The goal of corporate worship is different than the goal of your one on one devotional times during the week. Why? You’re not alone during corporate worship. You’re not beside yourself. You’re not meant to have a “me and Jesus mentality” when you are assembling with the body. Sunday mornings are an expression of one of the most fundamental truths of the kingdom—Jesus died for a Bride. With fire in his eyes and resolve in his heart, he took names to the cross. My name. Your name. The names of all his people. The goal of the Gospel is to bring together a people who joyfully, exuberantly, and faithfully praise the name of Jesus Christ. What was the goal of the Gospel message? To bring together Jew and Gentile and proclaim to the cosmic powers the wisdom of God (Eph. 2:11-22; Rom. 2:28-29, 11:11-32; Gal. 6:16; Heb. 8; Jas. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:11). The Church is described as a radiant and resplendent bride who is eagerly waiting for her wedding day that is sure to come (Eph. 5:32; Rev. 21:9-11). He did so that “… he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:26-27).”
One of the reasons I love my Church is that the worship service involves me in the worship of God with other Christians. I cannot attend Sunday morning worship with a “me and Jesus” mentality. It is impossible. Why? We come together in the service. The service opens with an elder calling the people of God to attention. “Prepare your hearts to meet the Triune God. Silence your phones and be attentive.” We then silently find our seat and listen to the soft playing of the piano. From there, the teaching elder rises to the pulpit in his flowing black robe which symbolizes the authority of the office and calls us to worship. The liturgy involves us. It includes everyone. The teaching elder says a line from Scripture and then the whole congregation repeats one together in unity back to God and each other. I love this because I need it. I need to hear the Word in the mouths of fellow believers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,
“…the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”
The liturgy gives me the opportunity to hear the word of salvation from the mouths of fellow pilgrims on the way.
Then we sing together. Usually a song with stout-words and Gospel-centered theology is chosen that our hearts and minds may perceive the truths expressed and work our way up to the worship of God. In unity, we sing. Some voices by themselves are not that good. Some are great. But together we praise God as a community. Again Bonhoeffer notes,
“Why do Christians sing when they are together? The reason is, quite simply, because in singing together it is possible for them to speak and pray the same Word at the same time in other words, because here they can unite in the Word.”
After singing a bit, the congregation sits under the reading of God’s word from the Old Testament together. With attentive minds and watchful eyes, we follow the pastor as he reads the Word over us. We read this story together because it is our story (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11). Bonhoeffer says,
“We become part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the Promised Land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through the punishment and repentance again experience again God’s help and faithfulness. All this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality. We are torn out of our own existence and set down in die midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there he still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace.”
After the Old Testament reading, we again read a portion from the Gospel—the elder calls a line and then the people read one back. Together. As one.
We greet one another and then pray together. The teaching elder will lead us as we beckon God to come and lift up the sick and needy among us. God hears. God listens to us. After this time of discussion with the Lord, we call read and repeat a Puritan prayer together. Ohh the joys that come from hearing fellow believers pray deep and meaningful prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession, and longing! We again do this together at the same time. I’m there with them. We take the offering and then sing again in preparation for the central moment—the preached Word. We have come to hear a message from our God. We have come to know him and the Word of God is the avenue for that sure knowledge. We stand in reverence at the reading of the sermon text and then we affirm that this is indeed Scripture. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God! From the overflow of a week’s study in God’s revealed will, the pastor serves us with God’s thoughts. He slowly and carefully opens up the Bible and painstakingly (for preaching is a joyful wounding) feeds us the meat of God’s Word that we may be filled to the brim with Him. More of God. More of God together.
Each second and fifth Sunday, another sign of unity occurs. We take the sacrament together. This is a rustic moment where something common, bread and juice, symbolizes something extraordinary. It is a visible sign of an inward grace not just for me but for us. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). The apostle Paul makes it plain for us that the meal is for us. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17,”The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” We all partake of the one bread together. The sacrament is a token that God loves the Church and has given his life for her (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25). We then close the service with another hymn of praise and victory. The teaching elder steps down from the raised pulpit (raised because we stand under the Word) and utters a benediction. “God go before you to lead you, God go behind you to protect you, God go beneath you to support you, God go beside you to befriend you. Do not be afraid. May the blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you. Do not be afraid. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.” We leave our time together to go with the Spirit out into the world for mission and ministry. We wait until we can return back together.
We come together to love one another and be obedient to the commands of Christ. Very rarely in the New Testament is Christianity spoken of in individual terms. Instead, the language of grace and Christ is corporate and many. The New Testament is rarely concerned with the singular or the mere you. It is focused on the one another.
- Love one another (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12)
- Live in peace with one another (Mark 9:50; Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:13)
- Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Romans 12:10)
- Give preference to one another (Romans 12:10)
- Be of the same mind toward one another (Romans 12:16; 15:5)
- Build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10)
- Be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13)
- Speak to one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19)
- Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3; Ephesians 5:21)
- Be patient with one another (Colossians 3:12-13)
- Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
- Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13)
- Always seek after that which is good for one another (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
- Consider how to spur one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)
- Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
- Pray for one another (James 5:16)
- Be hospitable to one another without complaint (1 Peter 4:9)
- Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)
- Fellowship in the Light with one another (1 John 1:7)
- Do not judge one another (Romans 14:13)
- Do not fight with one another (Galatians 5:13; 5:26)
- Do not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)
- Do not speak against one another (James 4:11)
- Do not complain against one another (James 5:9; 1 Peter 4:9)
This is why corporate worship must remain corporate. This is why a “me and Jesus” mentality is for another time. Together we come to sing, repeat God’s word, pray, encourage, hear the Word preached, take the sacrament, and love one another. WE come to do those things. God has saved you to the uttermost but he has not saved you alone. He has saved a people for his name. They come together on Sunday morning to revel and relish in the goodness of God in the Gospel together. Join them. Don’t pull back. Don’t make it about you and your spiritual experience. God is calling us to himself. He is calling us to his temple and the temple is the Church (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 1 Cor. 6:18-20; 2 Cor. 6:14-18, Eph. 2:11-22; Col. 2:9-15; 1 Pet. 2:4-12). God is most manifest in the lives and presence of his people, especially when they’re gathered together.