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Celebrating the “Corporate” in “Corporate Worship”

Too often in our churches today we fail to appreciate the importance of the corporate aspect of our worship. We are encouraged to “forget that anyone else is around”, to “tune everyone else out,” or to “pretend it’s just you and God.” Have we forgotten that the Scriptures envision our worship as involving “addressing one another in psalms hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19)? Additionally, often our worship is dominated by the work of the “professionals” while the congregation is relegated to “audience.” We forget that congregational singing was one of the key recoveries of the Reformation. Luther wrote hymns, Calvin versified Psalms while enlisting Marot and Beza to do the same for the purpose of teaching the people to sing the truths of the Bible. In fact when Geneva asked Calvin to return (after previously ejecting him) one of his stipulations upon returning was the instituting of congregational singing. I think we have often underestimated the importance of this aspect of our worship.

Much could be said here, but I want simply to recount one of many personal instances which have driven home to me the fact that I need to see/hear my brothers and sisters worshipping. Recently, I found myself wrestling with my unruly attention during a sermon. The sermon was good, but my attention and discipline was not. A brother came to mind who had had a death in his family that week. I had not seen him when church started so I resolved to contact him that afternoon to check on him. Later in the sermon, however, the preacher made a humorous comment and I heard behind me a laugh which I immediately recognized as the laugh of the brother I had intended to call. I was encouraged to know he was back in town and with us.

As the sermon closed and we moved to communion, we began to sing, “My Jesus, I Love Thee.” As we came to the third verse, we sang, “I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death.” My mind immediately went to my brother sitting behind me. He had just walked through the issue of death. The weight of the words pressed my heart with renewed force, as I thought of him and choked up. When we began the next verse with its affirmation of the hope of heaven, I stopped singing and leaned back to hear my brother. It was one thing for me to affirm these truths in my situation, but it meant much more to hear my brother who had just buried a dear relative express his confession of hope in heaven. I might have just floated through some more words if I was alone, but I was moved to tears hearing his voice singing:

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright.

Oh, how I need my brothers and sisters in worship. Their trust and confidence in uncertainty and loss bolsters me. Their passion and fervency stirs my dull heart. I need the community of faith, so I deeply appreciate a pattern of worship which allows me to hear from one another and not simply watch a stage.

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