One of the most intriguing issues concerning the depth and scope of Chrisian practice is individual and corporate worship. In discussing such matters, writer Donald S. Whitney states that “believers are expected to participate in corporate worship…” (92). To legitimate this claim, Whitney cites Hebrews 10:25, a scripture encouraging believers to continue meeting together. After his reference to this scripture, Whitney goes on to state that “the first exercise of the Discipline of worship is to develop the habit of faithfully assembling with other believers in meetings where the primary purpose is to worship God” (92). Although this is a defendable position, Whitney uses a questionable biblical proof for his argument-Hebrews 10:25. While Whitney could certainly defend his position that this scripture references the importance of believers gathering together for the purpose of collective worship, he doesn’t cite a passage clearly indicating that corporate worship (rather than its implicit opposite, private worship) should be the first aspect of the worshipping discipline that an individual cultivates.
Individuals familiar with Hebrews 10:25 know that the passage is rich in significance because it discusses the importance of saints assembling together. In his own discourse on the need for this type of corporate unity, Whitney does an excellent job of discussing its importance upon articulating its intended meaning. In short, Whitney states that the reference to collective meeting in the passage means “to worship God in the physical presence of other believers” (92). While this is a valid interpretation, Whitney doesn’t cite any scriptures indicating that this type of collective worship should take precedence over other forms, such as private worship. One might argue against Whitney’s summation by stating that individual worship is a discipline that should precede collective worship, given that a demonstration of authentic reverence for God in the corporate setting must be preceded by genuine and intimate adoration of Him in private and as a distinct individual. While Jesus does not use the word “worship” to describe this process of reverencing God in Matthew 22:37-38, it is here that he identifies loving the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and mind as the greatest commandment. In essence, it seems that the act of loving God is similar (and perhaps even synonymous) to the concept of worship that we associate with selfless devotion to and reverence for a Being higher than ourselves. If one interprets Matthew 22:37-38 thus, it seems that an individual’s personal state of consciousness towards God and the reverence resulting from it must proceed how she or he honors and adores Him as a member of an assembled body.
In Boa’s discussion of worship, he makes mention of adoring God in both individual and corporate settings but does not seem to deem either one a more significant discipline than the other. For example, after defining worship in Conformed To His Image, Boa notes that “For the individual, worship often involves devotional reflection on the person and work of Jesus Christ as our mediator to the Father” (86). In discussing the corporate worship setting, he describes it as a sphere where “believers are united in heart and mind to honor and extol the infinite and personal God” (86). Yet this discourse and accompanying definitions do not incorporate any categorizations indicating that individual or collective worship is more important than the other.
One thing that should be taken into consideration when considering the individual and collective significance of worship is that the two can be conflated. Charles C. Ryrie makes mention of this fact upon noting that “The worship of the church…consists of individual, corporate, public, and private service for the Lord, which is generated by a reverence for and submission to Him who is totally worthy” (496, emphasis mine.) Upon consideration of Ryrie’s conflation, Whitney’s argument could seem somewhat feasible if his concept of corporate worship includes the idea that the individual believer is continually reverencing God when the church is not assembled. Yet Whitney does not make these distinctions, claims. Thus while I understand the significance of corporate worship and believe Donald Whitney accurately interprets Hebrews 10:25 as a call for believers to participate in corporate worship, I don’t think he has provided adequate scriptural support to legitimate his claim that this type of corporate worship can or should be the first discipline one practices when cultivating the ability and desire to reverence God. Rather, I think individual worship-an act predicated on one person having a long-standing and legitimate form of interaction with God marked by intimacy and reverence-should be the precursor to sincere worship in the presence of others. Thus while Whitney’s arguments on the subject are compelling, they have not convinced me.
Boa, Kenneth. Conformed to His Image. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001. Print.
Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1999. Print.
Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991. Print.
Jocelyn Crawley is a 28-year-old college student currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree in preparation to become a pastor. She holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies.