Why should Christians go to Sunday worship services?
Notice the way the question is phrased. The question is not, “why should Christians participate in Sunday services?” Instead, the question is, “why should Christians go to worship services?”
Even just 5 years ago, those two questions were interchangeable to most people. But since 2020, when the entire world faced a global pandemic, most churches have offered virtual streaming of their worship services for people unable to attend in-person. Now, post-pandemic, fewer Christians are attending worship services in-person.
The advent of virtual worship services forces us to ask the question, “why should Christians physically attend Sunday worship services?” And to answer that question, we first have to ask, “Why do we have Sunday worship services in the first place?”
This is the first of a three-part series titled, Corporate Worship in Action, with each blog post focusing on one of those three key words. In this first blog, I want to explore the meaning of the word worship, particularly as it relates to Sunday worship services.
Defining Biblical Worship
The biblical word worship can be challenging to define. Oftentimes, American Christians restrict the meaning of worship to just singing or the music portion of the Sunday service. In Scripture, however, worship encompasses far more than just singing.
Let’s look at 1 Chronicles 16 as a starting point to understand biblical worship. After God established David and blessed him greatly as the king of Israel, David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and holds a celebration of God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel. David commands that a song of thanksgiving be sung to the Lord, and 1 Chronicles 16 records that song. Part of the song exhorts God’s people in this way,
“Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him;
Worship the Lord in holy array.” (1 Chr 16:28–29)
(or as the ESV translates the last phrase, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.”)
Here are a few observations we can make from 1 Chronicles 16 that help us understand biblical worship.
First, biblical worship always is a response to God.
David’s song of thanksgiving exhorted the Israelites to praise God because of his revealed character and his saving deeds. The song repeatedly refers to God’s holy name, his promises, his deeds, and his covenant. God initiates by revealing himself to his people, and his people respond in worship. Unlike pagan religions, where people initiate worship to manipulate an idol to do something for them, the people of the living God respond with worship to what their God already is and has done.
Second, biblical worship includes actions as well as words and songs.
The Israelites communicated God’s worthiness by verbally ascribing glory and strength to God, but they also communicated God’s worthiness by bringing sacrifices and offerings to him. This passage shows that the essence of biblical worship is more than singing, even though music is a powerful tool. Instead, the essence of biblical worship is communicating the greatness of the King through both words and actions. Psalm 95:6 further develops this point: “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” The action of bowing down communicated the worthiness of the King.
Third, biblical worship includes both individual and corporate aspects.
Verses 28–29 commands worship that involves individuals bringing offerings and ascribing worth to God, but that activity happens in the context of the families of the peoples coming together for the purpose of worship. Psalm 22 further demonstrates this observation about biblical worship. In Psalm 22, David cries out to the Lord to deliver him from the distress and affliction he was experiencing. David turns in verse 22 to his confidence in God’s deliverance and the praise he will offer God in response. Because David is confident God will be faithful to provide salvation, he writes, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You” (v. 22). Later he says, “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him” (v. 25). David worships God individually as a result of the salvation he experienced in his own life, and that worship culminates with a great congregation of the people of God all worshipping him together.
The New Testament further demonstrates this paradigm. In Romans 12:1–2, Paul calls believers to respond to the glorious gospel of redemption he explained in chapters 1-11 by offering their bodies as living sacrifices of worship to God. Again, we see the importance of always starting with God’s revelation of himself and allowing worship to flow as a response. Biblical worship never begins with the initiative of man; biblical worship is always a response to God’s initiative. Paul also teaches in Romans 12 that biblical worship encompasses more than just singing. In fact, he teaches that our entire life should worship God. The believer’s every action, word, and thought should scream to the world that God is worthy of honor and glory. Lastly, biblical worship in the New Testament involves both corporate and individual aspects. The very next section of Romans 12 explains the importance of understanding the believer as an individual member of the body of Christ, showing that the believer’s response to the gospel must involve an awareness of both individual and corporate realities of union with Christ.
With all this data, let me suggest a definition of biblical worship: Biblical worship refers to the whole-person response of the people of God towards their holy Redeemer that demonstrates he is worthy of honor and glory.
Read that sentence one more time. God’s people respond both individually and corporately to their holy, loving God by using every aspect of their persons to proclaim to the world God’s worthiness and glory. Our singing should shout of God’s holiness, our actions should showcase God’s transforming grace, and our words should demonstrate God’s glorious compassion and love.
Applying Biblical Worship
Coming back to our opening question, why is participating in Sunday morning worship so important? We’ll answer that question more fully in the next blog, but first, I want you to consider how biblical worship should impact your own heart on a day-to-day basis. The first step of understanding corporate worship on Sunday mornings is recognizing that the essence of biblical worship involves you responding to God’s gracious work in your life. Biblical worship should be the goal of everything you do on every day of the week, not just on Sunday mornings. Then, when the saints gather on Sunday mornings, each heart that worshiped God throughout the week individually overflows to produce joyful corporate worship that pleases God.
How often do you filter your life through the lens of biblical worship? What do your actions, words, and thoughts on Monday-Saturday communicate about who or what is worthy of glory? Our words and actions always communicate that something or someone is worthy of our love and attention, whether that be possessions, the praise of man, physical idols, or the living and true God. There are no neutral actions: either we are worshiping God, or we are worshiping something else. Far too often we fail to let God’s character shape our actions and responses, and in that void, our sinful flesh steps in and produces responses that worship something other than God.
When you consider your own walk with the Lord, is it characterized by a desire to learn more of God’s character and deeds so that you can respond with worship in all areas of your life? Or is it characterized more by a desire to initiate deeds to impress God and somehow earn his favor? The worship of gospel-fueled obedience is life-giving and produces believers who love to participate in corporate worship on Sundays. Man-centered legalism and self-righteousness produces people who attend Sunday worship services in order to compare themselves with others and worship their own goodness, not to worship God.
May we all grow in beholding God’s glory and demonstrating whole-person worship out of joyful obedience to him, leading to growth in both our individual and corporate worship of God.
. See studies by both Barna (https://www.barna.com/research/church-attendance-2022/) and Pew Research Center (https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2023/03/28/how-the-pandemic-has-affected-attendance-at-u-s-religious-services/)