On May 19, 2018 our church will host its 3rd annual Practical Christian Living Seminar. Our first two seminars covered topics that are culturally relevant such as biblical sexuality, Internet theology, screen time, and racial reconciliation. This year’s topic, however, is congregational worship, which may not necessarily sound urgent or relevant, but I would argue that it’s actually one of the most relevant and weighty topics of our day.
To help demonstrate the importance of congregational worship I’ll start by defining what congregational worship is, then I’ll highlight the object of congregational worship, and, finally, I’ll put forth a present benefit of congregational worship as well as its eternal significance.
What is congregational worship?
Congregational worship is the corporate gathering of God’s people, aiming to exalt and draw near to The Almighty God through the reading, teaching, preaching, praying, and singing of God’s Word and through the administration of the ordinances (baptism and communion). These elements make up our worship services because each of them is either exemplified or prescribed in the New Testament. For example, the Bible says in Acts 2 that “all who believed were together” (v. 44) and that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” and to “the prayers” (v. 42). Additionally, all who belonged to this congregation were baptized in the midst of the corporate body (v. 41). Elsewhere in the New Testament we see instructions for congregational singing (Eph. 5:18; Col. 3:16), the corporate administration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34), and the public reading, teaching, and exhortation of the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13).
The Bible’s description of congregational worship is not limited to the New Testament, as there are also examples in the Old Testament of God’s people gathering before Him to lift up His holy name. One such example is found in Nehemiah 8 when all the people gathered together “as one man” and listened to the proclamation of God’s Word (vv. 1-8). Later, in chapter 9, the people of Israel come back together once again in order to confess their sins, listen to the Word of God, and worship and exalt the Lord saying:
Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them, and the host of heaven worships you (Neh. 9:1-6).
The Object of Congregational Worship
While both the Old and New Testaments provide examples of God’s people gathering together for worship, the most important and central aspect of congregational worship is the object of worship: The Almighty God Himself. When believers gather together on Sunday mornings (in some contexts the day of the week will vary) we don’t just gather together for the sake of convening with one another, we gather together because there is no place we’d rather be than with the people of God in the presence of our Creator. Being in God’s presence is more satisfying and joyful than anything this world has to offer, for in His presence there is fullness of joy and eternal pleasure (Ps. 16:10-11). While the world extends temporary and fleeting pleasures (1 John 2:17), the eternal God alone satisfies our soul, and for this reason we can sing “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God… Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” (Ps. 84:1-2, 4). Indeed, the most important aspect of congregational worship is the object of our worship: God Himself, our ultimate treasure (See Philippians 3:8-14).
Encouragement for the Present and a Glimpse of Eternity
What can be more encouraging than believers coming together in worship of the everlasting God, gathering with other saints who long to be in His presence for all eternity? While we remain in these fleshly bodies that wage war against our souls we need the continual encouragement of the saints. For this reason, God’s Word instructs us to address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs in order to encourage and admonish one another in the faith (Eph. 5:18; Col. 3:16). I must admit, there are days that I am bombarded with doubt, uncertainty, and anxiety; days when the last thing I want to do on a Sunday morning is wake up and go to a church service. But amazingly, on those days, the Lord almost always encourages my soul as I observe His saints gathered together in worship of Him, lifting up songs of praise to our God and intently listening to the preached Word with a hunger for the Scriptures. My heart is warmed through congregational worship because I am reminded that I am not alone in this walk of faith but have been called to gather together in a local community of the redeemed.
As I consider the gathered community of which I am a part, I am reminded that one day we will be removed from this present age and will gather with all the redeemed from every nation, tribe, and tongue, standing in awe of our amazing God as we offer eternal praise and worship to the One to whom all glory, thanksgiving, and honor are due (Rev. 7). So even now, when the body comes together for corporate worship we are provided with a glimpse of eternity. And as we humbly gather together in this present age we see only in part, but one day we will stand with all the saints and see our great God face to face, enjoying Him for all eternity (1 Cor. 13:12).
My prayer is that this brief sketch on congregational worship has helped you understand that our corporate worship of the Lord is not an insignificant matter. Congregational worship is a foretaste of the eternal glory that will be ours for the taking; therefore, let us give careful consideration as to how we approach the weekly gathering of the saints in our local congregations, because there are few matters in the Christian life that are as weighty and relevant as congregational worship.