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Is corporate worship better than private worship? (Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series

"Public Worship and Private Worship"

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we began a short series looking at why public worship is better than private worship. Public worship is the gathered, corporate worship of the church. Private worship includes smaller, informal times of worship apart from the ordinary worship of the church, including (in my view at least) personal Bible study, personal prayer, and family worship. Both are necessary. But one is more important than the other.

Today I want to offer another more reason.1 The third reason that public worship is better than private worship is public worship is usually better prepared and organized.

Your local church’s worship services are usually much longer and better prepared for your edification than your private times of devotions and other instances of irregular Christian worship. For instance, you probably spend a longer time in worship at your church on the Lord’s Day than you do you in your time of private devotions.

Obviously, this point is not always true. There are some who have the leisure to devote a great amount of time to private worship. Even so, pastors that are careful and thoughtful about corporate worship have planned the hymns and responsive readings and other elements of the service, oftentimes working the elements together based on particular themes or that week’s sermon. The pastor has often taken time to think over his pastoral prayer, carefully considering those requests he will be leading the people to ask God in prayer. The exposition and application of God’s word has been carefully prepared.

Incidentally, I grew up in a church where this kind of planning was considered wrong and a usurpation of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This denomination argued that any sermon preparation violated Jesus’ words in Luke 12:11-12. Unfortunately, this practice is based on a misreading of Luke 12:11-12. Even so, some Christians today bristle at the thought that one would prepare an order of service or even a prayer. They believe that the Spirit can only work through spontaneity. (This might be where we get the similar notion that “mixing things up” in a worship service is more conducive to seeing the Spirit of God working the midst of the church.) It is true that the Spirit of God is free (Rom 9:18-24; James 4:13-17); God uses means, but there is no guarantee that the particular use of certain means will result in a gracious work of God. (Sometimes we preach and the Spirit of God uses the preached word in a person; sometimes we preach and the Spirit of God freely chooses not to work.) All the same, the freedom and sovereign lordship of God does not in any way demand that we should not plan and prepare our worship and services. We ought to be organized and well-ordered (1 Cor 14:40). I believe this brings glory to God. Sometimes we Americans have an unhealthy desire for things to be ecstatic and disorganized. But God never promised to bless disorganization. On the other hand, Christ Jesus himself (and his apostles) commands his church to do certain things in its public worship. We best plan ahead and include them. And I think it is worth trusting Christ that he will bless those things he told us to do in corporate worship.

Is longer always better? No. (Poor Eutychus! Acts 20:9.) But I would venture to say that we should have a delight in tarrying over the Word of God, of deliberately and thoughtfully taking our time in worshipping God. And public worship offers a sustained, focused, and lengthy time in exalting God. And this is a good thing.

All this is to say that corporate worship is better because it is usually longer and better prepared than private worship.

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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. 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 Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

  1. To review, the first reason is that the New Testament emphasizes corporate worship. The second reason is that the praise of the congregation is better. []