TO WORSHIP OR NOT TO WORSHIP: A REFLECTION ON THE CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH

On the night of 15th March, 2020, President Akufo-Addo announced the ban on public gathering in a bid to control the spread of the Corona virus infection in Ghana. This ban includes religious gatherings. What then should be the Christian response? What is the Church, who makes up the Church and is the Church under attack?

Definition of the Church The term ‘Church’ is one of the most widely used words in everyday life in Ghana, yet it is one of the most misunderstood due to the multiple usages and applications in varied contexts.[1] In one sense, it could refer to a physical structure where people meet to worship, such as any permanent or temporary structure, be it a classroom, residential house, shed or a registered place of worship. In another sense, it could refer to a particular group of believers who worship together, such as the congregation of Sasaabi Baptist Church. A final sense of definition could even refer to a denomination which has been set apart from other churches due to their unique fundamental doctrinal beliefs, an example is the Methodist Church of Ghana.

In Matt. 16:18, Jesus Christ said He will build His Church, and since then He has been the One who has been adding numbers of people who are being saved daily to this Church as Luke mentioned in Acts 2:27. However, the concept of God calling out a group of people to worship did not begin just in the New Testament. In analyzing the Lord’s command to Moses to “Gather the people to me” in Deut. 4:10, Grudem stated that the Septuagint translated the word for “gather” (Heb. qāhal) with the Greek term ekklēsiazo “to summon an assembly,” a verb that was derived from the New Testament word for church ekklēsia.[2] According to Erickson, the word “church” was a derivative of the Greek word κυριακός (kuriakos), which translates to “belonging to the Lord.” This word is however better understood in the context of the New Testament Greek term ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia).[3]

Where is the Church Now? In the Old Covenant, the people of God had a temple in which they worshipped their God, now in the New Covenant God lives within His people. (Revelation 21:3). In the New Testament, Apostle Paul gives a three-fold description of the Church, which are

  • the people of God,

  • the Body of Christ and

  • the Temple of the Holy Spirit.[4]

The term “people of God” as used in 2 Cor. 6:16 defines the Church as a people who have been called by God unto Himself, they belong to Him and He belongs to them (Deut. 32:9; Isa 64:2). His second description of the Church is the “Body of Christ” with Jesus Christ as the head of this body as Paul described in Col. 1:18; 2:9-10. As the head, He rules and exercises authority over this body. His final description of the church is the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. It is a generally accepted fact that the Church was birthed through the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. In 1 Cor. 12:13, Paul spoke about the Holy Spirit as being the One who baptized all believers into the Body of Christ; thus all true believers have a common baptism; not water baptism in any of the various forms practiced by different denominations but by the birth and indwelling of the Holy Spirit as again signified in Eph. 4:5. Again, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 3:16-17 and 2 Cor. 6:19-20: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God shall destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which you are”… “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit in you, whom you have of God? And you are not your own, for you are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” The Holy Spirit therefore dwells in the church collectively as the Body of Christ and in individual believers. Because the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church, He glorifies it, imparts gifts and some aspects of His nature, usually called “the fruit of the Spirit” in Gal. 5:22-23 to the Church.[5] The Holy Spirit indwelling the Church is also manifested in the transmission of power from God to believers as promised by Jesus in Acts 1:8. The purpose of this power was to transform them into witnesses of the Christ and also to let believers live Christ-like lives while on earth. Another evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the unity that is exhibited among believers. The unity described here does not denote uniformity but rather a singleness of purpose and actions as depicted in Luke’s description of the Church in Acts 2:34-47.[6] Other manifestations of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church is seen in their adherence to conform to the teachings of Christ (Jn. 14:26; 16:13), it is also seen by the presence of the gifts and offices that the Holy Spirit freely and sovereignly distributes for the equipping of the believers and the Church (1 Cor. 12:11, Eph. 4:11 – 13). The purpose of the Church is seen in three key areas, which are its ministry to God, to other believers and lastly to the world. According to Grudem, these then are the purposes of the Church

  • with respect of its ministry to God, the Church is supposed to worship Him,

  • the purpose of the Church to other believers is to nurture them,

  • while the purpose of the Church towards the world is to evangelize to them because of the Mercy of God.[7]

Is the Church Under Attack? Does the ban on religious gathering constitute an attack on the Church? NO, not even the gates of hell can prevail against the Church that Jesus builds. The Bible (Romans 13:1 – 7, 1 Peter 2:13 – 17) reserves some responsibilities to the State to cater for the wellbeing of the Society, so if the government must ban public worship in order to maintain public health and safety, so be it. This ban should not be misconstrued as an attack on the Church, whether overtly or covertly. Neither should it be regarded in the category of the three Hebrew boys refusing to bow to a foreign god nor Daniel’s refusal to heed the King’s commandment not to pray. It is during these times that believers must sit down to reflect and perceive the Hand of God in directing the affairs of this world and His Church. In Acts 1:8, we see Jesus giving a command the disciples to disperse abroad with the Gospel, it is instructive to note that the disciples had remained in Jerusalem even as at Acts 8:1 (probably 7 years later). It took the Hand of God in a providential persecution to scatter them. Now let us solemnly reflect on these questions

  • What if it is God is closing the buildings that we call churches so that we can go into the world and build His real Church.

  • As an individual, do you believe that you are the temple of God? Is the Holy Spirit at residence and at work within you?

  • Outside your participation in your local church, do you have any personal devotion time where you read your Bible, offer prayer to God and evangelize on your own.

  • Will your Christianity survive if the ban on public worship is prolonged for a year

In the current situation we find ourselves in, let us take note of these points:

  • God is not limited to the four walls of your church building

  • There is a ban on corporate worship but not a ban on private worship

  • Christianity is lived out 24/7 everywhere, not just in our church buildings

  • You are the temple of God, God dwells in you by the presence of the Holy Spirit if you are a Christian.

  • Fellowship with other believers is essential, but a privilege which can be denied Christians at any time.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Manila: Book House Company, 1995), 1027. [2]Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. [3] Erickson, Christian Theology, 1030-1031. [4] Erickson, Christian Theology, 1035. [5] Erickson, Christian Theology, 1039. [6] Erickson, Christian Theology, 1040. [7] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1057

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