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Corporate Worship - New Testament Print E-mail
Corporate Worship

I.  Introduction:

 Over the last two weeks we have been looking at the Old Testament and what it says about corporate worship.  We noted before we began that there is continuity and discontinuity in how Israel was commanded to worship and how the Church is commanded.  As we move to the pages of the New Testament, we need to note one more way in which this division is seen, what I am calling the pre- and post- resurrection view of corporate worship.  What do I mean by this distinction?  The events in the Gospels (including Jesusí own teaching) take place before the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  Granted, Christ knew what was going to happen to Him and His teaching took that into consideration.  Yet, there is a further break with the Old Covenant following the resurrection of Christ.  To illustrate what I mean, look at Matthew 5:23.  Jesus is warning against being angry with your brother.  He uses the example of being at the altar about to offer a gift and remembering a conflict with a brother.  Dealing with anger is so critical, that Jesus says that in that example you should go and resolved the conflict before you offer your gift. 

I point this out to say that the worship that Jesus is describing (bringing a gift to the altar) is couched in Old Testament terminology.  After the resurrection, we no longer go to the Temple and to the altar to offer gifts.  The principle still stands (we must be intentional and fervent in seeking reconciliation and fighting against anger) but the manner of worship has shifted.  We simply need to be aware of these ideas as we study the New Testament.  Another simple way to illustrate this is by pointing out that prior to the resurrection, Godís people corporately gathered on the Sabbath, or 7th day of the week to worship.  Yet, in Acts we see that they gathered for worship on the 1st day of the week since that was the day that Jesus was raised from the dead.  We will look at some passages in the Gospels that give us instruction concerning our corporate worship, but we always need to be aware of the profound impact that the resurrection had on Godís people, and, in particular, how it impacted their corporate worship of Him.  With that said, letís look at some passages.

II.  Passages:

 A.  Matthew 15:7-9 Jesus was being questioned by the Pharisees about the fact that His disciples did not wash their hands (at least ceremonially) when they ate.  In response, Jesus accuses them of making the commandments of men superior to Godís commands in His Word.  He quotes from Isaiah and concludes that they are fulfilling his prophecy.  As we said a couple of weeks ago, the warning here is that going through the motions is not enough.  We are called to honor God with our lips, but we must do this in sincerity.  We cannot separate worship (corporate and otherwise) from righteous living.  Jesus rebukes this idea.

 B.  John 1:14, 4:19-24 We have also noted that place is no longer an issue in the New Testament.  These passages in John teach us this.  God no longer meets with His people at the Temple because He has sent His Son who Ďtabernacledí among us and know indwells us through the gift of the Spirit.  Likewise, when the woman at the well asks Jesus about the proper place of worship, He tells her that place is no longer what is significant.  Rather, the hour is coming, and is now here (note the shift), when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.  Jesus has already condemned the womanís worship as a Samaritan because Samaritans worship what you do not know (since they only held to the first five books of the Old Testament).  He goes on to tell her that worship involves the truth.  You must know the truth in order to truly worship.  It also involves the spirit, which could be a reference to the Holy Spirit, or simply to the spirit of man (pointing to the importance of more than mere physical expression).  These words of Jesus are ultimately fulfilled in the worship of His followers, who worship according to the truth and empowered by the Spirit, who moves on their Ďspiritsí. 

 C.  Acts 2:42-47 This passage is often pointed to as a model of New Testament worship.  Although we can identify certain elements involved in their worship (apostlesí teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers), not much else can be said concerning their corporate worship.  We can say that obviously the teaching of the Apostles was central, which points to the importance of the Word in corporate worship.  Likewise, we could at least note their commitment to one another as a body of believers, which even though we may not emulate exactly, is still important at least principally, if not more practically.

 D.  Acts 4:23-31 This passage teaches us of the importance of corporate prayer.  After the release of Peter, they gathered together to pray.  They asked the Lord for favor and boldness in their proclamation of the gospel.  The Lord faithfully granted their request, which again illustrates the continual dialogue between God and His people when they gather to worship.

 E.  1 Corinthians 11:17-20 A large portion of 1 Corinthians deals with matters of corporate worship.  In chapter 11 Paul deals with head coverings and communion and in 12-14 he deals with spiritual gifts.  The section we read on the Lordís Supper from chapter 11 simply highlights the importance of considering others in our worship, which was a serious problem in Corinth as is further evidenced in their abuses of the gifts.  When they came together, they were filled with division and a lack of love for one another and Paul warns against this over and over again in these chapters, even saying that what they were doing was not the Lordís Supper due to the division.  We should also note from this that the Lordís Supper, remembering the death and resurrection of Christ, was and is an important element of Christian worship. 

 F.  1 Corinthians 14:26ff We looked extensively at these passages when we working through our doctrine of the Holy Spirit, so let me just say a couple of things here.  First, we must note again that one of the central purposes of corporate worship was edification.  We must keep this in mind as we gather each week to worship together.  Worship to praise God.  Worship to honor Christ.  Yet, always remember that God is worshipped by the mutual edification of His people.  Second, notice the spontaneity and participation of those involved.  They came to participate and to use their gifts for the edification of the body.  We need to continually be learning how to apply these principles in our corporate worship of God.

 G.  Ephesians 5:18-21 Paul tells us to be filled with the Spirit and to sing to one another.  We are to do this with all of our heart (which at least reminds me of Davidís dancing).  We are to do this with thanksgiving for all that God has done for us in Christ.  Thus, our joy and hope in God is to spill over into our singing to one another, which is another way that we can edify one another in the Lord.

 H.  Colossians 3:16-17 This passage is similar to the one in Ephesians.  Yet, notice the emphasis on the word of Christ.  It is this word that is the basis for our teaching and admonition of one another.  It is our wisdom.  It causes us to sing with thankfulness in our hearts.  And we do all of this in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

III.  Conclusion:

 Let me try and bring some of these ideas together with a few closing implications.  I will just mention them here and we will come back and speak of them more in weeks to come.  First, just as in the Old Covenant, there is a connection between righteous living and corporate worship.  We cannot separate these.  Second, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ has radically impacted the corporate worship of Godís people.  It is no longer about times and places but more about spirit and truth.  Third, the Word of God and the gospel of Christ are central in our worship.  God speaks to us through His Word and it points us to the cross, which enables and empowers our response to Him.  We sing, we pray, we give, we preach, because Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification.  We must never move away from this truth.  Fourth, elements involved in corporate Christian worship include: preaching (and teaching), singing, praying, giving, ordinances of communion and baptism, and other spontaneous elements (interpreted tongues and prophecies).  Finally, we do all of this to exalt God and edify one another.  As we worship God together faithfully, we will be encouraged to worship Him with all of our lives.  May this indeed be our goal in corporate worship.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 05 November 2009 )

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