One of my favorite books is David Peterson’s Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship. This book was very influential in my decision to continue my eduction toward a PhD. Peterson was able to present a biblical theology on a topic (my own area of interest) in a manner that is both scholarly and accessible. Also, this book intersects my own interests because Peterson includes a chapter called “Serving God in the Assembly of His People.” One section of this chapter even deals with edification, the topic of my dissertation.
Peterson calls the conclusion of that section “Concluding remarks on edification.” You could say that Peterson’s concluding remarks are the jumping off point for my own studies. When I read through this section again as I was working on my prospectus, I decided that I would share these few paragraphs with my reader. I hope this except is an encouragement to those who already agree that edification is the purpose of the church assembly, and a challenge to those who disagree:
The apostle regularly, but not exclusively, employs the terminology of edification to oppose individualism, either in the ethical sphere or in the sphere of congregational ministry. Edification is first and foremost the work of Christ, ‘fashioning the whole life of the Church in its members in faith, hope and love’. (G. Delling, Worship in the New Testament, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1962, 40) As Christians utilize Christ’s gifts, made available through the Spirit, they participate in this divine activity and further God’s purpose for his people collectively. Although the edification of the church is a principle that should govern the thinking and behaviour of Christians in all circumstances, Paul normally employs this notion with reference to the activities of Christian assembly. When Christians gather together to minister to one another the truth of God in love, the church is manifested, maintained and advanced in God’s way.
The apostle’s teaching calls into question the validity and helpfulness of much contemporary thinking and practice in relation to church services. Mention has been made of the inappropriateness of designing out gatherings primarily to facilitate private communion withÂ God. This can happen in Catholic, evangelical and charismatic traditions alike. Paul would urge us to meet in dependency on one another as the vehicles of God’s grace and to view the well-being and strengthening of the whole church as the primary aim of the gathering. There ought to be a real engagement with other believers in the context of mutual ministry, shared prayer and praise, not simply a friendly chat over a cup of coffee after church!
Again, 1 Corinthians 14 challenges the tendency of many Christian traditions to undervalue spontaneity and variety of input in the congregational gathering. Paul expected that members of the congregation would come with some contribution prepared for the occasion or that individuals might be prompted by the Spirit to offer prayer or praise or some other ministry on the spot. Ephesians 4 certainly indicates the importance of pastor-teachers in the equipment of God’s people for their work of building up the body of Christ, and the pastoral epistles highlight the teaching role of those identified as leaders in the congregation. However, as noted previously, there should be some public opportunity for spontaneous and informal ministries as well as for the ordered and prepared.
It is sometimes said that the size of our gatherings or the physical context makes it impossible to put such New Testament teaching into practice. People who argue this way show little imagination or willingness to reassess their traditions, even though others in the contemporary scene have found helpful solutions to these problems. It may be a matter of finding appropriate spots in the regular pattern of Sunday services where contributions can be made. It may be a matter of rearranging the furniture or encouraging people to gather together differently so that those who contribute can be more easily seen and heard.
Of course, it is equally possible to lose the vertical dimension and consider congregational meetings as little more than an occasion for human fellowship. The balance of Paul’s teaching suggests that we view mutual ministry as the context in which to engage with God. Edification and worship are different sides of the same coin. (pg 213-215)
To continue Peterson’s last paragraph (in my own words, not his), we worship God in our church gatherings when we mutually build up one another toward maturity in Christ. And what if we are not involved in mutual edification when the church assembles? What if we are not given that opportunity or if we do not take advantage of the opportunities that we are given? Are we worshiping?