Personal Worship vs. Corporate Worship

worshipdefinitionWhy do I do this? “The Bible is like a telescope. If you look through it you can see worlds beyond, but if you look at it, you see only the telescope.”– Anon. I am learning to look through it.

I ran across two excellent pieces today concerning the “personal worship experience” and “corporate worship.” The first is an article from Christianity Today called “The End of Christianity as We Know It.” You can read the article here. The author, Mark Galli, discusses what has become known as the ‘worship experience’ and the similar effects a ‘worship experience’ produces compared to hallucinogenic drugs. It is a good article that exposes North American Christianity’s obsession with the worship experience. Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

“It’s a lot of work to fast and pray and worship and deny oneself—and even then, experiencing God is a hit or miss proposition! What’s the fuss if we can pop a mushroom and have a nearly guaranteed religious experience?”

“If religious experience is something that a drug can induce even more easily than spiritual ritual and disciplines, it may be time, for example, to rethink what many churches are trying to do on Sunday morning: create a memorable “worship experience.””

“We are shortchanging our people when we make worship mostly about experience or a pep rally to motivate people to good deeds. We practice religious neglect when we fail to witness to them the saving story of God in Christ and train them to be fellow witnesses of that story, so that they might share that story with a world that does not know its left hand from its right.”

Worshipping together is one of the salient features Christianity which it shares with its predecessor Judaism and is followed by its successor Islam. Most of the religions have individualized worship experience. Worshippers visit shrines on their own to pray to their deity and does not necessarily need the company of others. However, gathering together for worship in the church, synagogue or the mosque is important for the above religions besides the private time of worship. So the two terms: “Personal worship” which signifies the individual’s act of worship and “corporate worship” which is the worship which individuals offer in the company of other believers.

Some people are very keen on corporate worship but at the expense of the personal worship. They are regular at church services, praise and worship meetings etc but may not pour out their devotion and adoration to God when they are alone. These people find it difficult to meet God alone; they need the company of others. There are people on the other extreme who have a dislike to worship God in public, in the presence of others and they tend to be very private in their devotion and adoration of God. They are in the habit of shunning the gathering together of the saints in worship (Hebrews 10:25). They are very private persons and have a dislike for people.

However, both these extremes are certainly wrong. Personal time of worship and prayer is essential component of Christian spirituality. Jesus spent nights in praying alone. He taught that we should pray in secret (Mathew 6:6). He also went to the synagogues for corporate worship and the bible says it was his usual practice (Mark 10:1). This was the practice of the early church as well (Acts 2:42). They gathered together for fellowship, to receive apostles’ teaching, prayer and breaking bread together besides their personal times of worship of God.

Here are five things that should happen on Sunday morning when we gather for corporate worship:

1. We must teach what biblical worship is and isn’t. There are still many people that believe that “the music is the worship…”

2. Personal worship is indispensable. We must feed daily on God’s Word; we must immerse ourselves in His presence in prayer. There are no substitutes for personal time with the Father.

3. Personal worship is not a substitute for corporate worship. We are baptized into the Body of Christ and are members of His body. There is no biblical idea of a member of the body existing apart from the body.

4. Corporate worship must facilitate worship that centers itself around Jesus Christ as His Body. The focus of corporate worship is not a focus on personal experience.

5. We must begin to learn what it means to live and worship as the Body of Christ. Personal preference is willingly subjugated for the good of the whole body.

There is much more that could be said about these topics but for now I would encourage you to read both of these articles. I would love to see this discussion continue and take a higher priority throughout the church. Please feel free to start that discussion in the comments section!

Personal worship and corporate worship are the two wings on which Christians soar to the presence of God in adoration and praise. They are two aspects of one act called worship: the creatures adoring the majesty of the creator, the sinners pouring out his their profound love for their saviour. Personal worship leads the worshipper to corporate worship because the worshippers have reached a level of adoration which they cannot hold within themselves any longer and need to get it out of their chest! So they look to corporate worship as a place where they can share it with others and to receive from people who have something to share. In a similar manner, the corporate worship should be so rich an experience that the worshipper leaves the place of worship to continue the worship at a personal level until another time for worship arrives. Personal worship propels people from their prayer closet to the chapel and the chapel is so compelling that they return to their closet to continue the worship. They are mutually enriching experiences.

Photo(s)/Resource(s): Paulson Pulikottil, Mark Galli & Dr. Ed Steele
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