Protestant Christianity is facing considerable pressure to re-define itself in the modern era. This has simply come to more of a head during recent events. Sadly, many evangelical church leaders have favored pragmatism to orthodoxy … even going so far as to advise the government that corporate church services (central to the Christian faith) are essentially social gatherings and should be treated as such.
But unfortunately, the church’s view of corporate worship has been disintegrating for a long time. Even before 2020, many Christians regularly chose to neglect the Sunday gathering of God’s people, arguing that they weren’t Sunday Christians but 24/7 Christians – they worship God at all times (Rom. 12:1-2). This was a bad excuse though because God never taught that personal sanctification and all-of-life worship was to replace corporate worship; rather it was to underpin it.
Another reason that people choose to neglect the gathering of God’s people is that they ‘don’t get much out of it’; people here justify skipping church because they can find ‘spiritual food’ elsewhere. This particular line of argumentation is an appealing one for those who, these days, feel more ‘edified’ if they stream a service from their lounge rather than attend their local church. After all, the internet provides a smorgasbord of much better preachers than what your own neighborhood boasts – and if you can learn more about God from your couch than the pew, why physically go to your local? As an added benefit, you can even fit your ‘worship’ around other important events … just reschedule when you watch church so you don’t miss that birthday party … surely God doesn’t mind – as long as you get there in the end!
It’s this kind of thinking that prompted Spurgeon to comment: “There are some who even make a bad use of what ought to be a great blessing, namely, the printing-press, and the printed sermon, by staying at home to read a sermon because, they say, it is better than going out to hear one. Well, dear friend, if I could not hear profitably, I would still make [efforts to be] one of the assembly gathered together for the worship of God. It is a bad example for a professing Christian to absent himself from the assembly of the friends of Christ.”
And yet sadly, the Devil has convinced many within the church that physical corporate worship is just one option among many to meet with God – and the inferior option at that. And Covid-19 hasn’t helped. Many evangelical churches are noticing that many of their members, having lost the habit of going to church during the lockdowns, have simply not come back. And even many in our own circles have succumbed to the preferential ease of live-streaming services from home (when given the choice) even though their church family is meeting with their God elsewhere. This is a far cry from David’s expression in Psalm 27:4: “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (see also Psa 122:1).
Perhaps it’s helpful considering it this way: If each child of God were an instrumentalist sounding out the glory of our God, corporate worship would be the equivalent of the full orchestral gathering; the performance commissioned by God, the musical score penned by Christ. Each musician is chosen and trained by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12) and as they join together in tuneful chord, they support and enhance the worshipful expression of each other encouraging each other to greater efforts of praise (1 Thess 5:11). And wonder upon wonder, our Almighty God stoops down from heaven to delight in our harmony (Zeph 3:17) and to guide us and conduct us according to his pleasure and our good (Eph 4:12)!
Too many of us undervalue the significance and power of corporate worship – and Covid has simply accentuated the problem; too many times, when the orchestra of God is gathered together they do so without their flautist who is tired from the rugby game last night or their violinist who had friends in town or the entire brass section who decided at the last minute to just skip out and watch the performance from home because they could … (read Luke 14:15-24!). And the rest of the orchestra hobbles along as best they can.
We assemble as churches for corporate worship in response to God’s call because we recognize that he is worthy above all else of our time and adoration. We need this special time with him and our fellow saints not because we prefer it, for our feelings wax and wane – but because God ordained it for our good and his glory. This is why we should strive to gather together as living stones of the temple (1 Pet 2:4-5) among whom the Spirit dwells (1 Cor 6:19) … and all the more as the day of Christ’s return approaches (Heb 10:25).
God is using Covid-19 as simply the next in a long line of events to test the heart of his people. We may soon face our churches being closed down as a result of proposed hate-speech legislation and again be unable to meet physically with one another for worship. How will that affect our attitude (your attitude?) towards what God has blessed us with and required of us? “One thing I have desired…”
Mr Joshua Flinn is the minister of the Reformed Church of New Plymouth which is a church plant of the Reformed Church of Palmerston North.
Photo by Breanna Klemm on Unsplash