Volume 16, No. 2 (February 2021)
C. E. B. Cranfield rightly reminds us of the different ways we use the English word “worship”:
We may distinguish three uses of the word “worship”; (i) to denote a particular element of what is generally referred to as worship, namely, adoration; (ii) to denote generally the public worship of the religious community gathered together and also the private religious exercises of the family and the individual; and (iii), in a still wider sense, to denote the whole life of the community or of the individual viewed as service of God. C.E.B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,” Interpretation 12:4 [October, 1958], 387.
The second and third of these connotations—namely, corporate or public worship, on the one hand, and what is variously called “lifestyle worship” or “worship as a way of life” or “the walk of worship,” on the other—are subjects of a continuing (and “chicken or egg” sort of) debate: does the weeklong walk of worship help to prepare one for the corporate gathering of the church, OR does the gathering help to gird us for the week ahead?
To which the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” ☺
ENDS IN THEMSELVES
To begin with, it would be difficult to affirm from a biblical standpoint that one of the two has ultimate precedence (though many have tried to argue for the priority of one or the other). Both are vitally important to the believer, and each has independent value by itself.
Worship as All of Life
This concept is a crucial New Testament understanding, and grows out of Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman in John 4:
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…. the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.” (4:21,23)
Jesus seems to be saying that it is no longer a matter of primary importance where or when you worship, but how you worship (in spirit and truth). And Paul appears to build on this when he instructs in Romans 12:1:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
If worship is no longer limited as to place or time, then logically it means that it can permeate through all of life (“your bodies”). So too Paul writes:
You have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
This is of course consistent with the Great Commandment (given originally to Israel of course, but the whole-life aspect is intensifed in the New Testament):
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).
And Don Carson helpfully points out that this does not mean that there are no longer any holy places or times, but rather that every place and every time is holy to the Lord. So Paul tells us:
Whether you, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Worship as Corporate Gathering
From the book of Acts it is clear that from the beginning of the church, the regular gathering of the local Christian body was very important:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:42,46-47).
A number of authors point out that the church realizes its true identity as the church when it gathers together:
The meeting for worship is the church becoming church. (Gordon Lathrop, Holy People, 9)
[The gathering enables the church] to become itself, to become conscious of itself and to confess what it essentially is. (Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 43)
[Worship’s] purpose is to express, for, or realize the church. (Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 29)
The writer of Hebrews extends the plural invitation and command:
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. . . . And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some. (Hebrews 10:22,24-25)
Likewise Paul clearly has the corporate gathering as he exhorts the Colossian believers to
let the word of Christ dwell among you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (3:16-17)
A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP
At the same time, each of these aspects certainly feeds into, empowers and enriches the other.
Christians who arrive for corporate worship out of a week of walking with God in worship will have their hearts already full of gratitude and praise; and that can only make the corporate praise of God’s people that much more energized and powerful, as those hearts overflow in joined expressions of worship.
Sometimes any of us can show up at church “empty,” and the Lord certainly can and does meet us in the assembly and encourage our empty heart and refill it: but the normal pattern for the healthy Christian is to come having already worshiped.This brings the corporate event to a powerful new level, and avoids putting an unfair burden on the pastor or worship leader of being responsible for providing the congregants’ sole dose of worship for the week.)
And in the gathering we are built up in the faith, as we draw strength from one another, and are reminded, after the relentless assault of secular society through the week, what our true Center is and to Whom we belong:
We are creatures of short memories. Corporate worship, regularly practiced, calls us back again and again to the divine background and to our life that springs from it. (Douglas Steere, Prayer and Worship, 47)
And we are encouraged and fortified through corporate praise: Ephesians 5:19 tells us that in the gathering we are not only “singing and making melody to the Lord,” but also in mutual edification we are “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”
By joining in song, then, as well as through affirmations of biblical truth, prayer, and sitting under the ministry of preaching, we are armored to return to our daily walk of worship.
The great churchman and worship theologian Jean-Jacques von Allmen insisted that
the only parochial activities [i.e., those outside the church] which have any real justification are those which spring from worship and in their turn nourish it. (Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 56)
And so we have a two-way street: daily worship to Sunday worship and back again, each full of rich possibilities to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).