Volume 15, No. 1 (January 2020)
Among (undoubtedly) others, the following are some of the key purposes of corporate worship:
1. Worship in the church honors the Father.
This is the ultimate purpose of corporate worship, an end in itself. It serves no higher purpose than this; it is a means to no other end. (“Worship is the only Christian activity that is an end in itself,” John Piper.)
God seeks, delights in and indeed demands our worship. In the corporate gathering we “ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name” (Psalm 29:2; 96:8), as we acclaim Him as Creator and Ruler, celebrate His supreme worthiness, majesty and attributes, and affirm “there is none like You, and there is no God besides You” (2 Samuel 7:22); we exclaim our wonder at His grace and His great plan for the redemption of mankind.
2. Worship in the church celebrates Christ.
We exalt in the person and work of Christ. We bask in the glory of the gospel, as we tell the “old, old story of Jesus and His love,” again and again. And we commemorate His atoning death on the cross, and remind ourselves of our part in His redemptive work, as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
3. Worship in the church facilitates fellowship with Christ and with the Father.
In corporate worship we draw near to God through, in and with our Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. He grants us access to the Father: and He takes us with Him into the Father’s presence (Hebrews 10:19-22) as He actively leads us in our expressions of praise (Hebrews 2:12).
4. Worship in the church foreshadows the Kingdom.
Corporate worship reflects the worship of heaven as it looks forward to the time when all creation will continually praise its Maker, when we will “see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2), and when we will eat and drink anew with Christ (Luke 22:15-18). The church’s worship is a reflection of the worship which even now goes on around the throne of God in heaven (Revelation 5), and of that ultimate, unending worship in the future.
5. Worship in the church is used by the Holy Spirit.
In corporate worship the Spirit can act in believers’ hearts through the truths proclaimed and sung and prayed, to encourage and engender deeper commitment to and growth in the Lord.
And unbelievers can also be drawn to the Lord as they watch Christians in worship (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
6. Worship in the church gives identity to the Church.
A church is truly and identifiably a church when it is gathered for corporate worship. It is there that we are reminded that we are not of the world (John 17:14-16)—we are set apart. And we celebrate our unity in the removal of sociological and ethnic barriers (Galatians 3:28).
And yet we are also reminded that we are still in the world (John 17:17-18): we are indeed not in church all the time, but have a necessary missionary aspect to our lives as we go out into the world. “The life of the Church pulsates like the heart by systole and diastole. As the heart is for the animal body, so [worship] is for church life a pump which sends into circulation and draws it in again, it claims and it sanctifies. It is from the life of worship…that the Church spreads itself abroad into the world to mingle with it like leaven in the dough, to give it savour like salt, to irradiate it like light, and it is toward [worship that the Church returns from the world, like a fisherman gathering up his nets or a farmer harvesting his grain” (Jean-Jacques von Allman, Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 55). Another similar image would be that of breathing: we breathe in (like the church gathering), and we breathe out (like the church scattering into the world); the process repeats itself over and over and over again. A healthy body must both breath in and out; so too a healthy church body must both gather and scatter.
7. Worship in the church testifies to the world.
Corporate worship is a challenge to a world system that denies the relevance or even the existence of God. We proclaim in our gatherings that this is true reality—the hope of the present and the world’s future.
But corporate is not just a challenge to the world, but also an invitation: for all are invited to come and taste that the Lord is good, to find redemption and meaning.
8. Worship in the church nurtures the character of the believer.
“We become like that which we worship.” Corporate worship in spirit and truth feeds and nourishes us in the Lord, and fosters our growth in Christlikeness (2 Corinthians 4:18).
9. Worship in the church builds Christian community.
We do not gather to each have our own little private worship time with the Lord (there are other places and times for that); but rather together we build ourselves up: as we exercise our gifts for the common good (Ephesians 4:13-16); as we demonstrate love, kindness, humility, etc. towards one another in the corporate gathering (Colossians 3:12-15); and as we “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16).
We are also reminded that we are part of universal body of Christ, joining with believers from across the world and across the centuries.
10. Worship in the church reorients believers to their true Center.
After a week of bombardment by competing worldviews and a panoply of false “worships,” corporate worship among God’s people reminds us of who, and Whose, we are.
“We are creatures of short memories. Corporate worship, regularly practiced, calls us back again and again to the divine background and to our life that springs from it” (Douglas Steere). Sunday worship is “weekly practice at not being God” (Michael Lindvall).
11. Worship in the church prepares hearts for the preaching of the Word.
Of course preaching is part of worship as well (see John Piper, Expository Exultation), but it is more of a listening (and responding) activity for the congregation.
As our hearts are filled with wonder from the rehearsal of familiar truths through Scripture readings, songs and prayers, we become more ready to be challenged through the Word preached to ascend to new levels of understanding and commitment.
1.-7. adapted from Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice
8.-9. adapted from Marva Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, chapters 6 & 7)