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The Nature and Purpose of Corporate Worship: Believers, Not Unbelievers

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series

"Decent and Orderly Worship"

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

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul makes the specific argument that in corporate worship, the gift of prophecy is to be desired over the gift of tongues. But in the course of making that argument, Paul reveals core principles about the nature and purpose of corporate worship that apply for all churches to this day.

Last week we saw that one important implication of Paul’s argument is that corporate worship is corporate, not individual worship.

Second, corporate worship is for believers, not unbelievers. Notice in verse 22 where Paul says that tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers.

Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.

As we saw two weeks ago in Acts, God gave the sign of tongues in order to help first Jewish unbelievers, then Gentiles within Israel, and then Gentiles outside Israel recognize that anyone who believed in the name of the Lord would be saved. But the purpose of the corporate gatherings of the church is not primarily to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ; corporate worship is first and foremost a gathering of Christians, which is another reason Paul emphasized the superiority of prophecy—a gift of benefit for believers—over tongues in corporate worship.

This is not at all to downplay the importance of evangelism for the church. Indeed, part of what it means to fulfill the Great Commission is to preach the gospel to every living creature. But evangelism should happen primarily as we go out into the world; when we gather as the church, we are gathering as believers.

We should absolutely welcome unbelievers to our church, but we must always remember that a church service is not primarily for them; it is for believers. We really shouldn’t expect unbelievers to feel at home or comfortable in corporate worship; it’s natural for them to feel out of place. But we should always pray with Paul that if an unbeliever does come into our service,

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

This won’t happen by designing our service to attract unbelievers or make them feel comfortable. It only happens when church services are designed for believers to worship the Lord.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

2 Responses to The Nature and Purpose of Corporate Worship: Believers, Not Unbelievers

  1. Your last point about unbelievers being driven to repentance is so important. I think about this quite a bit as part of a church plant with a desire to bring in outsiders.

    I find it fascinating that it is in focusing on edifying believers that unbelievers are brought in. Makes me think of “aim for heaven, get the earth thrown in.” Also, “what you win them with is what you win them to.”

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