There is a trend today in some evangelical Christian circles to deny that the New Testament has a category for gathered, public worship like the Old Testament did. The arguments vary. Some point to the lack of Old Testament liturgical language in reference to New Testament gathered worship, or to the application of Old Testament liturgical language to the whole of the Christian life (e.g., Romans 12:1-2). Others argue that one of the redemptive historical changes from old covenant to new, is the fulfillment of Old Testament corporate worship in Christian all-of-life-worship. Some argue that when the church gathers on Sunday, it does not gather to worship, but rather for fellowship, edification and discipleship.
But, as we have already pointed out in this little series, the twin concepts of gathered worship and worship-in-all-of-life are featured in both the Old and New Testaments. It simply will not do to say that the idea of public, gathered, congregational, corporate worship does not feature in the New Testament. A quick glance at, for instance, 1 Corinthians 10-14 will not only confirm that Paul has a category for congregational worship, but that he really, really cares about how we do it.
So, one thing our worship should look like is congregational or corporate or public. It is important that we worship corporately, for God has made us for his worship and for community with other worshipers. Worship is the one thing he “seeks” (John 4:23). Corporate worship is not evangelism, nor is it even mutually edifying fellowship. It is a family meeting with God, it is the covenant community engaging with God, gathering with his people to seek the face of God, to glorify and enjoy him, to hear his word, to revel in the glory of union and communion with him, to respond to his word, to render praise back to him, to give unto him the glory due his name.
The New Testament makes clear that the congregation of Christians, this family, this body, this community, is the place where God is especially present in this world. In the days of the Old Covenant, the place where God manifested his special presence was “the tabernacle” or “the temple” or “Jerusalem.” In the New Covenant, that special “place” is now “wherever the Lord’s house, that is, his people, is gathered.” Jesus stresses this to the Samaritan woman (John 4:21) and to his disciples in addressing congregational discipline (Matthew 18:20, surely a solemn component of the life of the gathered church). The place of new covenant worship is no longer inextricably tied to a geographical location and a physical structure but to a gathered people. This is why in the old Scottish tradition, as the people gathered to enter a church building, it would be said that “the Kirk goes in” rather than as we often say “we are going to church.” The new covenant locus or place of the special presence of God with the church militant is in this gathered body, wherever it might be—whether the catacombs, or a storefront or beautiful colonial church building. This makes corporate worship extremely important.