Coronavirus is redefining the words ‘church’ and ‘worship’
One of the greatest opportunities waiting for us amid this COVID-19 crisis is the chance to redefine, or, better said, rightly define some words that have tragically lost their meaning in our culture.
Let’s start with “church.”
The church, when rightly defined, has never been a building.
It has never been a place or even a gathering of people (more on that in a minute).
The church is a people called by God “out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” The church is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession that proclaim his excellencies,” according to 1 Peter 2:9.
We are trying to convince Merriam-Webster of this and invite you to join us in signing the petition over at change.org.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross to save a building. He died to save a people. A people called to know him and enjoy him. A people who make him known. Or, said another way, the church is a people created to worship him.
“Worship” is the next word we need to rightly define. Worship was never intended to merely refer to an hourlong gathering once a week. Worship was meant to be a way of life. In Hebrew, worship most often meant the act of bowing down when encountering the true and living God. This bowing was not simply a physical act, but rather a maintained posture of humility. It implied the ongoing response of “leaning not on our own understanding.” This kind of worship produces a complete and continual “in all our ways” response of “acknowledging him,” to quote Proverbs 3:5-6.
When we rightly view worship like this, it makes clear we are not forsaking God when we can’t assemble together in corporate gatherings. Instead, we forsake God when we honor him in some moments but deny him in others.
When “worshippers” gather to sing to God on Sunday and then seek something completely different Monday through Saturday, it manages only to confuse an onlooking world. Worship, rightly defined, includes not just a singing tongue but a sacrificed life. A true “living sacrifice” is someone who worships God 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.
Some of Jesus’ strongest words of rebuke were for those “worshippers” who honored him with their lips while their hearts were far from him. Jesus calls that vain worship, or worship not rightly defined.
None of this means we should not gather together as often as possible to encourage each other and spur each other on to love and good deeds. But the call in Hebrews 10:24-25 “to not forsake our assembling together as is the habit of some” is not satisfied only by a short weekly gathering. We are commanded by the same author to “encourage each other day after day,” and even that implies that once a day is not enough.
Our encouragement, love, and care for one another ought to be constant and defined more by diligence than by which days it occurs. One of the great benefits to this season of separation is that it will surely produce a greater appreciation when we next have the privilege of being together. I know I for one am already longing for the whole body to be together again.
Meanwhile, in this season and out, all of us should find time daily to be alone with the Lord and reading, meditating on, and living out the Bible. After prioritizing time alone with our savior, we must then continue ministering, fellowshipping, enjoying and serving together as much as possible. Remember that wise men seek solitude. Fools isolate. Wise men understand worship is an everyday and all-day activity. Fools think it is only one hour a week.
For years I have driven this point home at Watermark by ending every corporate gathering with the statement: “Have a great week of worship.” Today is just another opportunity to worship even if we can’t all be together. COVID-19 then is a great opportunity to redefine truth, share truth, and walk in truth, as God intended all along.
Let’s be the true church and make sure we are participating in true worship every minute until we can all enjoy our time together again. This is our time, just like yesterday was and tomorrow will be.
Todd Wagner is Senior Pastor of Watermark Community Church. He wrote this opinion column for The Dallas Morning News.
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