Speak of “worship” and the first thing that usually comes to mind is music and singing. And because of this, when preparing for worship on the Lord’s Day, too many churches focus all their attention on having excellent, vibrant music, and passionate, uplifting singing. While music and singing can be involved in worship, worship in the larger sense 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. And I don’t mean just the time of singing that we have in our services, but everything we do when we gather as the body of Christ each week.
To start with, we need to understand that Biblical corporate worship should always have God as its focus 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? Instead, should we not worship the King of the universe exactly how he has commanded us to worship him? And we can only know how he has commanded us to worship through his Word, the Bible, which is the only infallible and sufficient rule for the church.
So how does the Bible command us to worship God? We can think about this in two broad categories – we draw near to God, and God draws near to us.
We Draw Near to God Through:
When Paul was instructing Timothy in 1 Timothy 2 on how to worship, and speaking of prayer he says, “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 Tim. 2:1-2). And so, our local church gatherings should have time for meaningful prayer. We err when we change the focus of prayer from God to ourselves. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ taught us always to begin with God as the focus and the centre so that we can have our wills moulded to His. “Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name! Thy Kingdom come, they will be done as earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10). When a man is at the centre of our prayer our asking will be selfish, but when our hearts and our wills are conformed to God’s Word, our prayers will humbly submit to God’s will. So, let Scripture inform the content of our prayers. Let us pray the Word.
When God is the center of worship, singing is focused on being 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 center? 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?
People often think electricity failure is a disaster for our singing. But that only shows how heavily we rely on music and sound systems. Instead, our singing should heavily rely on God’s Word, as Paul commanded in Eph. 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 are as songs of worship. So, let us sing the Word.
Another very tangible way of us drawing near to God in worship is giving our wealth to the church. This is not some clever investment plan in which 100 rupees given will magically turn into 1000 rupees in your bank account. Neither is this an act 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 provision. Whether in the Old Testament or the New, God’s people are commanded to give as an expression of our trust in God. We cheerfully give our money away and proclaim that Christ is more valuable to us than anything else in the world. We intentionally and sacrificially give a small portion of all God has blessed us with to be used for the support of the church’s ministry. So, let us give to support the ministry of the church which is driven by the Word.
God Draws Near to us Through:
As I grew up I was familiar with two forms of preaching. On the one hand, there were sermons which misrepresented Scripture by presenting all the riches of eternity in the here and now. This was the prosperity gospel, and it was taught from pulpits and was presented to us via our televisions. On the other hand, there were sermons which reduced everything to a list of do’s and don’ts. These were moralistic sermons which taught good behaviour without addressing real heart change. Preachers typically were charismatic men and they were considered to be good preachers if they were able to quote verses verbatim without opening their Bibles. Now that I think about it, it is a scary thought to think of preachers who preach without opening their Bibles!
In true preaching, the preacher opens up the Bible, explains it in context, and exalts Christ. This is why Paul says 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 Tim. 4:1-2). When done faithfully, the Word of God sets the agenda and 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. So, let us preach the Word.
Reading the Word
The public reading of the Bible from the pulpit is a lost practice in many churches. The times when the Word is read is usually a few verses when exhorting people to sing. Or sometimes, when people choose to read a passage instead of praying. While reading a few verses is a good place to start, our church gatherings should have a dedicated time in our worship for the Public reading of His word from the Pulpit. This is not just a personal preference, but a command to us in God’s Word. Paul instructs Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). This would 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 us and to sanctify us. So, when we gather for corporate worship, let us read the Word.
Displaying the Word (by Observing the Ordinances)
Along with praying, singing, giving, preaching, and reading the Word, Christ has instituted two ordinances for us to practice as churches through which we can worship him: the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism.
Taking part in Lord’s Supper can be a ritual to some and special time of giving reverence to the elements (the bread and the wine) for others. These elements in many circles are considered to have a special power to heal or even a Christian version of prasad (divine food). In all these views, Christ is forgotten and not remembered. Our times of observing the Lord’s Supper are to be times of remembrance, as intended by Jesus. “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’” (Lk. 22:19). As we take the elements, we are to remember that Christ’s body was broken and his blood was shed for us–as individuals, and also as the church.
Baptism is also something which a church is meant to participate in together. In many churches, the baptism of a new believer is considered as an optional event, and certainly not as part of a worship service. This is because baptism is viewed as being a significant event only in the life of the new believer. However, the New Testament teaches that Christians are baptized into the church (Acts 2:41), and so it is 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 your own life. As we see a fellow brother or sister in the Lord being baptized, we remember that we have eternal life because Jesus died and rose again (Rom. 6:3-4). So, let us practice the ordinances in our regular gatherings, and as we do, we will display the Word.
The temptation to worship God in ways he has not commanded is not new. In today’s world, we are tempted by trends in the world around us, and that is why many churches rely on gimmicks such as dimmed lights, disco lights, skits, dramas, loud music, and art to attract people. The Israelites were tempted to worship God in ways that the world around them did–by falling into idolatry. That is why God warned 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’ (Deut. 12:30). Our churches need to hear and 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 clearly revealed the manner we are to worship in Scripture. Biblical Worship 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 basic essentials of Biblical worship for the health and holiness of the church. Let us draw near to God, and let us be blessed by God drawing near to us.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Mario Peter serves as the pastor of the Light of Life Community Church in Mumbai.