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Corporate Worship - Introduction and Old Testament, Part 1 Print E-mail
Corporate Worship

I.  Introduction:

 For the next couple of months, I want to do a study on corporate worship.  In some ways, this is a continuation or follow-up to our study on the doctrine of the Spirit and so I thought it would be good to do this now.  Let me begin with a brief definition of corporate worship: corporate worship is our public response as believers to all that God is and all that He has done, is doing, and will do for us in Christ.  For us in particular as members of Trinity Baptist Church, it primarily refers to what we do from 10:40 and following on Sunday mornings.  Of course, the definition of worship is far greater than this and we will speak of that continually, but I want us to focus in this series on what we do when we gather together for what we call ‘worship services.’  Also, it is true that what we do at other times (Sunday night, Wednesday night, etc.) is likewise corporate worship, but again I want to particularly focus on our Sunday morning gathering with this series.  We will talk about these other issues, but my primary concern is that particular gathering.  As normally with our series, I want to begin by looking at different texts from the Old and New Testaments that speak to this issue and then move from there to ideas of practical application.  Thus, over the next couple of weeks we will be looking at some of the passages in the Old Testament that refer to corporate worship.  Tonight, I want to look at passages outside of the Psalms and Barry will come back next week and look at some of the Psalms.  Yet, before we begin, I want to say a word about our approach to the Old Testament in general and how that applies to our study of corporate worship.

II.  Our approach to the Old Testament:

 We have said before that there is continuity and discontinuity across the two Testaments (or two covenants).  The same is true when we are looking at corporate worship.  Some examples of discontinuity include the sacrificial system and the importance of place (tabernacle or Temple).  We no longer offer sacrifices because Christ’ sacrifice was once for all (see Hebrews 10:1ff) and we no longer worship at a particular place because God dwells in the followers of Christ through the Spirit (see John 4 for more on this).  Thus, there is discontinuity in how we worship and how Israel worshipped.  Yet, there is also continuity.  For example, the Lord has always been more concerned with the hearts of His people than He has just their going through the motions.  This does not mean that we just throw away the motions, but that we focus on the heart.  Also, both covenants speak of corporate responses to the Lord.  The Lord expected Israel to gather and worship together and He expects the same of the Church.  Some of the elements or expressions of worship (prayer, singing, lifting hands, proclamation of the Word) are the same as well.  For this reason, we cannot just dismiss what the Old Testament says about corporate worship.  Yes, there is discontinuity, but there is also continuity.

III.  Passages:

 We do not have the time to look at every passage or to look at any in great detail, but we do want to mention several that help us understand corporate worship

 A.  Genesis 24:26-27 Abraham had sent his servant out to find a wife for Isaac.  The man had asked the Lord to make it clear who she was and the Lord had answered that prayer with Rebekah.  The man responds in verses 26-27 with worship.  Granted this is not corporate worship, but I point it out for a few reasons.  First, we see that his worship is a response to what God has done for him.  Second, we see that his worship involved the physical act of bowing his head.  This is important because the very words that are translated ‘worship’ in the Bible often refer to the physical act of bowing before the Lord.  Finally, all of this is taking place before the exodus and the Law and points to the timeless nature of worshipping God. 

 B.  Exodus 4:31, 33:10 4:31 is an example of corporate worship.  We can say the same about this example of worship that we said above: they are worshipping in response to what God has done (he had seen their affliction), it involves a physical response (they bowed their heads), and it precedes the Law.  33:10 is another example of corporate worship.  As Moses went into the tent of meeting that preceded the Tabernacle (which had not yet been built), the people would rise up and worship.  In this context, the physical expression involved rising up, which could simply be referring to them gathering outside their tents or to actually how they were worshipping (standing up).  Either way it seems that physical expression is involved, be it bowing down or rising up.  In the Law, the Lord gives instructions for how Israel is not to worship Yahweh as the other nations worship their ‘gods’.  Their worship is to follow His instructions and be set apart. And they are to worship Him because I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exodus 20:2).  We see here the connection between worship and redemption.

 C.  Deuteronomy 12:4-7 Here we see that God will be worshipped in a particular place (eventually Mount Zion) and that certain expressions of worship will be involved, namely sacrifices and offerings and feasts.  We see some of the discontinuity between the covenants with this passage.

 D.  2 Samuel 6:14ff (1 Chronicles 29:10ff) I point out this passage to note David’s expression of worship (he danced before the Lord with all his might) and Israel’s (they brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn).  They worshipped with great expression.  So much so that Michal rebuked David for his behavior before the people (especially the female servants).  To which David replied: It was before the Lord…and I will make merry before the Lord.  I will make myself yet more contemptible than this…  Some translations read ‘more undignified than this.’  David was not going to let dignity, or the appearance of it, stand in his way from worshipping the Lord.  He danced and the people shouted their praise to God.  Now it could be said that this was a particular moment in the history of Israel and not normal.  I understand that, but the point still stands, especially when you consider all of the other texts that speak of physical expression (see the Psalms).

 E.  Nehemiah 8:1-8 After the people returned from Exile, they rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  In Nehemiah 8 we read of them gathering at the Water Gate.  Ezra read the Book of the Law.  Note that he read from it while the people stood from early morning until midday.  When Ezra blessed the Lord, the people responded with ‘amens’ and lifting up their hands and bowing their heads and worshipping with their heads to the ground (v. 6).  The other men helped the people understand what was being read.  Much could be said about this passage.  Let me just point out the centrality of the Word in their worship as well as their physical response. They heard from the Lord and responded to Him by saying amen and lifting up their hands and bowing their heads to the ground.

 F.  Jeremiah 7:8-10 We could read a number of passages in the prophets that make a similar point.  Israel was not to simply go through the motions and expect the Lord’s blessings.  No, they were to obey the Lord and worship Him with sincerity.  How they behaved throughout the rest of their lives had a great impact on their coming to worship the Lord.  We see here the connection between faithful worship and righteous living.  The Lord wants our hearts and our obedience, not just ‘religious activity.’  (Worship Cycle illustration).

IV.  Conclusion:

 We see from these passages some initial ideas about corporate worship.  First, it begins with the Lord.  He acts, He reveals, and we respond accordingly.  It is a dialogue that He initiates.  Second, we do this together as His people.  The reasons for this will be even clearer in the New Testament, but we see its importance even in Israel’s worship.  Third, worship involves physical expression.  This will vary at times, but it is part of the very definition of worship.  We will discuss this more as we go along.  Finally, there is a clear connection between righteous living and corporate worship which translates for us to how we follow after God from Monday through Saturday will impact our worship of Him on Sunday.  God has graciously initiated a conversation with in which we can respond to Him with worship and praise.  May He continue to give us grace to do that faithfully.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 October 2009 )

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