So that the presence of God, which, enjoyed in private, is but a stream, in public becomes a river, a river that makes glad the city of God. – David Clarkson
The successor to John Owen, David Clarkson, preached a sermon, Public Worship to be Preferred Before Private. In it, he gave twelve reasons why worship in the gathered assembly of God’s people was superior to the private devotions of the individual Christian.
1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private.
2. There is more of the Lord’s presence in public worship than in private.
3. God manifests himself more clearly in public worship than in private.
4. There is more spiritual advantage in the use of public worship.
5. Public worship is more edifying than private.
6. Public worship is a better security against apostasy than private.
7. The Lord works his greatest works in public worship.
8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven.
9. The most renowned servants of God have preferred public worship before private.
10. Public worship is the best means for procuring the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments.
11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship.
12. The promises of God are given more to public worship than to private.
Such an opinion is rare in today’s individualistic, anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment thinking. The average Christian has taken in heaps of the thinking of post-modernity, where anything formalized and structured is inauthentic, stultifying, and a masked (or open) attempt by some to control others. Common sentiments include, “I’m spiritual, not religious”, “I don’t find church beneficial to my personal walk with God” or “I find I need to express my relationship with God in settings bigger than one church.”
On the other end of the scale we have Christians trained to think like consumers, and to see the church as a religious service-provider, or an enhancement to their personal quest for religious fulfilment. To the degree that a church meets the Christian’s needs, and conveniently slots into his busy life, it is judged to be a good church. Should it fail to do so, any prior mutual commitments can be cancelled, and the relationship terminated as swiftly as one would with any other company or service-provider.
How far removed this is from the view of Scripture, where loving God is never considered as a solely private experience. How strange is this self-centred approach to worship when read in light of verses such as these:
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 5:20-21)
No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)
We were not made to worship God in isolation. At the completion of the perfect creation, the only thing that God regarded to be ‘not good’ was that idea man should be alone. Companionship and community are part of our design, and no one will come close to the Great Commandment who dismisses the importance of worshipping God as one member of a larger Body.
God does not save us in groups; he saves us individually. Nevertheless, when he does so, he saves us to be part of a group, to be part of a community that will take us to greater heights of knowing and loving God than we could ever achieve on our own. God joins us to the church.