The term “worship”, to a Christian, often evokes thoughts of music and singing. And so, when preparing for the Lord’s Day, too many churches focus all their attention on having vibrant music and passionate singing.
Of course, music and singing can be involved in worship. But in the larger sense, worship is much more than just that. In fact, Christian worship comprises all that a Christian does throughout his life to the glory of God.
In this article, I would like to focus our attention on weekly corporate worship. I’m not just referring to the time of singing that we have in our services, but everything we do when we gather as the body of Christ each week.
The context for corporate worship
Christian worship comprises all that a Christian does throughout his life to the glory of God
To start with, we need to understand that Biblical corporate worship should always have God as its focus. Why? Because worship is primarily about God and not about us.
But if worship is all about God, then can we worship Him however we want to? Should we not worship the King of the universe exactly how He has commanded us to worship Him? And how exactly do we go about this?
We can only know how He has commanded us to worship Him through His Word, the Bible. It is the only infallible and sufficient guide for the Church.
So how does the Bible command us to worship God? We can think about this under two broad categories: (i) how we draw near to God, and (ii) how God draws near to us.
We draw near to God through:
In 1 Timothy, Paul lays out a series of instructions on how we “ought to behave in the household of God”. Speaking of prayer, he says this: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Our local church gatherings should set aside time for meaningful prayer.
We err when we change the focus of prayer from God to ourselves. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to always begin with God, and pray for our wills to be moulded to His: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).
When we place ourselves at the centre, our prayers will be selfish. When our hearts and wills are conformed to God’s Word, our prayers will humbly submit to God’s will. Let Scripture inform the content of our prayers. And so, as we gather, let us pray the Word.
When God is the centre of worship, our singing will be rightly used as an element of worship to glorify Him. Instead of trying to find the most popular song to the best music, you will now ask: does this song glorify God? Does it have Christ at the centre? Do the words we sing convict people of sin and righteousness? Is the music an aid to the singing, or the focus of all our attention?
Electricity failures are not a disaster for our singing. If it were, it would only show how heavily we rely on accompaniments and sound systems in our worship.
Instead, our singing should heavily rely on God’s Word. Notice Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 5:18-20: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The more accurately our songs reflect God’s Word, the better they serve as songs of worship. And so, as we gather, let us sing the Word.
Another very tangible way of us drawing near to God in worship is by giving our wealth to the church (Matthew 26:6-13; Philippians 4:15-18).
Note that this is not a segue into some clever investment plan by which the 100 coins you give magically turns into 1,000 coins in your bank account. Neither is this an act in which we need to participate out of guilt or fear of God’s punishment.
Instead, when we give, we express our gratitude to God for all His provisions. Both in the Old and the New Testament, God’s people are instructed to give as an expression of our trust in God.
When we give cheerfully, we proclaim that Christ is more valuable to us than anything else in the world. We are called to intentionally and sacrificially give a small portion of all God has blessed us with. And so, as we gather, let us give to support the ministry of the church which is driven by the Word.
The more accurately our songs reflect God’s Word, the better they serve as songs of worship
God draws near to us through:
I grew up listening to two forms of preaching. On the one hand, there were sermons that misrepresented Scripture by presenting all the riches of eternity in the here and now. This was the prosperity gospel. It was taught from pulpits and was presented to us via our televisions.
On the other hand, there were sermons that reduced everything in the text to a list of do’s and don’ts. These were moralistic sermons that taught good behaviour without addressing real transformation of the heart.
Preachers, in general, were charismatic men. And they were considered to be good preachers if they were able to quote verses verbatim without opening their Bibles. Now I realise that it is a scary thought to think of preachers who preach without opening their Bibles!
The true preacher opens up the Bible, explains it in context, and exalts Jesus Christ. Notice, again, Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
When done faithfully, the Word of God sets the agenda — not the preacher. And instead of hearing the voice of the preacher, we hear the voice of God, as He draws near to us to transform us through the preaching of His Word. And so, as we gather, let us preach the Word.
- Reading the Word
The public reading of Scripture from the pulpit is almost a lost practice. It has been reduced to a few verses being read to exhort the congregation to sing, or when people choose to read a passage instead of praying.
Reading a few verses is a good place to start. But our church gatherings should return to having a dedicated time in our worship service for the public reading of the Word.
This is not just a personal preference, but a command from God. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).
This practice would also help the pulpit to be synonymous with the Word of God, rather than the preacher. And God’s Word, when read clearly, is sufficient to teach and sanctify us. And so, as we gather, let us read the Word.
- Displaying the Word
Along with praying, singing, giving, preaching, and reading the Word, Jesus instituted two ordinances through which we can worship Him: the Lord’s Supper and baptism.
Taking part in the Lord’s Supper can easily become a ritual to some. Many others end up giving reverence to the elements — the bread and the wine. In many circles, these elements are considered to have a special power to heal or even as a Christian version of prasad (divine food).
In all these, it is Jesus Christ that is forgotten. The whole point of observing the Lord’s Supper is to remember the Lord’s work on our behalf. “And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). As we take the elements, we are to remember Jesus Christ, whose body was broken and blood was shed for us — as individuals, and as the church.
Baptism is also something in which a church is meant to participate together. In many churches, the baptism of a new believer is considered an optional event, and certainly not as part of a worship service. This is because baptism is often viewed as being a significant event only in the life of the new believer.
However, the New Testament teaches that Christians are baptised into the church (Acts 2:41), thus making it an ordinance for the church to celebrate. There is much joy in rejoicing with a new believer and, at the same time, remembering God’s supernatural salvific work in our own lives.
As we see a fellow brother or sister in the Lord being baptised, we remember that we have eternal life because Jesus died and rose again (Romans 6:3-4). And so, as we gather, let us practise the ordinances that display the Word.
The true preacher opens up the Bible, explains it in context, and exalts Jesus Christ
Shaped by God’s passion
The temptation to worship God in ways He has not commanded is not new. Just like with the Israelites, we are tempted by the trends in the world around us.
Many modern churches rely on gimmicks such as dimmed or disco lighting, skits or plays, loud music, and art to attract people to their “worship service”. Back in the day, whenever Israel gave into the trend around them, they fell into idolatry.
We would be wise to heed to God’s warning for them: “Take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same” (Deuteronomy 12:30).
Our churches need to be shaped by God’s passion — not only for our worship but also for the manner of our worship. And praise God that He has also revealed the manner of worship in Scripture.
Biblical worship is Word-centered. And it is rightly done when we pray the Word, sing the Word, give for the ministry of the Word, preach the Word, read the Word, and display the Word (in the ordinances).
These elements are the essentials of biblical worship, necessary for the health and holiness of the church. And so, let us draw near to God together, and be blessed by God drawing near to us.