I keep hearing this question put the other way around: “The devil is trying to break our church communities apart!”, “The enemy is conspiring with godless politicians to suppress our right to worship!”
That’s certainly the dominant story being told by ‘worship protester’ Sean Feucht in the US right now, as he gathers tens of thousands of Christians to worship freely in defiance of safety measures he believes to be demonic in origin.
“Let Us Worship!” is the battle cry of his movement, seen boldly emblazoned on branded merchandise. For many Christians it is an extremely compelling message. After all, no one likes the sensation of losing connection with the Church body or having our ability to express ourselves before God restricted.
But for me, implicit in this mantra is a lack of prophetic imagination. What the slogan really means is: “Let us worship, according to the musical, megachurch/concert model to which we have grown accustomed.”
I believe a catchphrase that better grasps what God is doing in this season would be: “Let us reimagine worship.”
It is a fact that I’m a little reluctant to call attention to – for obvious reasons – but when God desires reform in the worship space, historically the first people to be fired are the singers. “I despise your religious festivals… Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24).
God doesn’t define worship as singing – and neither should we.
We aren’t reliant on gathering in front of someone with a guitar, four chords and the truth to offer God the worship he desires.
Have you noticed the injustices that have been exposed during this pandemic period? I believe God is using this moment to draw the Church’s attention away from the music and the show, and back towards the things that he truly receives as worship. Things like racial equality and the dismantling of white privilege; care for creation; kindness and care for our neighbour (including protecting our neighbours’ health); appreciating the value of the small and unglamorous church gathering.
Commonly, those who want to throw off government restrictions on worship use a verse in Hebrews to shore up their point of view. “[Do not give up] meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (10:25). This might seem like an ironclad defence for corporate worship, but before we rush out to host maskless Christian Glastonbury, let’s remember what “meeting together” would have meant to the early Church. The author of Hebrews wrote to a network of house churches. Their format was that of small, intimate gatherings in each other’s homes. I believe God is calling us back to this organic, micro-church model. I believe he wants to retrain us in worshiping without the assistance of lights, speakers and professional musicians.
This is not an easy time for anyone, the Church included, and I can’t pretend to enjoy all the restrictions. I also can’t deny that the enemy is at work against the Church right now. I just believe that God has a plan that absolutely overrides his interference.
Amazing lessons in worship can be learned when the music stops (or as Matt Redman famously put it: “When the music fades”). In this season where congregational singing is not permitted, we need to instead engage in some congregational listening. Let’s be open to what the Spirit is saying.
Illustration: Flix Gillett