Worship in the Assembly
While the book of Acts gives examples of early churches gathering for worship—Scripture reading, preaching, prayer, and the Lord’s Table—the rest of the New Testament further emphasizes this central purpose for church meetings. In particular, several ways in which the New Testament authors describe the church and what it does when it gathers clearly identify the church as a place for worship.
First, the New Testament explicitly defines the gathered church as God’s temple. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul vividly describes the nature of the church as a building God is constructing, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:20–22). Likewise, Paul says to the Corinthian church, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16), and “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). These metaphors of the gathered church (the pronouns are plural in each of these texts) being built into a temple for God is not coincidental; the gathered NT church is the dwelling place for the Spirit of God in this age in the same way that the temple was God’s dwelling place in the OT economy. Communion with God takes place in this temple, built by the Spirit of God and indwelt by him.
Second, Paul tells Timothy that he wrote his letter so that he “may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim 3:15). Likewise, he tells Christians that they are “members of the household of God,” and Hebrews 10:21 describes Jesus as “a great high priest over the house of God,” specifically in the context of the church meeting together (v. 25). The phrase “house of God” was a technical term used at the time to describe the sanctuary of God’s presence (Matt 12:4, Mark 2:26, Luke 6:4). In the Old Testament, Jacob had referred to the place where he met with God as “Bethel”—“house of God,” and several places refer to the tabernacle as the “house of God” (Judges 18:30, 1 Chron 9:25–27) as well as the temple (2 Chronicles 3:3, Ezra 1:4, Neh 6:10, Ps 42:4, Eccl 5:1, Dan 1:2). Thus, as the temple was the house of God and the place of corporate worship in the Old Testament, so the assembled church is the place of worship today.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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.