Reclaiming our witness and authority as God’s people among the peoples of the world
The global economic and social lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, has forced even Christians from attending church services on Sundays. And sadly, many are not happy about it. Many pastors and leaders see this as a spiritual attack on the church and on Christian faith. So, they have come up with ingenious ways to conduct ‘church services’ over the internet. This is sad, blind and totally misleading as far as true worship is concerned and to what we are called to be as the church.
How unwise and unthinking we are? Do we not know that true worship does not happen through services and programmes, real or virtual? Nor that it is not just about exuberant and extempore expression of praise? And that true church is not a place or a structure or a meeting? Do we not know that church is not about ‘going to a place’ nor is it an attendance at a meeting? But that it is a matter of life – to worship God in truth and spirit is to love God and live in the dynamic of that relationship. To be the church is to demonstrate that dynamic corporately in our own neighbourhoods.
The lockdown, when Christians have been forced to stay at home, is a good time to restore the church to her true calling and to foster true worship. This is how we can recover our witness and reclaim our authority among the nations. But the problem is, we are so blinded by our programmes and activities, our structures and projects that we do not even know that our witness has been lost and our authority as God’s chosen people has been weakened.
The question is how has our witness and authority been weakened and why do we need to reclaim it? But in order to understand this, we must ask, what is witness? What is authority? And how have we lost these?
Most Christians generally understand witness as a forensic or legal defence, which is basically to verbally defend one’s stand or position when called into question. Witness in the Bible is more than a verbal or legal defence. It is to let our understanding of God to influence our lives in such a way that the way we live becomes our witness. So, our witness is not just verbal but it is about how we live as God’s chosen people.
Our understanding of God leads to the worship of God. The same can be expressed in terms of the first and the greatest commandment, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” When our lives are modelled on the understanding that the only valid way of living is to love God, to serve Him and to live for Him, then our lives become true worship unto Him. Our worship of God as demonstrated in our lives, is our message and our witness.
Such worship cannot be offered once a week, at a particular location or place called as ‘place of worship’. Nor can such worship be represented in a programme, service or a liturgy. It cannot be offered by a person appointed on the behalf of others. To think that worship must be offered at a particular place, led by a particular person in a particular format or service is to reduce Christian worship to a mere technique and a ritual. There is nothing that makes Christianity a mere religion like any other religion of the world than to confine it to formats, rituals, places and ‘specially ordained people’. There is nothing which is more subverting to our faith and worship than this repetitive programming of worship or church services. This is how our witness has been lost and our authority weakened.
Worship is a very personal and intimate knowledge of God, leading to lives of love, trust and obedience unto Him. Such worship is a moment by moment offering of ourselves unto God to love Him and to live for Him. Such an understanding takes away all our rights to live for ourselves, even to seek our own welfare, our careers or our pleasures. Our only career is to pursue God. Every other career and concern must be subsumed to this one pursuit in life – the pursuit of God. In this we find our sustenance for daily living, our security and identity. This is the only legitimate way of living. Every other way of living is illegitimate and immoral.
How can such lives be reduced to a few hours of service on a Sunday or any other day? To do so is to completely miss the point of Christian calling. We are called into an intimate and dynamic relationship with the God of heaven and earth. And to live in that dynamic is true worship and true witness unto Him.
Apostle John declared about Christ, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God”. God’s word or God’s message merge in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s message to humanity has come in the person of Christ. The words and the life Christ lived while on earth, not only reveal God to us but also demonstrates how He expects man to live. Christ is the only true and final witness for God and the ultimate measure for humanity both in his word and life. Hence his authoritative call for us to follow him, an invitation to live as he lived. Therefore, he is the measure by which all of humanity will be judged or measured with, at the final judgement (Act 17:31; Eph 4:13).
Christ lived in the dynamic of his relationship with his Father. His life could not be defined by any of the categories of the world. Those who tried to understand him and knew who his earthly parents and siblings were, were baffled by the depth of his wisdom and authority to speak and to do what he did.
Similarly, since their lives are patterned according to the life of Christ, the way Christians live becomes God’s message to the world. So, the message they proclaim is not only vocal or verbal but it is the message of the life of Christ imbued into them. As their master, they live by a totally different dynamic, a dynamic that comes from an intimate relationship with God, the dynamic of the power of resurrection. Therefore, the way they live becomes worship unto God. This is true worship. Such lives have the character and confidence to challenge the world and all its systems and structures of knowledge and power, because their lives are outside of those systems and structures. Herein lies the authority of the people of God. The authority to speak for God both by word and living and thus challenge the world to repentance and redemption.
Our authority is not in the size of our congregations, budgets, or buildings. It is not in our educational or ministerial achievements, clerical vestments and designations nor on the size of our projects or political connections. To seek such external trappings of power is to betray the bankruptcy of our soul and the shallowness of our understanding of the God of the Bible. About them it can be said in the words of Paul the apostle, “Brethren, … many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.” (Phil 3: 17-19) These are men and women, who have deceived the flock of God for generations and have represented Christ and the gospel in totally carnal and worldly ways! Do you now see why the church has lost her voice and her authority?
True authority is the authority of lives which conform to the life of Christ. Since Christ is the ultimate measure, he is the ultimate authority. The extent to which our lives conform to his life to that extent is our authority and glory. It must be emphasised here that this authority is corporate and given to the church and not to any individual. An individual might exercise it, but only in oneness with the people of God who have given themselves over to live as Christ lived.
Today, if we are true to ourselves and honest before God, we must confess that we have lost such a witness and such authority among the nations of the world. It is this dynamic and this witness and this authority that needs reclaiming. And there is no better time than this time of social and economic lockdown, when Christians can be taught to seek to live in total trust and dependence on God. When the whole world is in a medical and economic quandary, the people of God need to be taught that their strength comes from knowing God and loving Him. That they are more than conquerors and that nothing can sperate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:35-39).
Where are the people of God, who live by a dynamic that cannot be explained by any of the categories of knowledge and power of the world? Where are the people of God whose lives cannot be defined in terms of their education, money, social status or the power structures of this world?
When our message remains purely vocal or verbal, it becomes mere noise and a matter of semantics and possibly electronics. When it becomes a matter of planning, programming, budgeting then it becomes a matter of management skills, economic acumen and politics.
But when our proclamation is backed by lives patterned according to the life of Christ, then we shall be his true worshippers and true witnesses. To think that such worship or such witness can be replicated in programmes and services is to miss the gospel completely. This cannot happen either by real or virtual worship services. To perpetuate such services real or virtual is not only to mislead people of God but also to mislead the world regarding the gospel.
Therefore, my plea to pastors, teachers and leaders is to foster true worship and true witness. Teach, by all means the word of God to the people of God, if necessary, virtually as well. But rather than conducting virtual church services, encourage your people to meet with other Christians in their own neighbourhoods wherever possible and fellowship with them by sharing their lives together. This is a far better way to bring not only oneness among God’s people despite their denominational backgrounds but this raises a witness of worshipping people in one’s own neighbourhood.
To be honest there is nothing called a church service. Such a word is alien to the New Testament. By conducting virtual church service, you would be actually perpetuating a farce! You will probably build your own reputation or keep your congregation from defecting or even keep their offerings secure. But you will be the cause for enslavement of the people of God and a hindrance to raising a witness for God. Rather than learning to worship God through trust and dependence upon Him and communing with other fellow believers, they will continue to worship man-made systems, services and places of worship. This is totally odious to the teaching of scripture and to the vision of the New Testament Church.
According to Hebrews 12: 18-29, God is shaking up everything that can be shaken but that we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken. This is the kingdom of God which Jesus Christ brought down to man when he came to the earth. Every other man-made system will be shaken including the so-called Christian systems of worship, witness and ministry. Any teaching, any theology, any church, any ministry that does not conform to the message and the life of Christ will be shaken as God shakes up everything. I believe that this is exactly what is going on right now with the social and economic lockdown, which has also closed down the cathedrals, chapels, sanctuaries and prayer houses along with their services and all related activities.
We would do well to pay attention to what God is doing and reorient ourselves to the ways and patterns of life as demonstrated in Christ (John 6:27; Heb 1: 1-4).
May the Lord help us to see as He sees and do as He wants us to do. Amen.
 Read ‘Whatever happened to worship’ at this blog
 Read ‘Knowing God as One’ at this blog.
 Read ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ at this blog.