(Originally Posted to DesiringGod.org on 10/26/2014)
It’s Sunday morning. You finally made it through the one lane of traffic not quarantined by the orange cones that descended overnight like locusts. You carefully maneuver the parking labyrinth as your child kicks the back of your car seat. By the time your small tribe disembarks the fun bus, you consider the hike to the lobby and wonder if you should ration food for the journey. You temporarily sign over your parental rights to the twitchy-eyed nursery staff, and sneak a contraband coffee cup into the worship center. As you slide into to a back pew and let out a sigh, you think to yourself, Finally, I’m ready for some God-and-me time! Right?
Wrong. Well, incomplete to say the least.
Certainly, you are right to come expectant to encounter God in a special way on a Sunday morning. But there’s an important difference between a collective quiet-time and corporate worship.
The Joy of the Assembly
Jesus’s Bible was divided into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Writings make up the final section, and depict the joy and blessings of living in covenant relationship with Yahweh. Interestingly, the references to “the assembly” of God’s people escalate dramatically as we approach the end of the Hebrew canon. It’s as if the Hebrew Bible flares out in celebration over the assembly as one of the chief gifts of covenant life. The overwhelming majority (over half!) of these references are in the ruthlessly optimistic final book, the Chronicles.
Chronicles depicts David as one who assembles all Israel (1 Chronicles 11:1; 13:2, 8) to worship Yahweh together.
Then David said to all the assembly, “Bless the LORD your God.” And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and paid homage to the LORD and to the king.” (1 Chronicles 29:20)
It is a good and precious thing to commune with the Living God. But the Writings ring with the peal that it is even more joyful to share that experience together with your brothers and sisters.
The Wisdom of the Church
Chronicles launches the reader to anticipate one of the great realities of the New Testament — the creation of the Christian Church. The Messianic hope of the Chronicles makes us look for a new anointed king who will assemble together the people of God. We are not surprised, then, when a new Son of David makes this climactic pronouncement:
“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
After all, that word “church,” or ekklesia, is the same word that the Greek translation of the OT uses for the “assembly” of Israel. Jesus fulfills the Messianic profile found in Chronicles by assembling a New Covenant people. And this assembly cannot be stopped by all of Hell’s fury:
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10)
The assembly of the people of God was a marvelous thing, even a few times a year in Jerusalem during the Old Covenant. And now, in God’s wisdom and grace, he manifests his spiritual presence in unique and special ways in the Church (see Matthew 18:17, 20; 1 Corinthians 3:16), the regular assembly of New Covenant people across the world.
So when you make it to your pew on Sunday morning, you are encountering God. But in a remarkable way, you are doing so with others. Worshiping God shoulder-to-shoulder is one of the greatest joys of covenant relationship with God.
Honoring the Host
It might help to think of an analogy. If you host a dinner party and invite a few friends from different social circles, how disappointing would it be if your friends only chose to interact with you? One of the great joys of hosting is connecting people you love to one another.
When we treat corporate worship like it’s our private meeting with God, we not only dishonor our great Host, but we rob ourselves of the joy of sharing our mutual love for the King who has invited us to his banquet. Only we gather not from different social circles, but from every tribe, tongue, people, and family (Revelation 5:9). We honor the host when we say with that famous Assembler King, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).
Don’t neglect the great gift of the covenant. We worship Jesus together.
Ryan Shelton works as Ministry Assistant for Worship & Music at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Downtown while he is finishing his M.Div. at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He loves to help others see the glories of Jesus in the Bible. Sometimes that’s by teaching, other times by writing, and often through songs. Visit ryandavidshelton.com.