The purpose of corporate worship is not to induce personal euphoria.
If someone says to me, “I didn’t get anything out of worship this morning,” I need to say, “Good, it wasn’t for you anyway.” When someone says to me, “The worship wasn’t very good this morning,” they don’t mean that God wasn’t glorified, magnified, and the sole focus of our corporate attention. No one ever says to me, “I hope God got something out of worship this morning.” The general attitude is that God will be happy with whatever He gets and that our happiness is really His happiness.
How completely convoluted – even perverted – is it to think that worship is about me and what I get out of it, or how I feel God has blessed me in some intangible way?
There is no – I repeat, no – biblical evidence that corporate worship, either in the Old Testament or the New Testament, is about the worshiper or their net result from it. It isn’t about God doing anything thing. It is not about God showing anything. That doesn’t mean God never does or shows anything visible. He may choose to do so for His own glory.
There is lots of biblical evidence for personal communion with God. Within that, there is room to beg, plead and cajole. There is room to ask God to do things for you personally. There is opportunity to sing in unknown tongues. There is room to have all sort of euphoric feelings. For the record, there is also plenty of room for fixed prayers and lectionary-based Scripture reading that is just as personal in communion with God.
However, corporate worship is not personal quiet time with worship band accompaniment. If that floats someone’s boat, they need to put on a Hillsong CD, set up a Pandora channel, or schedule a house concert. It is not that there shouldn’t be personal experience and emotion during corporate worship. It’s just that these things are not corporate worship. Worship is never about what you get, it is about what you give.
As a worship pastor, musical director and leadership team front man, I have no problem with people experiencing great joy expressed with great exuberance on Sunday morning. I want people to express their love to God with all their strength. I like when they dance. And I certainly have no problem when people stretch their arms up to the sky, waving at Jesus up there on His throne or signaling a touchdown as they sing songs of adoration. These things are acts of worship, just like when I play my guitar to the best of my ability and try to use every fret to glorify Him.
We individually combine what we do and sing to constitute corporate worship. Sometimes, we corporately worship through the acts of a single individual or small group, in a musical solo or a dance performance. That’s nothing new. It’s the priestly function of the believer to offer up worship on behalf of, or representing others. It is still the Church in worship. Likewise, when we have one preacher expounding upon the Scriptures to the congregation, that is also a corporate act of worship.
When we participate in the Eucharist, we do not participate as individuals. We examine ourselves so that we are a worthy participant in and with the Body, by examining whether we are in true fellowship with the Body. When we take the Body, we identify as part of the Body. It’s why we drink from one cup. That’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10-11. The Eucharist is never an individual act. It is always by and on behalf of the Church. It is corporate worship.
The Church is not simply a group of individuals who have individual relationships with God. It is an organic whole. The Church has a relationship to God. When congregations meet together in worship, as a group they have a relationship to God.
Particularly in the Church in America, more particularly in part of the Church that identifies itself as charismatic, we need a shift in perspective – a shift in paradigm – away from “me and Jesus” to “we and Jesus”. The clearest evidence of this will be in the way we see and live worship.