Biblical Worship: Individual and Corporate, Rev. 5:11
Worship is one of those doctrines that is genuinely vital to the spiritual life of every believer. Often that has not been so emphasised. On the other hand there are people who take this concept of worship and make something of it that is not really biblical. They transform it into something that has to do with their own inner feelings, their emotional state, and it almost becomes a form of idolatry. That, unfortunately, is the case that we find today in too many aspects of Christianity. This is a failure to properly analyse what God has revealed in His Word and it also helps us to understand how the various trends of thought that take place outside of the church in the general culture of any particular civilisation has an impact on ideas of worship, music and praise within the church. And so by failing to think very deeply, very profoundly, the church is too often affected and infected by subtle forms of what the Bible calls worldliness which really creates a contradiction within the worship and teaching of the church. On the one hand there is the desire to be Scripture-based and theocentric and on the other hand there are methodologies and ideas that are brought into the church because it seems to make the church a little less distinct from the culture around them so that unbelievers might feel a little more comfortable with what is going on in the church, and so the message and method of what goes on in worship is often diluted by a lot of false thinking.
Words for worship are used many times in both the Old and New Testaments but, as we have seen when we come to Revelation, there is a lot said about worship and we get pictures of what worship is objectively as we see it happening in heaven in the future. So from an understanding of what worship looks like in the presence of God where there is no influence from human viewpoint, pagan thought, or various ideas of emotion and subjective thinking, then we can take those principles and apply them to what we do.
So what does it means to worship God biblically? We need to investigate what happens in the Scripture.
When we look at the Scripture, while much of it is descriptive of what took place in the Old Testament in terms of worship; it is not merely descriptive, it is prescriptive in the sense of establishing certain patterns and parameters. The reason for using that terminology is because we will hear sometimes that people today, especially if they are coming out of an emerging church or church growth type of background, who will say all of that which goes on in the Bible is merely descriptive, it just tells us what they did; it is not prescriptive at all." In other words, we can invent and come up with our own forms of worship, our own kinds of music, whatever appeals and interests our generation and makes them feel as if they are closer to God and can worship God. This is completely wrong. The Bible gives descriptions and patterns in which parameters are established, boundaries are set, and we have freedom to move around within those particular boundaries. So we need to ask what are the parameters to biblical worship are and how that applies to every area of worship. Worship isn't just coming together and sitting down under the teaching of God's Word. That is the core of worship because worship fundamentally focuses our attention on God. As we have seen in these hymns that are sung by the angels and the 24 elders in Revelation chapters four and five the focus is always on God, who He is, what he has done, on Christ and who He is and what He has done. And the second observation is, we don't find the focus of worship anywhere in the Bible on the Holy Spirit. And that impacts a broad segment of contemporary Christianity. The Holy Spirit is the one whose role it is to energise and empower the worship that is directed to the Father and to the Son. So even though He is full deity and fully worthy of worship, in the Scripture the Holy Spirit is not the focus of worship, it is the Father and the Son.
We need to recall that they key words that emphasise worship are service and submission—service to God and submission to His authority. If we remember those two words we have the core idea of worship throughout the Old and New Testaments. A key element in worship, in our thinking, our attitude, is that we understand what God has given us and we recognise that all that we have is from Him, and so we are expressing that gratitude and thankfulness to God in all things. That is part of authority orientation because we recognise that what we have is not the result of our hard work, our labour, our natural talent; ultimately it is from God. It is recognising that God is the one who is in control and He has the right to tell us what to think because He is the one who created reality and He defines it.
Worship is the same basic concept that we find in 2 Corinthians, that we are to be "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." We are capturing strongholds. Those strongholds are human viewpoint thinking in every area of our life. These things connect together, they are part and parcel of our spiritual life and spiritual growth—being willing to submit everything under the authority of God, and that is expressed in His Word. That is why studying His Word is the centre of worship. And when we construct church services where we spend forty or forty-five minutes singing, and people become emotionally weary after that much time singing, they can't focus on teaching. And if they sing the wrong kind of music in that initial 40-45 minutes it further limits their ability to focus and concentrate and think.
The next element we add is that worship is a complex idea which involves a number of aspects from private prayer to public expressions of thanks, the singing of hymns which reinforce and reflect on God, His person and His works. It also includes a bringing of sacrifice, gifts, and personal Christian service. So there are a lot of ideas: private worship, individual worship, public worship. Worship involves singing, public prayer, music, listening to someone else sing—if we listen to the words it helps focus our attention upon God.
Worship can be both individual and corporate. We may sometimes be emotionally stimulated by worship. If we really think about the words of the songs that we sing, e.g. A might fortress is our God; And can it be that I should gain and interest in the Saviour's blood? What a tremendous comment on how undeserving we are of the grace of God! If we think about the words sometimes we can be quite moved emotionally. What happens is that the next time we come and we hear that we may be coming from a different frame of reference in our mind and it doesn't have that same emotional impact. So we walk out thinking we didn't really worship this morning because we didn't have that same emotion and feeling. Then what happens is that we try to find music and songs that can reduplicate that feeling that we had that can't be reduplicated. But each of these experiences happens to each of us at different stages in life because of where we are in our growing process, and what happens is that these experiences seem to be so rich and so meaningful and profound that we then turn them into a form of idolatry and elevate them in such a way that we begin to worship the emotion and the feeling and the response of it to the doctrine or the content that should be generating that response. There is nothing wrong with it being emotionally stimulating if that is coming from our soul and not being manipulated by the music.
The central idea is that worship is submission to God as the sovereign creator—in expressing that authority orientation through gratitude, songs which refer to His person and work, rituals of remembrance (the Lord's table), and teaching His Word. The result of that as the Word produces growth in our lives through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit we serve Him in all that we think and do. Service is the outgrowth of an inner soul transformation that comes from the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
There are two broad categories of worship: corporate worship and individual worship. Historically in Genesis the first form of worship that we see is individual worship. There are the sacrifices that Abel brings to God in Genesis chapter four. He has the right kind of worship; Cain has the wrong kind and it is rejected, illustrating that we can come with genuine feelings of sincerity and feeling good about ourselves with what we have brought to God in worship and if it is not biblical it is not worship. We see the worship of Noah and his sons as they come off the ark in Genesis chapter nine. We see the worship of Abraham as he sacrifices to God at various places and at Mount Moriah when he takes Isaac to sacrifice him. Then we get into Exodus and when the Jews are brought out of Egypt we see the first biblical example of corporate worship. After the Israelites are delivered by God at the Red Sea there is the song of Moses in Exodus 15 which is written and sung by the people of Israel in response to how God has redeemed them. The focus is theocentric, on the grace of God in deliverance and in redemption. Corporate worship developed gradually and Old Testament corporate worship gives us a framework for understanding worship today.
Key passages: Genesis 24:6, 28, related to personal thanksgiving and gratitude to God. Judges 7:15 where Gideon is about to attack the Midianites. He was thankful. In the Old Testament we also see various illegitimate forms of worship. We are reminded again and again in Scripture that we just can't come to God the way we want to; we don't determine what worship is. Worship is determined objectively on the basis of the Word of God. There are two key examples of illegitimate worship. There is Cain in Genesis 4 where he thought he could determine what would be an acceptable sacrifice to God. God had already revealed to Adam and Eve what the acceptable sacrifice was in Genesis 3:21. This was to be passed on to their children. Abel learned the lesson; Cain did not. The second example comes in Leviticus chapter ten when two of Aaron's sons decide they want to bring their own incense, their own fire. Rather than having the fire that was sanctified by the high priest they brought their own fire. They are operating outside of the chain of command, outside of the authority established by the high priest who was their father, and this is truly a sign of rebellion. The word rebellion should bring to mind the word "authority." The whole issue in the angelic conflict in Satan's rebellion is authority.
Corporate worship begins to develop after the exodus at Mount Sinai.