Monday, November 30, 2009

There's No "I" in Worship

I made a statement in my morning sermon yesterday that struck some people as unsettling, but I plan to stick by it unless I can be shown to be wrong:

Worship, according to the New Testament, is an almost exclusively corporate, rather than individual, phenomenon.

Take for example what is arguably the locus classicus on the topic of worship: Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4 (in which the word “worship” is used no less than ten times). If we try to substitute the contemporary understanding of worship for what our Lord and the woman are talking about, the dialogue makes little sense. Worship, in the parlance of our times, usually refers either to singing songs specifically, or more generally to whatever goosebumpy, “Hallmark Moments” our private devotions happen to yield. But what Jew or Samaritan in antiquity, if they were in their right minds, would have argued that one’s personal quiet times needed to take place on a mountaintop either in Jerusalem or Samaria? The very fact that the initial argument between Jesus and the Samaritan woman focused on the where of worship demonstrates that it was not private devotions that were being discussed since, as everyone knows, those can take place anywhere.

Even the well-known passage Romans 12:1, in which Paul speaks of “our spiritual worship” cannot be taken to denote individual private worship. The apostle urges the Romans to offer their bodies (plural) as a living sacrifice (singular), and he then launches into a discussion of the one body and its many members, thus indicating that the Romans’ spiritual worship was that which they offered in covenantal assembly.

And then when we add all the “let us draw near” passages of Hebrews, we arrive at a picture of worship that is corporate, collective, and covenantal.

This is not deny the Reformed categories of individual, family, and corporate worship. But in our day and age, characterized as it is by the atomization of society, it is the corporate nature of worship that needs to be drilled into the heads and hearts of God’s people.

That’s all I’m saying….