Saturday, June 30, 2012

What's the Purpose of Corporate Worship?

The Worship, Music, & Arts Committee at Riverview recently decided to formulate an order of worship to help guide us in how we think about and conduct worship.  A theology of worship is basically an understanding of what God says about worship.  I'm really happy about the committee's decision to develop such a document.  I think it will be helpful and beneficial.  I've been tasked by the Committee to develop a draft of a theology of worship and present it at the next meeting.  Needless to say, this is an area in which I've done a lot of thinking and research in the past, so it should be just a matter of collecting my thoughts and putting them down on paper.

I did want to do some more research for this process, however, so I picked up and reread the first chapter of D.A. Carson's Worship by the Book.  This is a collection of essays from different pastors and authors that deal with worship from a variety of Christian traditions.  The essays are really good, but the meat of the book is really embodied in the first chapter, which was written by Carson.  In it, Carson basically presents his own succinct theology of worship.  In doing so, he dialogues with the ideas presented in David Peterson's book, Engaging with God.  Peterson's book is a more formal and thorough theology of worship, which Carson cites several times.

One of the main ideas that Peterson works with is what he believes to be the purpose of corporate worship: unity in the church.  That is, Peterson believes that the primary purpose for Christians to come together and worship together is not necessarily worship, per say, but is in fact, Christians coming together to unite under the banner of Christ and edify each other through interpersonal relationships.  Needless to say, this was an idea that I had been heretofore unfamiliar with, and as I continued reading I found it to be intriguing.

Peterson believes that, since New Testament believers are commanded to do all things to the glory of God, then all of life is essentially worship.  After all, if we are to worship in such seemingly mundane activities as eating and drinking, then it almost seems redundant to gather formally for something that I can do at the supper table.  So Peterson concludes that since everything we do is to have worship at its center, then gathering for corporate worship must have a purpose other than just...worship.  Peterson finds that the purpose for this gathering is, as already stated, unity and edification of the believers in a local church.

Carson seems to think that this understanding, while interesting, is a bit too simplistic, and maybe a little too informed by some material from the gospels, considering how worship took place in the temple and the synagogues.  I'm not sure what I think about it yet.  My first impression is that I like it.  After all, there are undeniable reasons for corporate worship other than "just" worship, and unity and edification are certainly ones that we see in scripture.  But I also think that to say that there is nothing gained by gathering together to worship with others for the sake of worship is, as Carson would say, understating the purpose of such a gathering, both biblically and practically.

I have since purchased Peterson's book and look forward to reading it over the next week or so during our trip to Florida (more on that in the days to come).

No comments: