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.