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6 Biblical Principles for Corporate Worship
The New Testament is clear that God’s people are to regularly gather for corporate worship. This is apparent by the frequent use of the Greek word ekklesia, which simply means gathered assembly of God’s people.
The meeting is for corporate response to God, not just individual response.
Likewise, Hebrews 10:24–25 commands, “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, but encouraging one another.” When God’s people gather for corporate worship, church leaders must ensure the methods they employ align with six biblical principles for worship.
1. Corporate worship is to be God-centered
Worship is not an occasion for us to hear sermons about us, sing songs about us, or focus on how to make ourselves feel happily inspired. Since we are prone to worship ourselves as idols, corporate worship is an important occasion to redirect our worship back to God.
2. Corporate worship should be intelligible
Worship should be intelligible. This means that not only is the service conducted in the known language of the hearers, but also that technical doctrinal terms are explained so everyone understands what is being said and sung. This also means the pastor should not seek to impress the congregation with his vast knowledge of Greek and Hebrew terms, but as John Calvin and other Reformers argued, love his people by speaking to them plainly; the pastor should want the people to be impressed with Jesus Christ rather than himself.
3. Corporate worship is to be seeker-sensible
Because there are non-Christians present in corporate worship meetings, people leading those meetings need to be hospitable to non-Christians. This would include the preacher presenting the gospel to the non-Christians, someone explaining why the church meetings have certain elements such as communion or singing, and explaining Christian terms in a way that allows the non-Christian to understand what the Bible says. This does not mean that the entire service is to be seeker-sensitive and designed mainly as an evangelistic rally, but a sincere effort is made to help non-Christians understand and experience the gospel.
4. Corporate worship is to be unselfish
If someone wants to express their personal response to God in a way that draws undue attention to them and distracts from others responding to God, they should do that kind of thing at home in private. The meeting is for corporate response to God, not just individual response. In worship, God gives to his people truth, love, hope, and the like, and anyone who distracts others from receiving what God has for them and focusing on God needs to be rebuked so they may mature and learn to consider others more highly than themselves, as Scripture says.
5. Corporate worship is to be orderly
While the Bible does not prescribe or describe any church service order, it is important that such meetings actually function with enough administrative foresight to be useful and not frustrating and distracting for the worshipers. While no church is perfect, nor is the goal of corporate worship meetings an impressive performance, musicians who cannot keep time, singers who cannot sing, audio speakers with continual feedback, long awkward pauses because no one knows what is happening next, and people speaking in tongues or prophesying out of turn in a way the Bible forbids are all things that distract people from being able to focus on God and falsely portray God as chaotic.
6. Corporate worship is to be missional
Human beings are, as God’s image-bearers, culture makers, receivers, and interpreters. Subsequently, it is nonsensical for Christians to ignore culture or assume Christianity, is in itself, a culture that exists completely separated from the cultures in which the church exists. To be missional, a church meeting has to fit the culture it is in rather than being a subculture imported from another time or place. This does not mean that older traditions (e.g., hymns, creeds) are not used, but they are used because they contribute to informing faithful worship of God rather than perpetuating a dated form that is no longer best for ministry. Still, this must be done with great theological reflection so as to not turn artistic expression and music into idols.
Remember the elements of corporate worship
When God’s people gather, the church leaders are also required to ensure that what the Bible commands be done in worship actually be done. There are certain elements that Scripture prescribes for gathered corporate worship services as the church. Many theologians refer to these as the elements of corporate worship, and they include the following:
- Preaching (2 Timothy 4:2)
- Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Table (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34)
- Prayer (1 Timothy 2:1)
- Reading Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)
- Financial giving (2 Corinthians 8–9)
- Singing and music (Colossians 3:16)
God in his great wisdom has given clear principles and practices to guide the corporate worship of his people.