Recently the well-known pastor and author, Rick Warren, had told Relevant Magazine that COVID-19 has “revealed a fundamental weakness in the Church. Most churches only have one purpose: worship. And if you take worship away, you’ve got nothing. They’re in a hurry to get back to worship because that’s all they’ve got.”
He explains, “Saddleback is built not on one purpose, but on five. You take one circle out, we’ve still got four other circles. We’ve got ministry going on. We’ve got mission going on. We’ve got fellowship going on. We’ve got discipleship going on. Those all stand on their own.”
Desiring to gather to worship is to him “a fundamental weakness”. Critically he says, “that’s all they’ve got”.
Is it true? Are some in the Church too focused on worship? Is that a “circle” that can be set aside? Are there other things to rest on in the times we live in or is corporate worship really at the crux of Christian living?
Maybe we need to define worship first.
Worship is gratitude and thanksgiving towards God for all that He has done. Worship is a genuine spiritual service. Worship is prayer with the right heart attitude. Worship is recognizing God as He reveals Himself to be in Scripture, understanding what all He has done, especially in the salvation of souls, and then responding with gratitude and praise. Worship is believing, obeying, and sharing what He has said in His Word. Worshipping the true and living God is the core of living as a Christian.
“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 12:1We worship in various ways, such as singing, praying, and preaching, but it’s not true worship unless it is in line with Scripture. It’s also not true if it’s not from the heart. We are commanded to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.
“But a time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”” John 4:22-24
When knowing what worship means we can see that worship is not always about corporate worship, meaning the gathering with the local saints. We most definitely can worship God alone in our closet, out in the middle of the woods, or on the moon.
It’s corporate worship that Mr. Warren is calling worship. With the COVID-19 outbreak, staying at home has been encouraged by many, including pastors like Rick Warren. Many have done services via the internet. At the beginning of the outbreak, pastors struggled to know what was the smart and obedient thing to do. It’s understandable to stay at home for a time when serious sickness is an issue. No one wants to spread diseases, especially potentially dangerous ones. We are to care for others and be concerned for their well-being. Also, we are also told to obey our governing authorities when it doesn’t go against God. Does all of this mean we are to implement home worship as a new and necessary normal? Are we to set aside church attendance indefinitely for the sake of public health? Should we listen to governing authorities on this? Who is the ultimate authority in this situation?
Really, how important is corporate worship?
“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father; and subject yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ.” Ephesians 5:19-21
“and let’s consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds, not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25
God says, “do not abandon meeting together, as is the habit of some people.” This is emphasized in the context of living in an increasingly turbulent world leading up to the coming of Christ. We are to encourage one another as we gather and worship the One Who deserves all worship, honor, and praise. As the body of Christ worships together they are there to encourage one another through trials, temptations, and turbulent times. Continued isolation is disastrous and depleting, it leaves the soul vulnerable. When pandemics and disasters strike, forsaking the gathering of the church body is the opposite of what should be done.
Church attendance isn’t something we do to be saved but it’s something saved people are to do.
Some argue that “it’s just a building, I don’t have to go to the church service to worship. I can watch and connect with others online.”
That is not enough in the long run. Go ahead and assemble in a tent, tunnel, or cave instead of a building, that’s fine, but you have to assemble somewhere. You need to gather in a physical place in order to obediently carry out all the Lord has instructed for His Church to do.
In many letters written in the New Testament, you will see phrases such as “to the churches”, “in the churches;” to the rest of the churches, “as I directed the churches”, and “they are messengers of the churches, a glory toChrist” to name just a few of many verses that mention churches, little “c”. We see in Scripture mentions of specific local churches: “To the churches of Galatia”, and “send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea” (Revelation 1). We see the churches in Corinth and Thessalonica being addressed. Apostle Paul says, in Romans 16, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. Receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and help her in whatever matter she may have need of you, for she herself has also been a helper of many and of myself as well.” She was on her way to the church in Rome.
These churches were bodies of local believers gathering together for the purpose of worship- worship through singing, prayer, fellowship, proclamation, and teaching of the Word and the partaking of the Lord’s Table. Believers were never encouraged to forsake this gathering. In times of trial, pain, loss, and persecution especially, believers need one another. Continuing to “do church” through a screen physically separate from one another is not a solution, it’s a problem.
Think about it. Persecuted Christians for centuries have risked livelihood, their own lives, and families’ lives to worship with one another in underground churches. Why? Why risk your life for something that Warren suggests isn’t needed? Why risk your life for corporate worship?
There is no way to measure the value of it. During hardships, it’s even more important. Being with fellow believers and encouraging one another in the Truth is nourishment to the soul and a great source of joy. Most importantly it honors God and gives Him glory.
“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing. But we ask you, brothers and sisters, to recognize those who diligently labor among you and are in leadership over you in the Lord, and give you instruction, and that you regard them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11-15
It’s critical that we not only gather to support and encourage one another but we must gather under biblical and God-ordained leadership. We are to be instructed in the Word by those with the gift of preaching the Word. They are our shepherds. How are the shepherds supposed to shepherd when the body isn’t gathered together? How is exercising church discipline possible?
“Now if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
Leadership cannot lead, rule over, teach, and exercise church discipline if the church body is dispersed and not faithfully assembling. The body can’t encourage the leadership either. You can’t observe or pour into one another lives while remaining apart.
GotQuestions.org says this about church attendance:
“We should want to attend church so we can fellowship with others who have also experienced the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. We should avoid missing church, whenever possible, because we recognize the importance of hearing God’s Word, applying it to our lives, and sharing it with others. We should attend church, not to collect spiritual bonus points, but because we love God, love His people, and love His Word. Every Christian should attempt to attend church regularly. At the same time, missing church for a good reason is in no sense a sin or something that should cause feelings of guilt.
When you miss (do not attend) church, do you miss (have a longing for) church? If so, that’s a sign you have a good connection with church. If not, that is a sign you need to re-evaluate your choice of church and/or participation in church. God knows our hearts. God is not impressed by a person simply because he attends every service. God’s desire is to build us up in Christ, and His method in this age involves the local church.”
(taken from https://www.gotquestions.org/missing-church.html )
Yes, there are good reasons to miss gathering with the rest of the local church body. Every situation needs to be individually evaluated to see if it’s a good reason or not. The real issue is whether or not we are desiring to regularly be a part of a church family. If not, we need to examine our hearts. Desiring fellowship is woven into the fabric of a Christian’s new heart; we want to fellowship with one another and praise God together. Christians seek to worship God as a family to encourage, teach, strengthen, and pray for one another. Assembling together is the visible expression of unity within Christ’s beloved Church. If we don’t want to sit under the preaching of God’s Word, to serve and to worship together as a family, there’s a problem.
You certainly don’t want to be the professing Christian who fails to see this as crucial.
Going back to Mr. Warren’s comments, where he says, “Saddleback is built not on one purpose, but on five. You take one circle out, we’ve still got four other circles. We’ve got ministry going on. We’ve got mission going on. We’ve got fellowship going on. We’ve got discipleship going on. Those all stand on their own”…. let’s dissect that a bit.
Ministry, mission, fellowship, and discipleship are all connected with the faithful gathering and leading of the local church body. Neither one can successfully stand alone. The teaching and preaching of God’s Word, the accountability believers have with one another, the shepherding and rule of the leadership, the monetary giving to the church and all that the church supports, etc. – it all supports and provides ministry, mission, fellowship, and discipleship. When we look at Scripture we don’t see these things as isolated entities and disconnected from one another.
I know I don’t want to be discipled by a person not attending and not caring to attend church who is not being fed and led regularly. I don’t want to be a part of missions that is trying to function apart from local leadership and accountability. Fellowship is not fully realized or glorifying if it’s kept separate from corporate worship. When we become comfortable with not worshipping with the local church body, when we dismiss its importance, we are in trouble.
The worldly professors of faith don’t understand the vital importance of this biblical and physical fellowship. Church gathering is an unnecessary risk to them. To them, the gathering together to worship the Lord as the local Church body is expendable. Perhaps they have always desired an excuse not to partake in it. Perhaps they don’t want to be under any real leadership, they don’t want to serve weekly, they don’t want to extend themselves or they simply fear the wrong things. Perhaps they aren’t even Christians.
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be evident that they all are not of us.” 1 John 2:19
You are right Mr. Warren, without worship we believers have nothing. Worship of the true God is core to the Christian faith. He deserves our daily and devoted worship. Assembling with other believers is so vital that God said not to forsake it. It is so vital, that for millennia, believers have risked their own lives to have it.
Mr. Warren, the fundamental weakness I believe COVID-19 has revealed within the church is the fact there are so many tares among the wheat. There are far too many of those professing to be followers of Christ who truly do not desire to love God and His Church, who don’t fear God. More of the tares are being exposed as the pressures and fear tactics of the world increase. These sort of weaknesses will always be in the churches, most times hiding until trials come. When trials come and Satan tests the devotion of the tares, asking them to compromise, they will most certainly compromise and not think twice.
Through Him then, let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips praising His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to them—for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account—so that they may do this with joy, not groaning; for this would be unhelpful for you.” Hebrews 13:15-17
Warren’s full interview: