Think of all the ways you’ve seen churches worship. Not merely the style of worship, but the elements of worship that comprise a service: preaching, prayer, Scripture reading, drama, banner waving, ordinances, and everything else. Is God pleased with any and every form of worship we choose for our churches? Matt Merker takes on this question in his book Corporate Worship: How the Church Gather’s as God’s People from Crossway.
Merker’s thesis is that we must understand the local church if we want to understand corporate worship. The church is the body of Christ. We are united together as a family by God’s gracious gathering. And that church-as-family understanding is the strength of this book. Using helpful illustrations such as the Supreme Court, water pipes, and the Maid of the Mist this book encourages the reader to worship God’s way. Our corporate worship is supposed to exalt the Lord and edify one another.
Applying the regulative principle may require some changes. And Merker graciously asks his readers to consider deviating from the status quo to follow the regulative principle of worship. It might blow people’s minds to consider excising “special” music from regular worship services. There are other possibilities you may not have considered before. How about prioritizing the sound of the human voice over the accompanying instruments? Or doing away with the traditional baby dedication? Other excellent points I had never thought of include using songs to teach on all the main heading of systematic theology and the importance of hearing from God from His Word before we respond to Him in song. And there’s a short statement on our emotional state while singing worth quoting:
The point isn’t so much the intensity of the emotional experience we have from week to work—we can leave that up to God. The point is that we sing, we grow in knowing, trusting, and adoring the triune God who is worthy of our praise (139).
This is an excellent book and I thoroughly recommend it. When it comes to criticism, the glaring omission is the lack of emphasis on gravity. While this consideration is mentioned (62), Merker resorts to the claim that musical accompaniment that “disappoints almost everyone” is what we should strive for in our church (145). But, to take the metaphor of corporate as a family dinner further, should the family be disappointed with their meal? If our worship service is guided by Scripture, so should our preferences. If gravity and other considerations keep our worship music tamer than some would prefer, we should strive to teach them our basis for our decisions. If the decisions are biblical, there should be zero disappointment.
Corporate Worship came at the right time. Where I live in British Columbia, Canada we’re still waiting for churches to reopen. This book was an encouraging reminder of the joy of worship together with our church family we can look forward to. In the final analysis, this book is a needed reminder to trust God’s sovereignty and anticipate when we will worship God perfectly and corporately in eternity.
Special thanks to Crossway for providing me with a free digital review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts so far as I’m aware.