» Ever since the original shelter-in-place orders were lifted in mid-2020, there’s been a lot of this and this in Christian circles. You can only assume people aren’t coming back to church. My guess is that once we (people in leadership) validated remote worship, a certain segment of the population decided worship was like long-form journalism: you can find it online if you have the time or if you’re in the mood. In the West worship is no longer a conviction, it’s a convenience.
» If I’m honest, nothing makes me want to quit the ministry so much as this phenomenon. It’s not what you think. It’s not having people to hear my sermons, although all preachers are prone to that narcissism, myself included. Rather, it’s this: worship is so fundamental, so vital to the life and identity of Israel, so fundamental and vital to the early Church, that if God’s own people can’t see it for themselves, how can you possibly explain it? It’s like meeting someone who thinks they’d be just as happy on this planet without the Sun. Where do you begin? Photosynthesis? An atmosphere that sustains life? Beauty? Warmth? The return of spring after the dead of winter? It ought to be overwhelming in its self-evident essentiality.
» It worries me that Christians build arguments for worship on pragmatism, as if “how it works for me” isn’t precisely the problem. Worship isn’t pragmatic. Worship is the ultimate and final statement of the soul that life isn’t about me and doesn’t need to work for me. Worship magnifies and exalts God at the cost of everything, and at countless times and places throughout history (including the present moment in the East especially) worship has cost some of God’s people exactly that: everything. If you’re wondering how it fits into your schedule or tally of personal needs, I doubt you have ever actually met God face to face. Or if you have, you’ve forgotten it.
» If you want an argument it’s this: Jesus went to worship every week (Luke 4:16, Greek: “according to his custom”). I doubt he was informed or inspired by the teaching. He already had his own hand-picked “home group” for fellowship (Mt 4:18-22). He was already making deep and daily connection with the Father (Mk 1:35). His entire life was worship. There was just no sense in which Synagogue worship was useful for him personally and it would have had zero entertainment value since he probably knew who was going to speak and what they were going to say.
» So why did he go? I can think of only two reasons: to honor the Father, and to make a statement to all who would follow him: this matters. That’s my argument to you who think you can live without the Sun: Jesus thinks this matters. You have to decide whether that means it should matter to you.
» Two final things. First, I know some of you cannot make it to worship. Others of you should not make it to worship due to health concerns. God bless you and keep you. Hopefully next week’s note will be more relevant. Second, the quote below, though in mid-19th century English with a Scottish lilt, is worth the effort and well-reasoned.
“One sometimes hears even professedly religious people at the present day disparaging public worship, as if religion might flourish equally well without it; and, for trifling reasons or for no reason at all, they take it upon themselves to withdraw from the visible Church as something unworthy of them. This was not the way in which Jesus acted. The Church of his day was by no means a pure one; and he, if anybody, might have deemed it unworthy of him. But he regularly waited on its ordinances and ardently loved it. There are few congregations less ideal perhaps than that in which he worshipped in wicked Nazareth, and few sermons are less perfect than those he listened to. But in that little synagogue he felt himself made one with all the piety of the land; as the Scripture was read, the great and good of former ages thronged about him; nay, heaven itself was in that narrow place.” — James Stalker, Imago Christi