So why do it? What is the primary function of “going to church”? Is it for the elevation or betterment of self? Of course it is. Why? This is so for a variety of reasons. Believers gather together as a community of faith so as to escape the pressures of the world for an hour, as something akin to a temporary rescue from the exile (keeping in historical continuity with Israel) represented by the looming specter of death and its accoutrements. This temporary rescue takes place inside an eschatological rescue, which has been promised to the Creator God’s people because of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Believers gather to be encouraged by a message of the Creator God’s love as demonstrated in and through His Christ. Believers come together to sing songs of praise as a correct response to the grace of their covenant God. Believers gather to learn about the needs of their community and the wider world, and for giving in response to the sacrificial demands that have been placed upon them by the cross. Believers gather to hear the preached Word of the covenant God, rooted in the message of that God’s kingdom and the realization of its being set forth by the one looked to as Lord and Savior.
First and foremost, and even though it takes a form that is quite a bit different from what is there to be recognized in the apostolic churches as seen in Acts or as historically reconstructed from the letters of the New Testament, believers gather to hear the preached Word of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord and all that is implied thereby). All other reasons take second place, for it is the divine proclamation that Jesus of Nazareth is the crucified and resurrected Lord of all (the Gospel), that is of paramount importance.
It is possible to see evidence of the fundamental importance of the divine proclamation throughout Scripture. The Creator God is said to have brought the created order into existence through the act of speaking. This same God speaks to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and so forth. The prophets themselves make proclamations, primarily calling the leaders of God’s people to account. John the Baptist famously proclaimed the near advent of the kingdom of Israel’s God. Jesus Himself fused His doing with teaching, presenting Himself as the world’s true Lord (as opposed to Caesar or any other temporal ruler) and bringing about the fusion of heaven and earth (the overlap of the Creator’s realm of existence with His creation).
Jesus sends His disciples out to tell His message and to express the same beliefs about Israel’s covenant God. In accordance with this, the new covenant people of the church (in historical and theological continuity with Israel as the covenant people) springs into existence and thousands are ushered into the kingdom when Peter and the disciples begin to preach the message that Jesus is Lord (the Gospel).
The Apostle Paul helpfully points out the crucial elements of hearing and preaching as the way that faith is somehow implanted and the mysterious power of the Resurrection takes root within the hearer. Revelation is itself a series of pronouncements in the mold of the apocalyptic prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. One could go on and on. It is in the proclamation of the Word of the Creator God, preaching the Gospel that somehow possesses within it the power for transformation so that the very Gospel message is lived by its proclaimers, that the Creator God is revealed; and this would seem to be the fundamental and primary purpose of the church’s gathering.