Before any question as to why Christians come together to worship could be answered, it is firstly appropriate and crucial to establish what is actually meant by “worship” in the Christian sense. Many have given their answers to this question over the years, and all relate to one distinctive focus: God. In simple terms, “worship” in the Christians sense is giving ones whole devotion, effort and love to God. But how exactly is this done? James F. White writes that, “Christian worship is bound directly to the events of salvation history” [pg 17]. In other words, salvation is key to understanding Christian worship. We worship the Father through Christ who saves us and who mediates for us. With the aid of the Holy Spirit who convicts us and sanctifies us, this gives praise, glory, honour and love to the Father which is summed up in the word “worship”. By quoting Philippians 2:9-11, Geoffrey Wainwright in his book, “Doxology” states that, “…even worship addressed to Christ must in the last resort be destined for God the Father” [pg. 60]. To build on this, Professor Paul W. Hoon maintains that “Christian worship is God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and man’s response” [pg 17]. To conclude, worship is loving God the Father through salvation in Christ (cf. John 4:21,23).
The prime reason we as Christians come to worship God is because we are called to be worshippers if we are in Christ. Indeed, we are commanded to worship God (cf. Exodus 23:25, Psalm 95:6, Romans 12:1) and Christ’s sacrifice enables us to worship, (cf. Rom. 5:1–2, John 14:6, Ephesians 2:13, 1 Pet. 3:18). The Holy Spirit has a part to play also, in that he aids us in worship (John 15:26). As we have already said, God is seeking worshippers (John 4:21-23) as we have been created to worship, and as Wainwright suggests, “The proper relationship between creature and Creator is, in Christian eyes, the relationship of worship” [pg.16]. It is written as the first of the Ten Commandments to “worship” God, and that we are to have “no other gods” apart from Him. To add to this, God himself shows us how to worship. There are many passages in scripture which give clear instruction on how to worship, yet for us as Christians in the twenty first century, we worship through Christ who can be seen to fulfil the laws on worship in the Old Testament.
All this leads to the establishment of the New Testament church, where Jesus proclaims, “wherever there are two or more gathered in my name, there am I also” (Matthew 18:20). When talking about the origins of corporate Christian worship in a church sense, Gordon S. Wakefield talks about some of the features found in scripture which suggest the presence of the Holy Spirit in church and the formation of the church as a whole, “There was singing – psalms from the Jewish Psalter, so germane to the New Testament understanding of Christ… in such passages as Philippians 2:5-11 and… ‘spiritual songs’” [pg.7]. Here we see that there is evidence of early Christians acting upon the teachings of Christ and joining together to worship God. Wakefield continues saying, “It brought the freedom of the Spirit…and made it possible for the humblest believer to express a real… joy in Christ” [pg.7]. Wakefield also mentions how the New Testament mentions use of liturgy, praying and mission which highlights the need for the Church and the presence of Christ in New Testament worship but also shows how and why Christians came together to worship. It is important to note that in the New Testament, “Preaching, proclamation, a telling of the Christian story, often leading to dialogue, is essential to the Christian mission in the New Testament…” [pg. 8].
The establishment of the Church as the starting point for corporate worship enables us to look at and consider why Christians come together to worship, even today. Therefore it would be reasonable to examine the ‘practicalities of corporate worship’ in as far as how these corporate activities help an individual to worship God in “spirit and truth”. Firstly it is important to establish that the reason why one would come to ‘church’ or any other activity where God’s people are gathered should be the fact that they want to worship and give praise to God. The gathering of Christians to praise this God is a celebration. This can be seen in 1 Chronicles 13:8 where David and Israel celebrated around the ark in praise and worship of God.
One major practise when Christians gather together to worship is singing. Why do we sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”? Susan J. White makes a valid point in that, “Over the centuries, hymns have been vehicles for our praying, for praising God, for expressing our thanksgiving, our lament, and our holy joy as Christians” [pg.48]. Through singing, Christians are able to come together to worship. Calvin said on the subject of singing that, “We should have songs that are not only upright but holy, that will spur us to pray to God and praise Him, to meditate on His works so as to love Him, to fear Him, to honour Him, and glorify Him.” [Calvin’s preface to the Genevan Psalter]. As a collective group, a body, Christians are able to make truth known. This is why Psalms were put to music. Music aids us in remembering God’s Word. Another reason why Christians come together to worship through singing is because it unites us in prayer and as a people. This is confirmed in Groundwork of Christian Worship, “The church’s prayers of thanks and praise to God affirm that we are rooted in the memory of God’s saving activity in history and stand in anticipation of the fulfilment of that activity in the present and future” [pg.45]. Through singing, we are directed to focusing on God and affirming our faith which rallies us to act and serve for him. In her book, Susan White states “The ‘Call to Worship’ is a particular form of exhortation… [which] is a statement of God’s presence with us, to which we reply with an affirmation of our readiness to worship God in Christ” [pg.45].
The other means by which Christians come together to worship is through Communion. Scripture says that Christians are “the body of Christ”, meaning that we are all united because of Him. We are, as Christians, practising New Covenant Worship. An act of this worship is through the Eucharist/Communion. Many services involve the use of liturgy to express truth, to affirm faith, and to establish doctrine which leads people into the presence of God as one body of believers. Liturgy is hinted at in the Bible, one reference being 1 Timothy 3:16. After confessions are made and affirmations are said, the breaking of the bread and the distributing of the wine not only reflects Christ’s sacrifice for us, but also reflects the community nature of the Church; a group of Christians coming to worship God through eating a meal together. Indeed, we have only touched on a few main reasons as to why Christians come together to worship. These aforementioned can be regarded as the “right reasons” to come to worship. However, there are other reasons why people come to worship which aren’t too concerned about encountering God.
Many come together to ‘worship’ for many other reasons besides the ones mentioned previously. As a proverb goes, “Some go to church to see and be seen, Some go there to say they have been, Some go there to sleep and nod, But few go there to worship God.” Some people come together to worship for personal benefit. This could mean that they come to feel better or to make friends. Others come to worship because they see the Church as a social club in a sense. Many come together to worship because they feel under obligation to do so, which is quite often the case for teenagers and young children. Coming together for the music element in worship is also another factor as to why people gather for worship, as is the preaching of God’s word. Lastly, many come for solitude; for quiet and times for reflection. Whilst none of these reasons are necessarily “wrong”, they are not the real reasons why Christians come together to worship. They are merely a part of worship or a by product of it. The Bible declares, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” [Psalm 96:8]. This is to be the main reason we come to worship.
To conclude, worship is pleasing to God, provided we are worshipping in spirit and truth. It is helpful to come together to worship, as those Christians who gather are Gods manifest Church, his kingdom on earth, praising and worshipping him. As we worship in Christ, this act of worship focuses us on God, teaches us, and then sends us out to make disciples. Christians come together to worship because God commands it, God expects it, and we need it. Worship is all about God, it is not about anything else, and as C.S Lewis once said, “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.”
CALVIN, Jean. Preface to the Genevan Psalter. http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/XXXVII/4/566.pdf
WAINWRIGHT, Geoffrey. Doxology. Oxford University Press, New York 1984.
WAKEFIELD, Gordon S. An Outline of Christian Worship. T&T Clark, Edinburgh 1998.
WHITE, James F. Introduction to Christian Worship. Abingdon, Nashville 1981.
WHITE, Susan J. Groundwork of Christian Worship. Epworth Pres 1997.