General Definition of Worship
Worship is essentially ascribing to God the glory he deserves. “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).
- Worship is active; it demands personal engagement.
- Worship is God-centered; it exalts God in his three persons and manifold perfections.
- Worship is gospel-saturated; it celebrates the good news of redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Contextual Definitions of Worship
Worship has several different but related contexts:
- All-of-life worship is ascribing to God the glory he deserves through a life of consecration to him (Romans 12:1; I Corinthians 10:31).
- Private worship is ascribing to God the glory he deserves through secret communion with him (Matthew 6:6).
- Corporate worship is ascribing to God the glory he deserves with other believers on Sunday through the means he has ordained.
During the week we worship God in whatever we do, but our worship climaxes when we gather as a church on Sunday. On that day, we enjoy specific elements of worship that are unique to the corporate setting. At Emmanuel we like to think of Sunday as game day and corporate worship as the big game, which we have been anticipating and training for all week.
Why do we worship God corporately?
Reasons for Corporate Worship
God redeemed us for corporate worship
Throughout history God has been intent on gathering many worshipers. He created not just one person but many; he has redeemed not just one person but many, so that at the end of the age there will be a vast throng to worship him (Exodus 5:1; 7:16; 8:1; 9:13; Revelation 5:9-14). We reach our fullest expression of worship corporately, not individually. When we gather as a church, we enjoy a foretaste of redemption’s consummation (Hebrews 12:18-24).
God demands our worship
God does not make worship optional. We will worship something; we must worship God. He demands it (Psalm 96:9; Matthew 4:10). His commands for worship, however, are not the cries of a megalomaniac. As the one who created all things, God legitimately deserves our worship (Revelation 4:11). Engaging in corporate worship is one of the most important ways that we intentionally obey God concerning worship.
God fulfills our joy through corporate worship
When God demands worship, he is making us focus on the only one who completely satisfies our souls (Psalm 16:11; 63:3; 73:25; 84:2, 4). He’s making us do the very thing that will bring our joy to its highest level, because praise is the climax of delight. We maximize our joy in God by worshiping him; and we worship God most fully when we gather with his people.
God edifies believers through corporate worship
The Word of God, applied by the Holy Spirit, is crucial to the believer’s spiritual health and growth. In corporate worship we receive Scriptural truth in various ways, but especially through the preaching of the Word (1 Timothy 4:13; II Timothy 4:2; Colossians 3:16). If we neglect this assembly, we miss a vital venue for experiencing God’s unique presence and life-changing power in our lives (Matthew 18:20; I Corinthians 5:4).
How do we worship God corporately?
Circumstances of Corporate Worship
Some of the details of worship are not scripturally prescribed but are logically necessary. For instance, the Bible does not command that we meet at a certain time of day, or in a certain kind of building. We could change the time or place and still corporately worship God. The Bible does not prescribe the exact music for corporate worship either. Certainly, we have injunctions to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16); we even have the inspired Jewish hymnbook — the Psalms. God, however, did not leave us inspired musical notation to tell us exactly how the melodies of the songs should sound.
Other practices are helpful but definitely not essential. We use a written Order of Worship and PowerPoint. We also use amplification for the preacher and the musicians. These things are helpful but are not essential for biblical corporate worship. Regarding the use of instruments in corporate worship, the New Testament is silent. We use instruments to accompany the congregational singing because it’s helpful, not because it’s essential.
Elements of Corporate Worship
There are certain things that are essential. There are at least six elements that emerge from the New Testament as essential for corporate worship:
- Reading the Word (I Timothy 4:13-15)
- Preaching the Word (Acts 2:42; I Timothy 4:13; II Timothy 3:15-17; 4:2)
- Praying the Word (I Timothy 2:1; I Corinthians 14:16; Hebrews 4:16; cf. Acts 1:14; 2:1; 4:24, 32)
- Singing the Word (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:9-13; 15:3, 4)
- Regularly observing the ordinances — baptism (Matthew 28:19, 20; cf. Acts 2:41; 8:12, 36-38; 9:18) and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; I Corinthians 11:24-30)
- Regularly giving to the work of the Word (I Corinthians 16:2; II Corinthians 9:7)
Music of Corporate Worship
We believe that the biblical evidence supports instruments as helpful, but not essential, in new-covenant corporate worship. The singing is essential. A prominent purpose of instruments in Old Testament corporate worship, however, was to serve the sung praise of God. Instruments appear for this purpose even outside the temple and tabernacle (Exodus 15:20), which Jesus fulfilled and we no longer need. There is a pervasive link in the Old Testament between singing and instruments and it seems inappropriate to sever this link without explicit Scriptural warrant. Moreover, we are commanded in the New Testament to sing Psalms, and some of the Psalms themselves explicitly invite instrumental accompaniment (4; 6; 54; 55; 61; 67; 76). Instruments can, therefore, legitimately help us obey the New Testament injunctions to sing God’s praise, and we believe that the primary purpose for instruments in corporate worship is to serve the congregational singing.
The songs we sing must be excellent
We want to ascribe to God the glory he deserves by singing songs that have artistic beauty and merit both poetically and musically. We do not accurately display God’s weight and worth when we praise him with half-baked drivel. On the other hand, we don’t want to get carried away with songs that are so artistic and intricate that they are impossible to sing! We do not worship excellence; we worship God excellently.
The songs we sing must present sound doctrine
More than just avoiding heresy, we want to sing the whole counsel of God along with the preaching. We want the hymns on Sunday intentionally to reinforce the Scriptural truth that the pastor is presenting that Sunday.
The songs we sing must encourage appropriate emotion
We want to experience the range of feelings we see in the Psalms, from sorrow to awe. We do not want raw emotionalism; we want to feel truth in a depth and manner appropriate to that truth.
Our music vision statement
We will encourage proper musical worship of God by being prepared spiritually and musically to sing and to play excellent songs from all ages of Christendom whose literary content is biblical and whose musical setting is appropriate.