Individual vs. Corporate Worship

(Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.)

(May/Jun 2013)

In our yearlong series in this newsletter, we have covered:

  • What is Anglicanism (Jul/Aug 2012)
  • The Church and incarnation (Sep/Oct 2012)
  • Thirty-Nine Articles and Creeds (Nov/Dec 2012)
  • Book of Common Prayer and Holy Scripture (Jan/Feb 2013)
  • History and resurrection (Mar/Apr 2013)
  • And now, worship, both corporate and individual, not the smorgasbord approach that is so popular today (May/Jun 2013)

Those topics have taken us a year, and we end this year with May and June. This time we end with sacraments, the excellent article by the Rev. Jonathan Trebilco, and my article on the corporate aspect of worship. We shall center on Hebrews 10:

24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

Hebrews gives us corporate worship, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” which apparently some were doing.

Many times Paul speaks of “coming together as a church”—or he just uses the expression “come together”—that when we “come together” we constitute a church.

Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.  18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. (1 Cor 11:17-18; see 1 Cor 11:17-22, 33-34; 14:12, 19, 23, 26, 33-35).

We can “come together” for blessing or for judgment, but not for anything neutral, for the Lord is present in His people.  Indeed, in the Psalms we read that

You [O God] are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel (Ps 22:3).

Why do we come for worship?  That answer determines everything we do in worship.  We come together to . . ., well, worship God.  He must be the center of attention.  It is not even important if we get anything out of it, though we will if done properly.  We can only answer this question in one of two ways: We are in worship for God or for man.  There are no other options.  If we are there for God, He will be the center, and His word and Gospel will be paramount.  We will read, sing, and preach Him and His Bible.  His glory and holiness will be what is in the liturgy, not how wonderful we are, not how we can wring things out of Him if we only . . . .

If we are there for mankind, we will center on entertainment.  The liturgy and sermons will be for the people, motivational pep talks for self-improvement, not mentioning sin, giving steps as to how and what we can get from God, not what we owe Him.  If we come to worship for man, we become principally concerned with such questions as, “Are we having a good time?” “Is this service giving us a good feeling?” “Are we getting good fellowship?” “Do we like the preacher?” “Are we moved by the sermons?” These questions have one common denominator: They reflect man-centered purposes for worship because they all have to do with man. Don’t misunderstand. Many of these questions touch legitimate concerns. But they are not sound Biblical purposes for worship, for the “coming together” mentioned in the above passages.

When the Corinthian church celebrated communion, they cared only about stuffing their mouths, having a good time, and celebrating together.  They had lost sight of the real purpose which was to “show forth the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). They were not to be taking the Supper prima­rily for themselves but for the Lord. How they felt and what they liked were not reasons for coming to worship. They were supposed to consider what God liked in worship, not what they liked.

As a matter of fact, Christians may not feel good when they “come together.” In the same passage the Apostle Paul says Biblical worship will make some people sick if they come for the wrong reason (1 Corinthians 11:30).  They may begin to feel miserable or sick because there is sin in their lives.  But they are made to feel this way so that they will repent.  How we feel or even what we think about Biblical worship is not the point.  Indeed, we are not the point at all. God is the point. We come to worship Him!

In the Old Testament, when the people came to the tabernacle, and later to the temple, who was dwelling there?  Where were they?  Who was the center of attention?  Could the people offer anything to God in any way they wanted?  Could a person offer to God a blemished lamb?  Why were they there, to say how wonderful they were to one another? AMEN.