A Big Deal
Christianity makes a big deal of corporate worship. When the church gathers on the Lord’s Day, we do so primarily to worship God. We come to the Father in the name of Christ by the power of the Spirit, and we do so in a manner acceptable to God, with reverence and awe. Worship, as glorious as it is, is not easy. And by worship we are not speaking strictly about the praise and worship songs in a church service, but about everything from the call to worship to the closing benediction.
Christian worship can be very appealing, even to the ungodly. For example, Ezekiel’s preaching was deeply satisfying in a carnal manner to his hearers (Ezek. 33:31–32). Herod heard John the Baptist gladly (Mark 6:20). Saint John Chrysostom’s preaching caused his hearers to clap for him; on one occasion he preached a sermon against clapping, and his audience continued to clap at his inspiring oratory.
We need to ask ourselves, Are we are coming for the ordinances (e.g., preaching, sacraments, hymns) or for communion with God through the ordinances? We can do our daily Bible reading each day—according to Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s calendar, for instance—and miss communing with God in the reading of our Bibles. This happens corporately as well as individually. God describes the people during Isaiah’s time in a rather heartbreaking way, noting that many of his people
draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me. (Isa. 29:13)
The point of worship is to bring us to God, for that is why Christ died: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). We come, by faith, to draw near to God, not simply to “go to church.” As the author of Hebrews states, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
What we find in the Scriptures are many good and helpful principles concerning how corporate worship ought to be conducted. While there is some genuine liberty in how we order our corporate worship, there are certain nonnegotiable elements that should characterize worship among God’s people over the ages and in different places.
Worship is covenantal insofar as God covenants with us through Jesus Christ to bless us and make us in the image of his Son. We become like what we worship (Ps. 115:8), which means for Christians we can have no other option than to worship Jesus.
Worship creates “two-way traffic” between the human soul and the triune God.
Worship creates “two-way traffic” between the human soul and the triune God. It is shaped in the form of a dialogue: God speaks to us, and we speak to God. Worship is for the redeemed. After Noah and his family have been saved through the waters of baptism, God calls Noah and his family out of the ark (Gen. 8:15–16)—a “call to worship.” Noah responds to God’s call to come out with worship: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Gen. 8:20). God then responds to Noah’s worship with a promise:
And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man. . . . Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Gen. 8:21)
Noah and his family are the visible church at this point in redemptive history. God continues to speak to Noah regarding both promises and commands, which are integral aspects of true worship. Careful readers of the Scriptures can find the “dialogical principle” throughout God’s word, which is simply this: God speaks, and we respond. God speaks in light of who he is and what he has done, and we respond back to God by praising him not only for who he is and what he has done, but also for what we will do as the redeemed.
This article is adapted from Living for God: A Short Introduction to the Christian Faith.
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