I love the local church. If my blog posts ever somehow overshadow the centrality of the local church, it is very much a shame. Hopefully, that is not the case. In the economy of God, the local church is central (isn’t it so unique how the Bible makes so many things “central”? Personal sanctification is “central,” Biblical fellowship is “central,” a vibrant prayer life is “central,” the local church is “central,” the preaching of the Word is “central,” corporate worship is “central,” the Person of Christ is “central,” etc. Though the Kingdom of Heaven is a circle with a thick center, it is terrible that so many are willing to push to the circumference that which God has made central, and to push to the center that which God has made secondary). My concern is that Christian blogs might sometimes neglect that which Scripture has attributed such an importance.
So have you heard of StumblingBlog.org? Let Frank centuri0n Turk tell you about the Stumbling Blogs. It is our hope (on behalf of the Stumbling Blog staff) that in our use of the internet we would make the person of Christ, the gospel of Christ, and the church of Christ prominent. Mediocre Christianity is not New Testament Christianity, and mediocre Christianity broadcasted over the internet is worse. In everything we say and do, we intend to ask ourselves these questions:
1. How are my words and actions representing the Person of Christ?
2. How are my words and actions representing the Gospel of Christ?
3. How are my words and actions representing the Church of Christ?
Today, in my attempt to once again point us back to the local church, I’d like us to take a look at corporate worship. What is corporate worship? First, what is worship? Worship is a response that is driven by a changed heart which has beheld the glorious attributes of God and their application in redemptive history. The worshiper is not merely an observer of redemptive history, but he has been included in this story on the basis of God’s grace alone, and has been personally impacted by the Trinity’s salvific and now-sanctifying work. Worship has several manifestations. In a general sense, the act of worship is anything which reveals the glory of God. However, worship in the Bible is also specified in song (Exodus 15:1; Psalm 33:3; 68:4; 92:1; 96:1; 144:9; 147:1; Isaiah 42:1; Revelation 4:8; 15:3) and involves the expression of the impression which God has placed upon the hearts of the redeemed. Scripturally speaking, while the primary dwelling of worship is the heart, it is undeniable that the expression of worship is a physical one. This is because this is God’s world, which he created to be good. He designed his image-bearers with not only hearts that always seek to worship something, but with bodies that are able to portray the heart’s feelings. The expression of worship allows us to portray outwardly what is felt inwardly, and the normative mode of this expression is music.
I stated earlier that a life of worship, in a general sense, involves anything which has its goal in revealing the glory of God and proclaiming the gospel of Christ, whether this be through marriage, relationships, evangelism, personal sanctification, or the studying of the Word of God. So I do not believe that it would be Scripturally preposterous to call general activities done with a heart seeking to glorify God, even if they are eating or drinking (1 Cor 10:31), “worship.” But my theology of worship also leads me to believe that it does not undermine this fact to recognize that Scripture’s normative focus of worship, whether private or corporate, involves the modes of music and singing. In fact, in several places in Scripture we see the imperative command to not only worship God, but to do so using instruments and singing (Psalm 81:2; 150:3). This type of worship (musical) has both personal and corporate manifestations. What of corporate worship?
1. Corporate Worship Allows Us to Proclaim Truth to Each Other in Song
Personal worship is performed privately. It is a vital component of the Christian life to not only privately express personal devotion to God, but to regularly utilize the normative means of song. Personal worship does reflect the “just me and God” component which the Christian enjoys through the cross of Christ. However, it is not quite so with corporate worship. If you view corporate worship as a “just me and God” experience, you will not only lack the joy which comes from the component of corporate worship, but you will be failing to accomplish the purpose of your meeting together. You see, Corporate worship not only focuses on God-the-worshipped, but on the fellow worshipers. As pious as it might sound, your sole focus during corporate worship is not to be God alone. Rather, corporate worship is about teaching and admonishing one another in songs (Col 3:16). We proclaim truth to each other. In singing about God’s glory as revealed in our lives, particularly through Christ on the cross, we fulfill the general purpose of meeting together, which is to edify one another (Heb 10:24).
The corollary of the fact that corporate worship allows us to proclaim truth to each other is the fact that corporate worship allows us to learn truth from one another. Consider the theologian who, during worship times, appears to be disengaged but rather is, in fact, so mentally engaged that he fails to express outwardly his inward feelings. Is he truly accomplishing the purpose of corporate worship? I would love to be in his mind. I would love to be listening in on what his thoughts are during the moment that he is contemplating the magnificence of the gospel of God. If he is regenerate, and especially if the Spirit has blessed him with such a knowledge who God is, there is no doubt that, in his mind and heart, he is jumping up and down over the truth that he witnesses others singing. But the problem is that I am not in his mind, and, to me, he appears to be disengaged. It appears that he cares nothing of these truths because his physical composure is no different now than when he is eating his morning cereal and reading the news paper. But in reality, this is far from the case. His outward expressions are, in some way, deceiving to me. In fact, what if I am a new Christian who knows this theologian (or whoever he is) to be someone who has walked with God for quite some time now and really knows who God is, really knows those incommunicable attributes which separate the self-sufficient God from his creation? What am I to learn from his expression? Might I determine that Biblical Christianity really isn’t as exciting as the New Testament describes it to be? Don’t get me wrong. In his mind, Christianity is a blast! But remember, I cannot be in his mind. I can only see what he expresses outwardly.
This is how corporate worship serves as a means of teaching the church. The church is not only taught by the lyrics of the song (lyrics that hopefully adequately proclaim truth), but by the church’s response to these lyrics, what it looks like to be impacted by truth. While this may certainly be a controversial statement in some circles, if you are failing to express outwardly what you feel and know inwardly, you have not fully accomplished the purpose of corporate worship. I’m not going to here explore the Biblically permissible, or even Biblically commanded, expressions of corporate worship. But it is my hope that you realize that the Bible does emphasize such expressions, and that these expressions are one means of teaching the church. Consequently, if the church fails to utilize such expressions, it has, to some degree, failed to feed its sheep with the teaching that corporate worship should offer.
2. Corporate Worship Gives Us a Glimpse of the Glorified State
While private worship is a vital component in the lives of God’s children which allows us to personally express devotion to God, corporate worship is God’s design to give us but a glimpse of what it will be like to be glorified in heaven. While there is certainly many things which the Bible does not tell us about heaven, there are a few things which it has made clear. One of these things is that the redeemed will be joining together in one song: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev 4:8), “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12) “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10).
I long to be where the praise is never ending
Yearn to dwell where the glory never fades
Where countless worshippers will share one song
And cries of “Worthy” will honor the Lamb
To see the church congregated together to worship God in song gives us a glimpse of this. It increases in us the hope for future glorification which God has placed in the hearts of his people (Rom 8: 24-25). Again, if worship had only the “just me and God” component (a component which it certainly has), this representation of the glorified state would be missed. If when we envision worshipping God the only thing which comes into our minds is ourselves, we fail to recognize that we are but part of a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9) which has its purpose in proclaiming the excellencies of God. It reminds us that we are not to be loners, but that we are part of a church which God has chosen for himself. Corporate worship points us back to the people which Christ has redeemed, “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The preaching of the Word and times of fellowship accomplish this as well, but corporate worship accomplishes this in a way that is unique from all others.
Let me say that the doctrine of worship (especially concerning the corporate manifestation) can often be a controversial subject. But it is my hope that we will allow Scripture to inform the purpose of the corporate worship setting, in order that we might have the benefit and the joy of participating in this wonderful gift which Christ has given to his church.