Worship and Community [beware of tangents]
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I love worshipping my God!
Especially with other worshippers. There is something very special about being with others who have this common agenda. We all have our own way of expression, too. Some dance, others lift their hands, some sit and contemplate. I usually sing in a corner of the room in private isolation, I take communion by myself (or with my wife on occasion), and I quietly reflect on the Scriptures as the music plays. In fact, I frequently encourage others to “be intimate with Jesus” in this same way, by finding a quiet isolated place “away from distractions” so they can pursue personal space with the Lord. It’s a wonderful time of introspection.
But is this right?
Is worship an individual’s sport?
Can you think of a single passage in the New Testament that involves worshiping as an individual? I can’t either. (hence the term corporate worship). In fact, almost every instance of worship in the New Testament involves the community. We don’t congregate so that we can worship alone. Yet, this is a far cry from how I normally experience worship in a gathered setting when I retreat in my aloneness with the Lord. Consider some of the most popular passages on corporate worship in the NT, as when Paul encourages us to be “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19, emphasis mine). Recall his glad exhortation for the church to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16, emphasis mine). Worship has a deeply communal aspect. Again I ask, is there ANY passage in the New Testament that promotes worship in isolation? Some would imply that communal worship is actually embedded in our DNA as Christians…
It is no accident that to follow [Christ] meant cleaving to him bodily. That was the natural consequence of the Incarnation. Had he merely been a prophet or a teacher, he would not have needed followers, but only pupils and hearers. But since he is the incarnate Son of God who came in human flesh, he needs a community of followers, who will participate not merely in his teaching, but also in his Body. The disciples have communion and fellowship in the body of Christ. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)
Worship is the flame, but community is the furnace.
Worship does not just consist in the singing of lyrics either. Consider sacraments which the church has in place as deeply significant experiences of worship, that being baptism and the Lord’s supper. All of those happened in New Testament communities too, never in isolation. I mean…what good would a baptism by yourself have for anyone if no one was there to experience it with you?
I’m just processing. No, I’m not going to refashion the way we do worship at our gatherings next Sunday. But I do hope I have your attention. Because here comes the double-jeopardy question.
Are there ways we can renew a sense of community around these aspects of our worship…
- Lord’s supper