Many have chosen not to worship God in a place of worship today. Some have a legitimate reason: sickness, work schedule, out of town, family emergency, family obligations, moving, or a disability. You have a more personal reason. Perhaps you would rather watch sports than attend church. Perhaps you need to rest after a stressful week. Perhaps you want to stay away from your congregation because they are at odds with each other. Perhaps there is a guest speaker or a boring topic. Perhaps you do not like the new style of worship or do not feel in sync. Perhaps you feel guilty over behavior you know the church would not approve. Or conceivably you do not see the point of attending church. After all, others seem to do just fine without going to church.
Are others doing just fine? I am not so sure. Today 1 of 6 people take psychiatric medicine or medicine prescribed by a psychiatrist. Grocery stores are carrying less food and more liquor. Theaters are spending a great deal of money updating their venues to include recliners and alcoholic beverages. Marijuana is becoming legalized to free up the prisons to incarcerate the more violent of criminals. Churches are being replaced with bars. These are not signs that Americans are doing well. The lack of authentic worship has created a crisis of faith.
How do we authenticate worship? Can’t we just worship God in our room? Jesus said that when we pray, we should go into our room, close the door and pray to God who is unseen. In fact, we may not have to pray at all because God knows our needs before we ask (Matthew 6:6, 8). No. Jesus meant not to wear our faith as a badge of honor. Jesus modeled and taught prayer to be both personal and corporate.
We can express devotion to God by observing and appreciating nature, by personal experience, or by personal prayer. We can also express devotion to God by agreeing to meet together in a particular place to pray and discuss the Scriptures. Jesus went to places of worship to teach and minister to the people there. But in order to reach those who were outside the church, he traveled from place to place to teach those outside the faith. When the size of the worship center limited the amount of people Jesus could reach, he stood on a hillside or in a boat to teach and minister to thousands.
Luke frames his gospel by referencing the act of continual worship in the Temple. Luke introduces Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, who were descendants of Aaron, the first priest of the priestly line. Luke says both were “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). The angel speaks to Zechariah in the most sacred of spaces called the Holy of Holies. But the angel also speaks to Mary in the confinement of her room making it holy. After Jesus is born, his parents take him to the Temple to be consecrated to the Lord (Exodus 13:2, 12). In the Temple, they meet two people. One is a widow who worships there night and day fasting and praying (Luke 2:36-38). Neither are priests for God was transcending the need for an intercessor. At the end of this gospel, the disciples stay continually at the Temple, praising God. Thus Luke emphasized that God can now be worshipped continually.
Tragically within a generation the Temple is destroyed as Jesus predicted (Matthew 26:61; 27:40; John 2:19). After that devastating event, John describes the concern of many over which mountain should be the place to worship God. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the place of worship is no longer the issue, for true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth (John 4:19-24).
How, where, and who to worship became the focus of the new church (Acts 7:7, 42, 43; 8:27; 13:2, 16; 16:14; 17:23; 18:7, 19:27; 24:11, 14) which embodied a spiritual unity (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:13) where believers are both in Christ (Romans 6:11, 23: 8:1, 39; 9:1;15:17; 16:3, 7, 9) and one with Christ (Ephesians 5:21-32). One’s own body became the new residence of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19) and the new place of worship. The new reality meant that instead of going to the Temple to find God, God now resides in us permanently. Believers’ bodies became the temple of God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1). In the last supper, Jesus made his body the center of worship and, thus, united believers into one body (Matthew 26:26; Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11-12).
Paul wrote to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, Ephesus, Colossae, and Philippi. Peter wrote to the churches in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. John wrote to the seven churches in the province of Asia; Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. From the beginning, believers gathered to support each other with the love of Christ and give praise to God.
Meeting together became an essential component of the new church though where they met varied. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47). One prayer meeting was by a river (Acts 15:13). The number of people who met seemed not to matter (I Corinthians 5:4; 7:5). But the reason they met together was for edification and proclaiming the gospel (I Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 4:16; I Thessalonians 5:11): “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Meeting together is useful for maturing in Christ. Being in an active and productive relationship with God prepares us for being in an active and productive relationship with others. Being alone is not good. Our relationship with others is the hallmark of our faith. Otherwise our faith is worthless. Faith in God proclaimed in worship becomes authentic practice in the way we love others.
Lest you be persuaded that faith does not matter and may even be delusional, note that the Handbook of Religion and Health, by Koenig et al., that surveyed 1200 studies and 400 reviews concluded: ‘In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction.” These are all good reasons to worship God with your church today!
Koenig HG, McCullough ME & Larson DB (2001) Handbook of Religion and Health. Oxford University Press.