From the pen of Noel Due:
3. Worship in public assembly
While we need to recognise at the outset that ‘there is no single passage in the New Testament that establishes a paradigm for corporate worship’, we must also recognise that this ‘lack’ is deeply providential. Had the Lord given a set pattern for the gatherings of the new covenant people of God we would be worshiping them, rather than him, to this day! The comments that follow, therefore, reflect the matters that must be given continual priority amongst Christian worshipers in the light of what we have seen biblically, but should not be taken as paradigmatic for any one occasion of worship.
Worship must be Trinitarian in order to be fully Christian. This means at least two things. Firstly, the forms of our public worship must give due weight to each of the members of the Triune God, while recognising that the Son himself has come to lead us to the Father. The liturgy and hymnody that we adopt must reflect the nature of God’s Triune being in a way that is fully orbed and deliberate.
Secondly, we must bear in mind our earlier comments: worship is not just rendered to the Triune God but in the Triune God. This point means that Trinitarian worship must take into account the horizontal relationships amongst believers, as much as the vertical relationships between the congregation and God. As we have seen earlier, worship shapes individual and community character. In specific terms, it must be relational rather than institutional. For example—and here the trivial makes the point—we almost inevitably hear the person leading worship welcome people into the house of God. This is emphatically not the case! At best, the worship leader may welcome the house of God into the building in which they are meeting! Any language that suggests that the life of the people of God is known in its institutional and physical structures must be rejected. Through the events that take place in the public worship of God—such as the singing of God’s praise; the reading and expounding of his Word; the prayers of intercession and adoration; the administration of the Lord’s Supper; and all the other legitimate activities of public worship—the glorifying of God’s name is at stake. His name is glorified most fully when the relationships within the congregation are congruent with those of the Triune God we worship.
One thing that follows from this is that the leading of worship in the public assembly must be seen as a facet of the pastoral care of the congregation. Its spiritual health is both measured by and also expressed in its worship. For this reason the whole idea of a ‘worship leader’ who is a non-elder of the congregation (or at least directly accountable to the eldership) must be held up to question. Through the public assembly of God’s people for worship, his name is glorified and his people edified, for their blessing and joy. The task of leading worship, then, is far greater than simply leading praise. It is, given the fullest sense of the word ‘worship’, a leading into the relational unity and cruciform life that brings glory to God.
In many situations today we have an understanding of ‘worship leading’ that accentuates the affective side of human experience. Through mood, music, and lighting (for example), the affections of a congregation may be stirred, sometimes to seeming depth. This leads to a further diminution of meaning, so that it is not uncommon (at least amongst evangelical Christians) to hear comments like ‘The worship was really moving this morning’. The problem is exacerbated by the new epistemology of popular culture, where the affections are the criteria for decision making: ‘I feel, therefore I am’ is enacted by ‘This feels right for me, so …’. In Christian circles this too readily becomes ‘It feels good so it must be (of, from, in) God’.
Such statements should not be read to imply a belittling of the affective side of Christian experience. Rather, the opposite is the case: the affections are too important to be played (and preyed) upon in the public worship of God’s people. Where they are moved they must be moved by the impact of the truth on the mind and conscience. Any attempt to bypass these is both wrong and dangerous.
In view of these comments, it is inescapable that the content of public worship is of immense importance. Writing in a different context, P. T. Forsyth said, ‘The preacher is not there to astonish people with the unheard of, he is there to revive them in what they have long heard.’ What is so for preaching—which is in itself an act of worship which is foundational to any public assembly for worship—is also true for the context in which preaching takes place. Every element of the public worship of the people of God must communicate the true content of the faith, which finds its focus on the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. This emphasis excludes from true Christian worship any pluralistic and syncretistic trends, which we have seen tend to make their inroads into the people of God continually. Whether it be the worship of Baal in the Old Testament or the gnostic-like sects of the New, the drift has always been to blend the worship of God with other lines of devotion. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ and his claims will not allow this. True Christian worship is at one and the same time a rejection of all other means of access to God.
Thus, we must not allow in Christian worship any indication that access to God is mediated by any human agency. ‘There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5), a fact that excludes any form of human priest-craft. By priest-craft, I mean any attitude or action that indicates that one person has access to God in a special way that others to not, or knowledge of his will that others may not share, or the means to mediate blessing that others may not have. The people of the new covenant are themselves a kingdom of priests to God, who have direct access to the Father in the Son by the indwelling power of the Spirit. No office of the church must be allowed to stand between the believer and his relationship with God, but rather every office of the church must encourage it.
*Due, N. (2005). Created for Worship (234–236). Scotland: Mentor.