Corporate worship is a crucial defining activity for the Body of Christ. God’s people come together to join their hearts and voices in praise to God for His greatness and in thanks for His goodness. Many Christian activities can be done alone or in small groups; but corporate worship is by its very nature something that involves the local church gathered.
Worship is a response to God for who He is and for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. The focus of Christian worship should not be on what we get (good feelings, peace, fellowship – though these may be perfectly legitimate by-products), but rather on what we give. We are called to adore and pay homage to God Almighty, and are privileged to be invited to do so: worship is thus an end in itself – indeed, the highest of all ends.
Here are five foundational principles which undergird our practice of corporate worship.
Acceptable worship is by definition theocentric (God-centered) worship. Only the Creator is worthy to receive our praise; and we desperately need regular and repeated reminders to take our focus off of ourselves and our needs, and to refocus on Him who is the Giver and Sustainer of life and of life eternal (Psalm 148:13). Hymns and choruses which describe our human pilgrimage can be perfectly appropriate; but only after God has been lifted up and magnified in our midst.
A precious truth for Christians is that God is not distant, but has come close through His Son Jesus Christ. But He is also at the same time the transcendent God of the universe, and His Son is the glorified Head of the church. Through dignified worship we come into God’s presence with due reverence (Psalm 96:9). There is plenty of room in worship for joyful and exuberant expression – but only as an appropriate response to a holy God. Worship is not entertainment. Its primary goal is not to produce warm feelings in the participants, but to glorify God in all of His majesty. We must keep that goal before us, realizing that God Himself is truly in our midst.
We have found corporate worship to be a powerful unifying force in the life of our church. An important element in bringing this about has been a decision not to offer contrasting traditional/contemporary services on Sunday morning (as some churches do) but to include the body of Christ in all of its diversity in a single kind of service. This involves incorporating a mixture of musical styles in what has been termed blended worship. Hymns and choruses, traditional church anthems and contemporary ballads, all find a place in our services (Ephesians 5:19). This affords the opportunity as well for God’s people to exercise a gracious spirit in accepting a wider spectrum of musical idioms than they may individually prefer, for the sake of the common good of God’s people.
The musical blend is given coherence through an emphasis on thematic worship. A single theme governs the selection of all music and readings used, which are then woven together to develop the theme. This theme may be an attribute of God (love, holiness, etc.), a particular aspect of worship (prayer, praise, etc.), a theological concept (thirsting for God, access to God through Christ), or a special biblical aspect of redemptive truth (the Lamb of God, the Cross). Thematic worship helps to deepen worship by allowing one to focus one’s attention and to respond more specifically (Psalm 150:2).
Worship is an activity for all of God’s people. It is not intended to be a spectator sport! One of the most precious truths of the Christian faith is the free access which all believers have into the presence of God; and in corporate worship all are called and invited to respond to the Almighty with their hearts and with their voices. Participatory worship is a practical outworking of the priesthood of all believers (Revelation 1:6). Our trained musical force (the choir) and the Worship Leader serve as prompters to prepare, and invite, and support the most important musical ensemble in our church – the congregation! (Psalm 79:13)
Corporate worship is an end in itself: God seeks, and delights in, the praises of His people. Worship also serves to reorient us (after the relentless onslaught of the world and its perspective) to the center of our existence and His will for our lives. In addition, worship is uniquely appropriate to prepare people’s hearts to hear and receive the preaching of the Word of God: having been filled with the wonder of God through the rehearsal of familiar truth, the believer is ready to be challenged to ascend to new levels of understanding and commitment.
“Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6)