Private and public worship are not the same. There is a difference between the regular, ordinary times of worship for a gathered group of Christians organized as a church and the irregular times of worship personally, in our homes as families, and with other groups of Christians. The former is what we call public worship. The latter times fall under the category private worship. Both categories are essential parts of genuine Christian piety. Many American Christians these days overemphasize the private worship, almost to the point where they believe it more important to public worship. In some cases, private worship becomes so emphasized that public worship becomes unnecessary or even, in a certain sense, evil. It is not uncommon to find people today who believe that the heart of Christianity is worshiping by yourself, with just you and your heart and your God. Above and beyond that, it really doesn’t matter what you do. In fact (they allege), public worship tends toward hypocrisy and vain repetition, causing people to worship God only with their lips while their heart is far from him.
For many of the readers of the Religious Affections blog, perhaps this kind of reasoning seems preposterous. It is, but that does not prevent Christians from embracing it, despite the overwhelming testimony of Scripture.
In this series of posts, I have been arguing, to the contrary, not only that public worship is essential, but it is actually more important than private worship.1 This does not mean that private worship is unimportant or unhelpful to our growth in the grace of Christ. But I believe that public worship ought to get our emphasis, as there are a host of reasons why it is more important than private worship.
The sixth reason public worship is better than private worship is that it is more fitting for believers that our spiritual growth happens in a congregation than for it to happen individually. Put another way, the very fact that God created the church tells us that church is a very good thing, and something to be treasured. It is more fitting and beautiful for a host of Christians together to be growing together into greater conformity with the image of Christ, and this is exactly how God set it up. God instituted local churches for Christians’ spiritual benefit. God didn’t save you to sit alone edifying yourself. He had a better plan for our spiritual development, and so he instituted the regular gatherings of covenanted Christians to have a crucial role in the spiritual development of individual believers. Ephesians 4:7-16.
God has commanded us to worship him for at least two reasons. First and foremost, he is most worthy of worship. God does not need our worship as if there is some kind of deficiency in God. God is independent and free, and is by no means dependent upon us for his glory and self-satisfaction. But it is fitting for us, as a lowly dependent creatures who know of God and his works to declare the truth of that glory and our thanksgiving to God for all that he has done for and given to us. Just as it is fitting for us to praise things that delight us, it is fitting for us to declare the praise of God. The second reason God has commanded us to worship him, and more appropriate to the discussion here, is that worshiping God benefits our soul. The Triune God has appointed to worship, not only because he is due our worship, but because our worshiping the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit helps us grow spiritually. (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why we should take heed to worship God in the manner in which he instructs us. He knows better how those elements of worship will benefit us.)
The seventh reason public worship is better than private worship is 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. Sacred concerts can be very helpful. Conferences can be very encouraging. But if I go to some Christian concert somewhere else, I cannot be as confident that I share with those people the same beliefs about God, Jesus, the Spirit, the Bible, the church, and salvation (just to name a few). Even at a Christian camp, I could never be as sure. I love worshiping with those at my local church, because there I know many believe the same as I do, because so many have confessed their adherence to the statement of faith. There is a much sweeter union in Jesus Christ that I share with those at my local church than I share elsewhere. This too, points to the primacy of public worship, especially set against other irregular times of Christian gatherings.
- First, the New Testament emphasizes corporate worship. Second, the praise of the congregation is better. Third, public worship is better planned and organized. Fourth, the preaching in public worship is better suited to help you see deficiencies in your Christian life. Fifth, Christians sing more in public worship. [↩]