I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together”\Psalm 122:1-3
In the last issue of the APC News I examined the subject of ‘True Worship’. Here I want to continue with that general theme by addressing the subject of ‘Corporate Worship’.
I purposely use the term corporate instead of public because while our church services are open to the public, and all are most welcome, God’s word nevertheless makes clear that only believers can meaningfully and truly worship God in spirit and in truth. For true worship is not simply about the external forms but involves the heart and spiritual realities.
Firstly then let us recognise that corporate worship, as the name implies, is a collective activity: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD”. Firstly let us note what the attitude of the believer should be: – I was glad” or I joy’d as we sing in the Scottish metrical version of the Psalms. We must come to the place of worship with a due sense of desire and delight for we come to worship and enter into communion with the Lord Himself. Thus we must come with a due sense of anticipation and expectation for we come to meet with God and to exalt and magnify His holy name.
He alone must be the object and focus of our worship. He alone is the one, true and living God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who alone is worthy of worship. Hence our worship must be Theocentric. Moreover let us understand that only the children of God can worship Him aright for they alone have been turned and transformed from being rebels to being made worshippers. “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).
To worship God aright we must be in Christ. We must be in the Covenant of Grace for worshippers go up to the house of the LORD; that is, Jehovah, the One who uniquely reveals Himself to His people. He has redeemed us that we might glorify Him and enjoy him forever. And we must do so in and by our worship, work and witness.
Therefore we ought to examine ourselves and ask is there gladness and joy in our hearts when we come to the place of worship. If not, could it be that our eye is not singular to the Lord but instead something has come between us and God – sin, self, the cares and concerns of this world, or maybe we attend the corporate worship of God for the wrong reasons.
We will not be glad if we attend church services to please others or out of custom! If this is our state of mind and disposition then we cannot enter into the true spirit of worship, neither will we be able to truly love and reverence the Lord. No, we must come out of our earnest desire and delight to know and worship the Lord. We need to come to the corporate worship of God having duly prepared our hearts and minds. And this necessitates private prayer, praise and reading of the word of God.
Secondly let us understand the importance of mutual encouragement and spiritual fellowship in public worship: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD”. When was the last time you encouraged someone in the things of God? When was the last time you invited someone to the house of God? Yes, we ourselves must be right with God through faith and obedience to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Yes, we must worship God individually in spirit and truth and not allow anyone or anything else to come between us and the worship of God.
But let us also recognise the centrality and importance of the collective nature of the church. We are saved individually and must each of us be seeking to grow in grace and knowledge but we are also incorporated into the body of the church, and we must give true expression to the reality of this at the congregational and wider denominational and inter-denominational level. Do we recognise and value the significance of this?
The Westminster Confession of Faith states: ‘Saints by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.’ We are many members but one body and we need one another (read and reflect what it says in 1 Cor 12:13-18).
We are social beings and this is to be reflected in our Christian lives. God is not calling us to live the life of the hermit or to live some sort of isolated or monastic existence. Instead He calls us into communion with Himself and our fellow believers and their seed. And we are to give expression to this when we come to public worship. The early church continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers (Acts 2:42). Do we?
We really need to nurture within and between our congregations a sense of corporate identity where is to be found mutual encouragement, exhortation and support. God’s word makes clear that this is the type of environment in which Christians grow and prosper. Such moreover is an antidote to isolationism, loneliness and discouragement. Trials and troubles should not isolate us but should drive us closer to Christ and His church. And yet so often the opposite is the case.
We allow personal circumstances and situations to dishearten us and divert our attention from God and the things of God and the communion of the saints. Like a wedge such things come between us and the worship of God; they break the connection that had facilitated a dynamic and vital relationship with God and His people. And as a result we find ourselves increasingly powerless, helpless and hopeless. It is not only then but especially then that we most need to hear the brethren say: “Let us go into the house of the LORD”. Let us heed the direction and focus here. We are to be encouraging one another to look to the Lord for He alone can truly satisfy our deepest longings and needs.
Let us similarly note and see how engaging and transferable real enthusiasm for the corporate worship of God can and should be: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD”. The believer’s delight and desire to be in the presence of God acts as an incentive and motivation to others. Christians are to be the salt of the earth. One of the qualities of salt is that it creates thirst. Should we not be creating a thirst for God and the things of God among those we come into contact with by our personal enthusiasm and joy in the Lord? Should it not be contagious? Should we not be encouraging one another?
Maybe one of our problems today is that we have lost something of this enthusiasm and delight in corporate worship. Or maybe we have come to think that this is something best covered up and kept to oneself. Let us seek to recover a deep sense of godly joy, enthusiasm, warmth and vibrancy in our public worship.
Thirdly let us note too that worship is a God-given as well as a God-centred activity: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem” (1-2). God has revealed the manner and the means whereby His people can and must worship Him. In this very psalm we have both explicit and implicit references to these ways. There is praise in the singing of psalms and prayer (giving thanks); there is mention here of the testimony, a reference to God’s word which is to be read and preached and taught in the public worship of God; and of course the sacraments too are integral parts of the public worship instituted by the Lord.
In Old Testament times the house of God, which is the Temple was the principle place of worship. It was a symbol of God’s presence with His people. It was there that He chose to make His abode and where His Shekinah glory was manifest. The Temple was the place where the children of Israel met with God; it was the place where reconciliation was made with God by penitent sinners; it was the place where prayers and intercessions were made to God. It was the place where God’s people praised Him in the singing of psalms. It was the place where unity was to be found for all the tribes came up to the Temple.
Both the Temple and Jerusalem however, where typical and anticipatory. They found their true and substantial reality and fulfilment in Jesus Christ and the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22-24). Only in and through Christ are we forgiven and reconciled to God; only in and through Christ are we justified, regenerated and sanctified; only in and through Christ are we adopted into the family and household of God; therefore only in and through Christ can we worship God in Spirit and in truth; only in and through Christ do we have access to the Father and the throne of grace. Therefore we must always be “holding to the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Col 2:19).
Finally let us note how worship ought to be the glue that binds the saints together corporately in Christ: “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together” (3). The church gathers principally to worship God in and through Jesus Christ. Worship in other words should unify, solidify and strengthen God’s people. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5).
How truly tragic it is then that worship is today one of the principle things that divides Christians. Let us recognise and promote worship that is fashioned and regulated by the word of God for only therein can unity be found and maintained. Uniformity in the forms of corporate worship ought to be an expression of the unity we enjoy as part of the church.
Let us also understand that Christ is building His church not only numerically but also spiritually. And this requires that we be compact together: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10). This is the way to peace and spiritual prosperity. This is both good and desirable: – Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”! (Ps 133:1).
Let us give true expression to this in our corporate worship with our eye firmly fixed on the Lord and may our God truly unite us in joy unspeakable and full of glory.