July 15, 2013
“And go to church next Sunday.”
Ed McMahon spent years opening the Tonight Show with a dependable line: “Here’s Johnny!” That was the signal for Johnny Carson to emerge through the curtain and start his nightly monolog.
For decades, Billy Graham’s Crusades were the most likely Christian programs on television. Long before the days of 24/7 religious broadcasting – featuring a hodge-podge of presenters who remain impossible to vet for biblical credibility – Mr. Graham’s television specials were edited presentations of his live stadium events. They always ended with Billy facing the camera – after the invitation and prayer of commitment – and giving his sage advice: “And go to church next Sunday.”
In 1950 – a time when the dinosaurs still roamed the earth – Perry Como was one of America’s most popular musical voices. Steve Allen was Johnny Carson’s predecessor on the Tonight Show, but his career build-up included a portfolio of songs he had written. One of them – recorded by Como – was intriguing: Let’s Go to Church. Really?
“Let’s go to church, next Sunday morning; let’s kneel an’ pray side by side. Our love will grow, on Sunday morning, if we have the Lord as our guide. Through the week you love and laugh and labor, but on Sunday don’t forget to love thy neighbor. Let’s make a date for Sunday morning; we’ll go to church, you and I. Let’s go to church, next Sunday morning. We’ll see our friends on the way. We’ll stand and sing, on Sunday morning, and I’ll hold your hand as we pray. Let’s go to church, next Sunday morning. Let’s go through life, side by side.” (Lyrics, Let’s Go to Church)
In the Greatest Generation (Tom Brokaw: the generational cohort who grew up in the Great Depression and won World War II), they assumed that going to church was the right thing to do. Today, “unchurched people” are plenteous… and include half of the Americans who self-describe a born-again experience. Why go to church? What’s the point? Why waste half the day on Sunday? If you already know enough about God to make your decisions about Him and about yourself, what difference does it make whether you show up for the weekly event?
“Spiritual, not religious” is the trendy way for Americans to explain that they can be spiritually informed without having to shave on Sunday mornings. Our “who needs church?” generation has intriguing beliefs. When asked by a Pew Forum survey if non-Christian religions can lead to eternal life, 47% of white Evangelicals said “yes.” Black Protestants: 49%; 82% of white Mainliners, and 84% of white Catholics agreed. Interesting: lay those responses alongside the likelihood of church attendance, and the trend lines align. The more you’re in church – a church that teaches from the Bible – you are likely to know that Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Which basis is most reliable: human philosophy, or divine pronouncement?
What’s the argument for going to church? Ask Paul: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Those leaders – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – convene the Body of Christ on Sundays to equip God’s people for works of service. They are tasked with nurturing people toward maturity, becoming more like Christ. Who needs that?
We do. If you’re looking for me on Sunday morning, I can tell you where you can find me: at church. I’m either behind a pulpit – standing in for a friend – or, in a pew – sitting with my family.
I’m just taking Billy’s – and, Perry’s – advice: “And go to church, next Sunday morning…”