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Is corporate worship better than private worship? (Part 5)

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series

"Public Worship and Private Worship"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

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We have looking at different reasons why the regular meeting for worship with one’s church is better than private meetings of worship, including times of personal devotion and family worship. Both, we have consistently stressed, are essential for vital piety in the life of a believer. But one is more important than another. And as much as we want to stress times of personal Bible study and prayer, and as important family worship is in the life of a Christian family, public worship is even more so. We believe this is worth stressing since so much of Christianity diminishes corporate worship for the sake of one’s personal time of “devotion.”1

The eighth reason and final reason public worship is better than private worship is that public worship provides the best context for mutual edification and discipline. When we neglect our local church’s worship services, we are not able to encourage and edify believers with whom he has a mutually agreed fellowship, covenant, and confession.

Is edification foreign to true worship? After all, isn’t worship directed to God? If worship is directed to God, how can it serve to edify us? Some Bible teachers try to insert a sort of Rubicon between worship and edification, but such a antithesis is not necessary. To be clear, worship of God is most fitting because our great God is worthy of worship. He does not need our worship, but he demands our worship and he, in himself, is worth of it. Therefore it is the duty of man to worship, but those who know Jesus Christ find it a delight to worship the Triune God. And it is not only the delight (and duty) of man to worship, but it is imperative and fitting that we worship this God as he has directed us to worship him (and, again, it is our delight to take such directives). But our Triune God in his good and gracious providence has directed us to worship him in such a way that his great and holy name is not only exalted but, as a sublime accompanying benefit, that benefit those participating in that very worship that exults in the magnificent works of our God. This is truly a sublime thing, that God has so blessed the worship he requires that those who truly worship have unimaginable blessings returned to them.

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The main point here is that it is in the setting of a local church (and all that it means) that we best receive the edification that our corporate worship produces. The covenant context of a local church is not enjoyed in a family or even a non-church Bible study context. I can encourage a Christian who attends another church, but the best kind of encouragement comes from those with whom I’ve covenanted together, those I know I will see week in and week out. Part of our worship together is encouraging one another on an individual level to turn from sin and to believe God’s promises. This happens best in the context of a local church and its weekly meetings. Without a local church, you only have a shell of this benefit. And this mutual edification ministry happens best among those who worship together.

And there is a sense in which the church discipline process is a part of our worship of God. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes,

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5 ESV)

The context of discipline ought to be “when you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Among William B. Johnson’s “ordinances” for churches, he lists first church discipline.2 Again, this can only happen in a local church setting. As good as private worship is, it simply cannot do all that a local church can in fulfilling all of what our Lord tells us to do in the context of corporate worship. Private worship can never be substituted for the worship of a local church.

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Again let me add to this. Each one of us should be spending time in private worship. We should be people marked by private Bible study. We ought to be people who pray individually to our God. We ought to sing to God outside the public gathering for worship. And I further believe that individual families ought to worship regularly together  Benjamin Keach, after giving several reasons why God prefers public worship, quickly adds, “O neglect not Prayer, Reading, and Meditation! And take care also to Educate and Catechise your Children; and live as Men and Women that are dead to this World; and walk for the Lord’s Sake as becomes the Gospel.3

In other words, don’t emphasize church to such an extent that you neglect other acts of personal godliness. Acts of private worship such as prayer and meditation on Scripture are important disciplines in the Christian life. I in no way want to disparage those acts of Christian devotion. Yet, I hope you can see that your church’s gatherings are much better for you spiritually than even these more private times of worship, and that for a whole host of reasons.

 

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Ryan Martin

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too.

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Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).



Endnotes:

  1. The reasons to this point have been: (1) the New Testament emphasizes corporate worship;  (2) the praise of the congregation is better; (3) public worship is better planned and organized; (4) the preaching in public worship is better suited to help you see deficiencies in your Christian life; (5) Christians sing more in public worship; (6) public worship is more fitting for believers that our spiritual growth happens in a congregation than for it to happen individually; and (7) the worship of your local church supersedes that of other gatherings, even of Christians, in that there you can have more confidence that those present resonate with you in your confession and doctrinal beliefs. []
  2. William B. Johnson, The Gospel Developed in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life (United States of America: Nine Marks Ministries, 2001), 204. Johnson says, “I use the term ordinances, paradoseis, in the sense that I understand the apostle to use it in 1 Cor. 6:2, as meaning exercises of divine worship, enjoined upon the disciplines in their stated meetings.” Idem, 204. Compare John Gill, Body of Divinity (1839; repr., Atlanta, Ga.: Turner Lassetter, 1965), 896-972. []
  3. Glory, in Polity, 89 []

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