Dear Trinity Grace Church,
Pastoral question: “How will we worship our God in a worthy manner?”
Last week we introduced a five-week pastoral letter series. The elders want to encourage our faith personally and corporately. You don’t face a pandemic every day. We all need wisdom and help to find our bearings and navigate to the other side for the better. We hope that this series of letters will help you think through important and pertinent faith matters. We hope to minimize pandemic side effects on our faith and to maximize continued maturation as Christ’s church.
Each week we will pose a question and unpack thoughts around that question. We aim to provide two ends of healthy Christian tension that should be on the believer’s conscience as we continue to face the pandemic.
Today’s question is, “How will we worship our God in a worthy manner?”
If you’re more of a “watcher” than a “reader,” you can find a video version of the letter below.
What is worship?
Worship is multilayered and multifaceted.
That said, what is simple, clear, and certain is that loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength is the greatest commandment (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-38). Our highest calling, our eternal goal, is to worship our Trinity God–Father, Son, and Spirit.
The Bible is replete with evidence pointing to the worship of God being our highest calling. God’s intention throughout history has consistently been to call out a people in body and soul to be his people and for him to be their God. To cite a few examples, we see this from Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-28), to Israel’s exodus out of Egypt (Ex. 5:1-3, 7:16, 8:1), to Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4:21-24), and ultimately to Christ’s church in the new creation (Rev. 21:1-4).
In summary, what is worship?
Worship is God’s highest call to be his people and to love him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength as his people.
How do we worship?
How do we live out the greatest commandment? As mentioned earlier, worshiping God is multilayered and multifaceted.
Worship begins with an attitude. Worship is first about an orientation and posture of the heart. On this side of eternity, we will never get our outward conduct perfect.
Then our heart of worship overflows into a continual lifestyle. New Testament worship is a holistic lifestyle (Rom. 12:1-2). As the apostle Paul teaches us, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all for the glory of God and in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (1 Co. 10:31; Col. 3:17). Our attitude of worship is the undercurrent for everything we say and do. An essential element of our worship lifestyle worth spotlighting is our personal fellowship with the Lord, meditating on the Scriptures and praying to him.
Next, a specific and significant expression of our worship lifestyle is the church’s deliberate, rhythmic gathering. God’s call for us to be his people is especially symbolized, strengthened, and expressed through weekly Lord’s Day gatherings (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). We gather for the Lord’s Table, to sing psalms, hymns, and to hear the preaching of the gospel. The Lord’s Day reminds us that we are the ekklesia—his called out and assembled people—of God’s new covenant in Christ. Our corporate, gathered worship is a preview of the new creation in Revelation 21:1-4 made possible by the resurrection of Christ.
How has the pandemic affected our worship?
We would be remiss if we didn’t stop to evaluate the effects of the pandemic on our worship.
On the one hand, the pandemic has offended the core of our worship. The pandemic has challenged an expression of our highest calling as Christ-followers, to worship God as his physically gathered people freely. According to the Barna research group, church attendance has fallen a third across the world during the pandemic.
On the other hand, the pandemic has hypercharged a new virtual reality. Admittedly, the virtual approach to worship and ministry has created new opportunities that were not obvious before.
For example, did you know Arabic Bible Church (ABC) in Ottawa has been able to expand her reach to connect with believers in Beirut? This includes a Kurdish family that is in Lebanon as refugees. The adult son in this family offered to begin a Kurdish Bible study using ABC’s Zoom account. Soon a group, including some who are not yet Christians, was meeting weekly. With the online format, participants are joining from Lebanon, Ottawa, and Hamilton. This was not on the radar of normal tactics before the pandemic.
Did you know that our church has had spiritually seeking friends join our services online, where they did not join us in-person prior?
There are many more similarly redemptive stories.
Nevertheless, as helpful as the ability to gather virtually online is, we must not be numbed to think that online worship is an ultimately acceptable form of worship. We are called to labour by grace toward our final Revelation 21 reality–physically gathered, presented to Christ as his Church Bride, worshiping God as his people, God dwelling with us as we dwell with him.
What is the tension that I need to consider?
In these times of pandemic, the tension, then, is between worshipping God from a Spirit-filled heart:
A. as a physically gathered community
B. as a virtual community online.
On the one hand, we are pulled upward by the vision of ultimate reality in the new creation: the church as a glorified throng of redeemed souls in new physical bodies. We must pine for this new creation reality and labour to live it out here on earth until the final consummation.
On the other hand, we experience real impediments like pandemic-induced lockdowns and government restrictions to physical gatherings. Virtual, online, on-screen worship gatherings are a helpful yet imperfect accommodation to our inability to assemble physically.
Here are some questions to prayerfully consider:
- Have I thought about my call to worship God in the terms outlined above?
- Is worshiping God on every level–from attitude, to lifestyle, to being the physically gathered people of God and church of Christ–on the front burner of my reason for existing?
- Do I find myself pained that we cannot gather, as much as I am grateful for online church?
- Is physically gathered worship a commitment for which I’m willing to sacrifice? Or am I at risk of letting other factors, like a desire for safety or a preference for convenience, overshadow the importance of gathering as a church?
- What are other factors I need to consider in addition to the value of worshiping God (for example, what does it mean to love my neighbour during the pandemic, which we’ll get to next week!)?
Again, the elders’ motive is to present Trinity Grace Church as blameless and spotless to Christ as we can. May you be encouraged to prayerfully think upon the thoughts in this letter.
Please feel free to reach out to the elders if you have any questions or would like to talk about the letter.
Grace and peace,
Albert, Colin, Trevor