.

Let me explain that in a little more detail: The researchers found that, given the opportunity to cheat on a self-administered test, most participants cheated a little. Ariely describes this ‘little’ as the subjects’ ‘fudge factor.’ (It’s that amount of dishonesty a person can commit while still maintaining the illusion of personal integrity. Think of it as the “Oh, well, I really should count that answer, ‘cause I was just about to mark it when the buzzer sounded…” thinking.) But could this ‘fudge factor” be curtailed? Was there a way to bring subjects to a higher ethical standard? Well, remarkably, there was! The researchers discovered they were able to eliminate cheating simply by asking subjects to remember as many of the Ten Commandments as possible before the test. The tests given were the same as before; the opportunity for cheating remained exactly the same. The only change in the two situations was the ‘priming’ that occurred as subjects remembered the Ten Commandments. – Let me say it again… wow!

(Incidentally, you’ll notice that I said that this reduction was effective only for a short period of time. This reality was demonstrated through testing too. Reminders of moral codes given months before proved ineffective at preventing cheating. Only reminders given before an activity and in a relatively recent timeframe proved effective.)

This, then, suggests one reason why Christians (and non-Christians) can profit from regular church attendance. Assuming that a church extols the moral code found in the Bible, attendees will be reminded of that moral code on a regular, frequent basis. Their attentions will be drawn again and again to the importance of adherence to that code. These reminders, then, will produce valuable fruit, as they prompt attendees to conduct themselves ethically. In other words, attendance at church reminds us to live our lives in God-honoring ways.

One might suggest, I suppose, that these benefits are not derived exclusively from church attendance. It can be suggested that one might gain the same benefits from a daily time of Scripture reading. True enough. I don’t think it is an ‘either-or’ situation; it is a ‘both-and’ situation. The greatest benefits surely come from a combination of personal devotions and regular church attendance.

Someone else might suggest that these observations are pragmatic and devoid of the Spirit. I will grant that they are pragmatic. But I’m not so sure that they are devoid of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in the lives of both believers and nonbelievers to convict of sin, righteousness and judgment. Certainly the Holy Spirit can and does use moral codes as reminders of our own unrighteousness and our need for Christ’s righteousness.

But in an effort to be more specific regarding church attendance, allow me to turn to a second answer.

I happened on this answer while watching football practices for the Buffalo Bills and the Geneva Panthers – “B” team. You probably know who the Buffalo Bills are, but the Geneva Panthers “B” team may need introducing. It is the peewee football team Josiah is on – a group of twenty ten-year-olds.

The extremes of the football-playing spectrum can be summed up in these two teams, so I take it that the practices I saw were common to most teams around the world. And what I saw at both of these sessions was this: an emphasis on teamwork, friendly competition (at least it looked like it from a distance), and a desire to live up to team standards. These values drove the players to do their best, whether they were professionals or first-time-on-a-team 10-year-olds.

I won’t belabor the point. You see where I’m going. A commonly desired goal and commonly held values, when rehearsed in a commonly held setting, can bring out the very best in people. And that is true in church. When we gather together, affirming our common love of God and others and reminding ourselves of our collective goal – the evangelization and discipleship of all the nations, we place ourselves in a nurturing, encouraging, invigorating environment that can bring out the very best in us for God’s glory.

Can we adequately summarize all that the body of Christ is as it gathers together to worship and minister? I doubt it. There’s a lot more to be said about church meetings. ‘Church isn’t just a training camp; it’s the game too.’ ‘Church isn’t just rehearsal; it’s the performance too.’ Etc. Etc. Yep. All true. But, for what it’s worth, there it is… two quick answers to the question: “Why attend church?”

What do you think? How would you answer the question?

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE

§The Day I Stopped Eating. This author of this article records her struggle with an eating disorder and shares the up and downs she experienced in her recovery. If you thought Christians do not struggle occasionally in this area, think again. If someone in your extended family is fighting such a disorder, this article might serve as a starting point for a redemptive conversation. Find it at: http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/stopped-eating/.

§My Reply to Jerry Coyne: Why Darwinism is False. Jerry Coyne oversees a website entitled “Why Evolution is True,” and he is known for his commentary on the intelligent design debate. In February of 2009, Michael Egnor posted this response to Jerry Coyne. It’s a bit old now, but it is definitely still worth reading. One comment in his response seemed worthy of additional underscoring: “…there isn’t a single detailed, evidence-based explanation for the evolution of any biomolecule from primordial precursors.” Also revealing was his requote of a statement by Coyne’s mentor at Harvard, Dr. Richard Lewonitin which exposed the presuppositions driving the evolutionary academics. The quote reads (speaking of Lewonitin and his colleagues): “…we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.” Revealing, isn’t it? Read the response in its entirety at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/02/my_reply_to_jerry_coyne_why_da017681.html.

§Saudi Convert Criticizes Islam. This is a small news article about a Saudi woman who recently converted to Christianity. Her testimony of how the Lord brought her to Himself is fascinating and parallels the testimony of many other Christian converts from Islam. Read it at: http://www.worthynews.com/11660-saudi-convert-criticizes-islam.

§Refuting the King James Only Position. This brief article summarizes some of the problems with the “King James Only” position. If you interact with folks from a church that holds such a position – and they are pushing it on you – you may find this article helpful. Find it at: http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/refuting-the-king-james-only-position/.

§Be Careful What You Tweet. This article focuses on the wise use of Twitter, but it can also easily apply to our use of other forms of social media. The author encourages Christians to ask – before posting something – this question: “Is this tweet/e-mail/facebook update Genuine, Accurate and Positive?” Applying this G.A.P. question before hitting the ‘send’ button can prevent a lot of unnecessary heartache. Read the whole article at: http://www.bigisthenewsmall.com/2012/07/30/be-careful-what-you-tweet-the-twitter-gap-method/.

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