What is corporate worship? Webster’s Dictionary tells us that one meaning of corporate is “of, relating to, or formed into a unified body of individuals.” In the New Testament, the Greek word ekklesia, is used 115 times referring to a unified gathering of God’s people. Corporate Worship! It’s an important way we need to connect with each other and to God.
So why in our modern age, when we have sermons available online to listen to and the Bible and other study guides available on our tablets and phones to read, do we still need to go to church? Isn’t that just a ritual? Here’s what God’s Word has to say about it:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”(Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV)
We were made to worship God together! While your personal Bible study, prayer and worship is very important, there are benefits from corporate worship that you just can’t get any other way. Here are 5 of them.
Often we come into corporate worship feeling a sense of spiritual fog. During the rough and tumble of the week, the hard knocks of real life in the fallen world can disorient us to ultimate reality and what’s truly important. We need to clear our head, recalibrate our spirit, and jumpstart our slow heart. Martin Luther found corporate worship powerful in awakening his spiritual fire: “at home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”
Better than Luther, though, is the experience of the inspired psalmist. In Psalm 73, he begins by despairing over the prosperity of his wicked peers (verses 2–15). But the fog clears as he comes consciously into the presence of God: “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” (Psalm 73:16–17, NIV).
He was embattled. The spiritual haze was thick. But the breakthrough came in the context of worship. Which then leads to this climactic expression of praise: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25–26, NIV).
How many times have we found this to be true for us as well? Instead of staying away from corporate worship when we sense ourselves to be spiritually lethargic, precisely what we need more than ever is the awakening of worship. When our hearts feel it least is when we need most to remind our souls, “But as for me, it is good to be near God.” (Psalm 73:28, NIV).
A second benefit is the community dynamic — which means not only meeting our good desires for belonging and shared mission (fellowship), but also providing a catalyst for our assurance.
While we may admire figures like Athanasius and Luther who stood contra mundum, alone against the world, we must remember God has said it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). These heroes were the product of dire days, and inevitably their stories have been thinned in the collective memory of distant history. Neither Athanasius or Luther truly stood alone, but were part of faithful communities that fostered and strengthened their otherwise unpopular beliefs.
And so it is with us. We were not made to stand solo with no fellows. Even in times as troubling as Elijah’s, God gave him seven thousand who hadn’t abandoned the truth (1 Kings 19:18). God made us for community — and named her “the church” — and being part of this great local and global community plays an important role in assuring us not only that we are not deceiving ourselves in pretending our profession is credible, but also that we truly know whom we have believed (2 Timothy 1:12).
And worship in the local church points us to the worship of universal church, and that Jesus has a people from many nations, and one day will include every nation (Revelation 7:9).
Corporate worship also plays an indispensable part in our sanctification — our progressive growth in being conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Corporate worship is for our general “strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Corinthians 14:3, NIV), but also in beholding Jesus together, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV).
Christian growth is not just something that we take away as sermon application and then work into our lives that week. As Tim Keller says, sanctification can happen “on the spot” as we sit under gospel preaching and engage in corporate worship. There are times — may God make them many — when the Holy Spirit takes the Scripture read, the prayer spoken, the chorus sung, or the truth preached and presses it right to the point of our need, and not merely informs our Christian walk, but heals us in that moment.
When we join in corporate worship, God loves not only to change our minds, but irrevocably change our hearts “on the spot.”
One important distinction between public worship and private worship is the place of our initiative. Corporate worship reminds us that our faith is fundamentally reception, not our own initiation. In private devotions, we lead ourselves in some sense. In corporate worship, we’re made to receive the leading of others.
In private worship, we’re in the driver’s seat. We decide what passage to read, when to pray, what to pray, how long to linger in Bible reading and meditation, what songs to listen to or sing, what gospel truths to preach to ourselves, and what applications to consider. But in corporate worship, we respond. Others preach and pray and select the songs and choose how long to linger in each element. We’re positioned to receive.
It is a wonderful thing in our personal devotions to make such choices, but it is also good for us to practice engaging with God when someone other than ourselves is making the calls. Corporate worship demands that we discipline ourselves to respond, and not only pursue God on our own terms. It is an opportunity to embrace being led, and not always taking the lead.
Last, but not least, is the heightened experience of worship in the corporate context. Our own awe is accentuated, our own adoration increased, our own joy doubled when we worship Jesus together.
As the Swedish proverb says, a shared joy is a double joy. In corporate worship, the “graces and benefits” we uniquely enjoy are not only awakening, assurance, advance, and accepting others’ leadership, but also the accentuated joy of deeper and richer and greater adoration and awe, since our delight in Jesus expands as we magnify him together with others.
The secret of joy in corporate worship is not only self-forgetfulness — or to put it positively, preoccupation with Jesus and his glory — but also the happy awareness that we are not alone in having our souls satisfied in him.
Mathis, David. “Five Benefits of Corporate Worship”. desiringgod.org. Web. 25 May 2014.