Attend Church For The Sake Of The Angels
Attend Church For The Sake Of The Angels
Why should you go to church?
This question has become very relevant. Church attendance is no longer thought to be a matter of course in our circles. Many congregations have to cope with poorly attended afternoon services. It seems that more and more people think that attending church once a Sunday is sufficient. They are busy enough during the week.
In 1971, the well-known Dutch Reformed theologian, A.A. van Ruler, published a book in which he gave no fewer than 21 answers to the above question.1 Clearly, there are good reasons for attending church services. Our Heidelberg Catechism keeps it simpler, when it says in Lord’s Day, “I diligently attend the church of God to hear God’s Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian offerings to the poor.”
That does, indeed, describe the essentials, but certainly not everything. In this article I want to advance yet another argument to show why we should go to church. Sadly, it is an argument that is rarely addressed, but in my opinion, Scripture teaches us that it plays an important role. For we also attend church for the sake of God’s heavenly servants, the angels.
Servants Involved in God’s Salvific Work⤒🔗
We do not know all that much about the angels. We know that they sing praise to God (Isa. 6:2, 3; Luke 2:13), carry out his orders (Ex. 23:20; Luke 1:19), and protect his children (Ps. 91:11; Matt. 18:10). Less well known is that God’s heavenly servants are also very interested in his work of redemption. However, the Bible speaks very clearly about this interest of the angels. For the apostle Peter writes that the angels long to look into the things that are being proclaimed in the church (1 Peter 1:12). The word used by the apostle implies that they are so curious that they bend forward to see what is going on. The angels, as it were, are craning their necks in heaven to see how God’s work of salvation is taking shape on earth, and what is happening with and in the church on earth.
What Peter is saying reminds us of what we read about the two cherubim that stood at each end of the ark and whose faces were looking toward the atonement cover (Ex. 25:20). The atonement cover occupied the most important place in the service of the tabernacle. The entire service reached its pinnacle there. The Lord was enthroned on it and on it the high priest sprinkled the atoning blood before God’s countenance on the Day of Atonement.
It is significant that the cherubim were looking at the atonement cover. They saw what the eyes of the Israelites did not see! They saw the wonder of atonement and forgiveness when the high priest performed his ultimate service in the sight of the angels! That is how angel figures on the atonement cover taught God’s children the extent to which heavenly servants are involved in what the Lord does for and to his people!
We also read in 1 Corinthians 11:10 about the extent to which angels are interested in that work of the Lord and how they look over our shoulders to see what happens with God’s people. There Paul writes: “For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head”. I am leaving much out of discussion, but it is clear that the apostle wants women, in their demeanor in the congregation, to respect God’s order by covering their heads. As extra motive for that command, Paul mentions the heavenly servants.
What Paul means, I believe, is that these servants pay attention to what is happening in the congregation (see 1 Cor. 4:9), and really want to learn how well the gospel is received and changes people. When you rebel against God’s order, you forget how God’s faithful servants are looking on!
Progress in the History of Salvation←⤒🔗
Throughout the centuries, God’s angels have brought messages to people and thereby demonstrated that they are “ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). They appeared regularly in that capacity during the old covenant. This service reached its apex when they were allowed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ when the time had fully come. Gabriel announced Jesus’ birth to Mary (Luke 1:26ff). It is an angel who tells the shepherds that the Saviour is born (Luke 2:10ff). An angel also preaches the gospel of Christ’s resurrection from the dead (Matt. 28:5ff). And when the Saviour ascends into heaven, it is again heavenly messengers who tell the apostles what has happened (Acts 1:10ff).
It is striking that there are no angels who proclaim what is happening in Jerusalem on Pentecost (see Acts 2). Acts 1 and 2 make clear why angels then no longer need to preach the gospel.
First, there is the more detailed instruction “about the kingdom of God” given by the risen Lord to his disciples during the 40 days before his Ascension (Acts 1:3). That instruction helped the disciples enormously. Second, they have been filled with the Holy Spirit, who lets the disciples themselves speak about the “wonders of God” (cf. Acts 2:4 with 2:11).
The coming of the Holy Spirit turns the young Christian church into a professing church. All ignorance (see Mark 9:32) and limitations (see John 16:12) on the part of the disciples have come to an end. Now the disciples have the “anointing from the Holy Spirit” (1 John 2:20), who teaches them “about all things” (1 John 2:27).
That is why proclamations by angels are no longer necessary on Pentecost. For the Spirit now rests on the disciples and, in accordance with the prophecy of Joel 2, that makes the church into a church of prophets who speak “the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). Angels are still active, of course, as the book of Acts attests. They appear to open prison doors (Acts 5:19), to send Philip to an important Ethiopian official (Acts 8:26), to direct Cornelius to send for Peter (Acts 10:3ff), to free Peter (Acts 12:7), and to encourage Paul (Acts 27:23). But they no longer appear as preachers of the gospel! People now do that in the strength of Christ’s Spirit.
Thus, we can speak about progress in the history of salvation. Finally, a somewhat embarrassing situation has come to an end. God’s servants no longer take the lead in proclaiming the wonders of God. In that respect they remain in heaven. For the Spirit is teaching the children and opens their mouths. In Acts we see a professing church (Acts 4:31; 8:4).
The Roles Are Reversed←⤒🔗
I pointed out the progress in the history of salvation. You can observe that also in the fact that since Pentecost the roles have truly been reversed. Before Pentecost, servants proclaimed the wonders of God in Christ to his children (birth, resurrection, and ascension). Now it is the children who must explain God’s work of salvation to the servants. We read of that in Ephesians 3:10, where Paul describes the goal of his labours: “now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”.
The expression, “rulers and authorities”, should be interpreted as the angels. Although we do not need to exclude the fallen angels, Paul undoubtedly meant God’s heavenly servants, since they very interested in matters involving God’s work of salvation in and for his people.
The apostle impresses on us the importance of these servants (see Col. 2:10). They are not just “angels”, but “rulers and authorities” (see Ps. 103:20).
It is to these heavenly rulers that the church must now make known the manifold wisdom of God. For the compound verb, “make known”, Paul uses a word that he also employs for the preaching of the gospel (see Eph. 1:9; 6:19). What the apostle does, the church must do toward the angels: display God’s wisdom in all its manifold wisdom. And that “wisdom of God” includes the mystery that Gentiles are now heirs of salvation together with Israel in one church (see Eph. 3:6). The power of the gospel now becomes apparent in a church drawn from all peoples.
When Gentiles and Jews together are one body (see Eph. 3:6b), they demonstrate the power of the gospel and display God’s manifold wisdom to his heavenly servants. The existence of the church of Christ is already a powerful proclamation to the angels! But we do not need to restrict what Paul writes to that existence. Also included are what the church proclaims, confesses, sings, and does (see 1 Peter 2:9). In all of those things, too, the church performs a service to angels and makes God’s wonderful work of salvation in and to his children known to them.
Why Attend Church?←⤒🔗
We have made quite a journey. I began this article with the question: why should you attend church? Now I come back to it. For Professor Greijdanus annotates that idea of the church making known God’s wisdom to angels so nicely by adding, “especially when she is gathered together”.2I believe that the annotation is correct and led me to write this article. For the church service is central to our life as Christ’s people. That is where we come together as his congregation; there we meet our Lord; and there we listen together to his Word, call upon him, sing praises to his name, and receive his blessing.
I already pointed out that there are many reasons for attending church. In the first place we do so for the Lord. He wants to meet us there. In the first place, the church service is a service of worship: we attend to worship our God by listening to his voice, calling upon his name, and singing praises to him.
We also attend for our brothers and sisters, to encourage and strengthen them. Hebrews 10:24-25 teaches us that. We have to have regard for each other in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds. Having regard for each other takes place especially when the congregation meets together. For the admonition is that we should not give up ‘meeting together’. Verse 25 contains a participle. This permits the following translation of verses 24 and 25: ‘And let us pay heed to each other to spur one another on… by not neglecting to meet together’.
When we translate it like this, it becomes clear that the church services are central to mutual pastoral care. They are pre-eminently the place where we pay heed to each other, “build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11), “comfort” (1 Thess. 4:18 KJV), “encourage” (1 Thess. 5:14), and “strengthen” each other in the proclamation of the Word, and in prayer, confession, and song. It is true that these actions are not restricted to those occasions. But it is especially in the worship services that we practise the communion of saints.
Finally, we certainly also attend church for ourselves. We cannot do without our meeting with the Lord. It is so necessary for us, always, to hear his Word, to use his sacraments, to receive his blessing, and to proclaim his praise. If we are serious about what we confess in Lord’s Day 25 of the Heidelberg Catechism, that the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel and strengthens it by the use of the sacraments, we do not need to be convinced that we must also attend church for ourselves.
It will not surprise the reader when I posit that we attend church for the sake of the angels. When we gather together in our worship services, we may display and proclaim to them God’s wisdom in all its diversity. We may and must, in our turn, satisfy their holy curiosity about the effect of God’s work of salvation on earth by preaching to them God’s wisdom in Jesus Christ in deed and word. We do that by truly being the body of Christ and confessing him and singing praises to him.
I wrote this article for an important reason. There is a worrisome decline in church attendance among us. Many people take an egotistical attitude: I should enjoy the services; I must feel at home there; the service has to speak to me; I should be able to feel good about it when I go home. This probably derives from the dismal orientation of our modern society. If we want to change course and save also the second service, there will need to be a transformation by the renewal of our minds (see Rom. 12:2). I hope that I have been able to contribute something to this transformation. We attend church for the Lord, for our brothers and sisters, for the angels, and yes, also for ourselves. But that “ourselves” is not the first item on the list.
When we realize this again, we shall not readily fail to attend a church service. As God’s children, we may also serve his heavenly ministers. At one time the children listened to the angels. Now the angels want to listen to the children!
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