Worship (Part 2)
Updated: Jun 15, 2021
By bro Alvin Lin
When do we worship?
We are authorised to worship God in singing (Jas 5:13), praying (1Th 5:17), or preaching (2Ti 4:2) on any day of the week, but the Lord’s Supper (Act 20:7) and giving (1Co 16:2) are to be carried out only on the first day of the week. We can engage in personal worship in singing, praying and/or preaching, but congregational worship requires all of these three elements, together with Lord’s Supper and giving. The church worships together on the first day of the week (Act 20:7), also called the “Lord's day” (Rev 1:10). This is a day of special significance for Christians because it is the day that the Lord resurrected from the dead (Mar 16:9), the day that He appeared to an assembly of disciples (Joh 20:19, 26), and the day that He established His church (Act 2:1; c.f. Lev 23:15-16).
Contrary to what some may believe, the Sabbath is not the day of worship for Christians. In fact, the Sabbath was given for the Jews (Deu 5:1-3) as a pattern for them to follow God’s creation of the material world and His rest (Exo 20:8-11), to remind them that God gave them rest from bondage (Deu 5:15), and as a sign that they were sanctified by God to be His people (Eze 20:12). Our Lord “fulfilled” the Old Law (Mat 5:17-18) and “took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col 2:14). In doing so, “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (Heb 10:9). It is clear that the New Law has superseded the Old Law.
Where do we worship?
Unlike the time of the Old Testament, worship today is not confined to a place or building. Our Lord told the Samaritan woman at the well that “the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” (Joh 4:21). After all, God is not “like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device” (Act 17:29) and “dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Act 17:24). But this is not to say that we can just stay at home and worship on our own, in place of congregational worship on the first day of the week. While the location is an expedient, assembling is a command. In his epistle to the Corinthians, Paul frequently used the phrase “come together” in the context of worship (1Co 11:17,18,20,33; 14:23,26), which is translated from the Greek word “sunerchomai”, meaning “to assemble”. The Hebrews writer also reminded his readers not to forsake the “assembling” of ourselves together (Heb 10:25), which is translated from the Greek word “episunagōge”, meaning “a gathering together in one place”. Such gatherings often took place in the homes of Christians in the first century (Rom 16:5; Col 4:15; Phm 2), as it was not until the second century that church buildings began to be built for Christians to assemble. In fact, assembling for worship was so important that Paul searched out the church (the local congregation of Christians) wherever he went (Act 21:4; 28:14) and assembled with them to worship (Act 20:6-7), even though he was a prisoner in one of these instances (Act 28:16) and was rushing to arrive at Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost in the other (Act 20:16). Indeed, his example serves as a reminder for us to likewise seek out the Lord’s church to worship with even when we are travelling.
In light of the current pandemic, with restrictions imposed on Christians all over the world in varying degrees, what should we do if such restrictions affect our worship? While some may choose not to worship at all if one cannot worship fully in accordance to God’s will, I think that we should worship as best as we can in such extenuating circumstances. Consider how there were certain situations in the Old Testament where Jews were prevented from worshipping in Jerusalem as God commanded, such as those who suffered from leprosy, who had to “dwell alone” outside the Israelite camp (Lev 13:46) and be “cut off from the house of the LORD” (2Ch 26:21). Did this absolve them of their responsibility to worship God then? I do not think so. Consider this: even when the Jews were brought into Babylonian captivity and they could not worship at Jerusalem, they still gathered “in the synagogues every sabbath day” (Act 15:21). However, when they could gather in Jerusalem again after their captivity, they evidently did so (Act 2:5). The principle we can take away from this is that while the Covid-19 pandemic may prevent us from assembling physically and to move to having online services, such should not become the norm. We need to bring back physical assemblies when we can do so. In the New Testament, there were also situations where Christians were prevented from assembling for worship, such as when the Christians were scattered by Saul’s persecution (Act 8:3-4), when Paul was under house arrest (Act 28:30-31), and when John was exiled on the isle of Patmos (Rev 1:9-10). Would anyone think that they stopped worshipping altogether? I would think that they did the best they could to worship God in such extraordinary circumstances, which is what we should be doing during this period as well.