Today, I came across a meme image on Facebook showing a man walking out of church and featuring the following statement:
Your most significant witness is how you treat others after the worship service ends.
I’ve seen this sentiment before. The idea here is that, while worship is important, its true purpose is to equip or inspire believers to go out and bring Christ to the world. So what happens after the church service is more important than the church service. This teaching is of course meant to combat the very real problem of Christians who will go to church but don’t really exhibit much of a Christian life at other times.
It is of course laudable to want to address that problem, but this is the wrong way of doing it. Why?
We are given the impression that real Christian life isn’t actually primarily about the worship of God.
Worship is reduced to preparation for the “real” Christian life, which is about Christian character, helping people, etc. Thus, worship is where we sort of plug back into the charging station so that we can go out and do the “real” Christian stuff.
But what happens with this attitude is not an elevation of Christian life outside worship services but rather the degradation of worship. Worship is no longer the actualization of what it means to be Christian but merely a pit stop before we get back in the race.
Another variation on this is to say that what happens outside of worship services is a “continued worship” that extends into all of life. This is a bit better, but it’s still a problem. Why?
“Continuing worship” outside of worship services is okay, but it is ultimately only true in an analogical sense. Worship has a very specific definition in Scripture and Church history that largely resolves into union with God through liturgical sacrifice. (A tour through Leviticus and Hebrews shows this pretty handily.)
It’s Pietism which gave birth to the new, gnosticized definition for worship as something mainly about inner feelings, etc. And that’s also why worship in many Christian communions these days is so variable—it apparently has no objective definition.
But in its true sense, the sense apparent in both the Bible and in subsequent Christian history, worship requires an altar. Anything else defined as worship is really just a metaphor. We might say that the “worship continues” after the church service is done, but in a real sense, it actually did stop after the final Amen. What we do after should reflect and be influenced by the worship, but it is not the same as worship, and it certainly is not more important than worship.
No doubt all this is harder to discern in a non- or anti-sacramental tradition, where “worship” is reduced largely to preaching and singing (or sometimes even study or socializing), but it should still be apparent that intentionally coming into God’s presence for communion and sanctification is the Christian life par excellence.
Don’t mistake the “about” for the “is.” The whole point of everything we do outside of worship is to support the worship, including bringing other people to participate in it. The “is” is the worship—Christian life is worshiping God. The “about” is all the things we do to support that worship—witness in active love and preaching, etc., is about incorporating people into worship. They are brought into the Church—a nation of priests—so that they can worship the one true God.
So the most significant witness a Christian can offer is actually his worship, because it is that worship which is the height and purpose of the Christian life. How he treats others (and all other forms of non-worship activities) is important, but it is important because it points people toward worship.
Christianity is not reducible to activism. Worship doesn’t support witness. Witness supports worship.
I believe that the recent clarion call for “witness over worship” has its origins with the current occupant of the throne of St. Peter. Early on, and to this day, the pope has made endless exhortations to the Catholic faithful to “get out of the pews” and into the streets. And condidering his popularity both within Catholicism and without, it is no surprise that such pietistic slogans have infiltrated Christian circles, even those far removed from the doctrine and history of Roman Catholicism. This pope’s own disregard for the historic liturgy championed by his illustrious predecessor, Benedict XVI, also reveal that worship, both in its inwardly forms and outward appearances, are nothing more than banal trivialities that should be removec in favor if everyone getting out there to witness.
One problem, touched on by you a couple years back, if memory serves, is that exclusive focus on witness is going to alienate those who are introverted and not make use if their giftings. Not everyone is an evangelist nor should be. That, of course, does not preclude us from living the Christian life and modeling it to others, but such focus on witness suggests, whether intentionally or not, that wirship is something God nor we, His chosen, should really care that much about.
This goes much, much further back than Pope Francis—its origins are in Pietism, which comes a few generations into the Reformation.
Dear father Andrew
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
I’ve been wrestling with how to make the point you are making, and now you’ve done it for me 🙂
This relationship between worship and witness is of the utmost importance, and shows how changing part of your (spiritual) life can have massive unforeseen consequences for ones understanding of the rest of ones (spiritual) life.
Robert Johannes Ulrich
Ever since Acts 15, the Church has struggled with the tension between pure worship (or pure theology) vs. outreach, witness or evangelism. In our culture, churches have also had the tendency to set the liturgy over against evangelism in a sort of false dichotomy; Evangelicalism choosing outreach over maintaining historic Christian worship and traditional, creedal churches choosing the historic worship of the Church over reaching the lost.
Here is a confessional, Lutheran perspective on this debate. Wherever it says, “Spiritual Awakening” read: “witnessing, evangelizing or outreach”.
Thanks for sharing this. I have a question. Were you saying that worship can only be done within a liturgical setting with a liturgical sacrifice? I do agree that worship requires a proper sacrifice but is it not real worship if a proper sacrifice is made outside of a corporate liturgical context? Can my thoughts, words, and deeds through out my life be a participation in worship, as well? How is worship in “real sense” come to a stop with the “Amen” if we are joining in with the Eternal worship of the saints and angels as a corporate body? Is the liturgical altar within the Divine Liturgy the only altar? What about the altar of my heart and the family altar?
All those things are worship in an analogical sense—which is no less true, real, important, etc. But they’re not identical with the sacrificial worship of the altar.
It’s great that you bring up the eternal worship of the saints and angels, actually—all indications from Scripture are that it is liturgical and focused on an altar.
Comments are closed.