I wrote the post “Worship and the Gathering of the Church” almost 3 1/2 years ago. I had just begun to study the church assembly from Scripture and was beginning to understand that the purpose that we gather together is to edify one another. I would probably say a few things differently in this post if I wrote it today, but for the most part it still represents my view. In fact, my dissertation is an expansion of this idea.
Many Bible-believing Christians never investigate the purpose for the assembly of believers. â€œThe reason for this is the almost universal assumption that the worship of God is the primary aim of the assembly. In fact the word â€˜worshipâ€™ is thought to be synonymous with â€˜assemblyâ€™ and is constantly used in this sense.â€ Even in many academic studies of the church, the author includes the gathering of the church as part of â€œthe ministry of worship.â€ Some take this understanding even further, stating, â€œCorporate worship is the energizing center for all the church is and does.â€ However, it is incumbent upon all believers to search Scriptureâ€”not traditionâ€”for a proper understanding of all things, including the relationship of worship to the gathering of the church.
â€œWorshipâ€ translates various Greek terms in the New Testament (proskuneo, latreuo/latreia, leitourgia, eusebeia). In the Old Testament, the authors connect worship terminology with the tabernacle/temple and priestly service. In the New Testament, Jesus changes this understanding. In John 4, he teaches that worship is no longer connected with a specific location or time. Instead, as Paul instructs the Romans, believers are â€œto worship Godâ€¦ with [their] lives (Rom. 12:1-2).â€
For the most part, worship terms are not found in the passages of Scripture that describe the gathering of the church. It is possible that Acts 13:2 indicates that believers â€œworshipedâ€ (leitourgounton) the Lord while meeting together. However, the passage does not state that this worship (or service) was occurring during the meeting. Instead, 13:1 indicates that those listed were part of the church in Antioch, and that they were worshiping (â€œservingâ€) and fasting as part of that group of believers. Even if this passage is in the context of the meeting, the verb leitourgounton itself does not necessarily indicate â€œworshipâ€ (devotion to God). Instead, the LXX uses this verb to specify priestly service in the temple, and New Testament authors use it in a sense similar to diakoneo (â€œserveâ€) to specify â€œpractical expressions of faith.â€
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25, Paul uses the verb proskuneo (â€œworshipâ€) in the context of the meeting of the church. The most important aspect of this passage is that the believers are prophesying during the meeting. In 14:4, Paul taught the Corinthians that prophecy edifies the church. Therefore, in the hypothetical meeting where all are prophesying, the believers are edifying the church. As a result of their words, the unbeliever is converted and begins to worship. The purpose of the gathering is not worship in this passage; instead, worship is the result of the Spiritâ€™s transforming work in a personâ€™s life.
So, the New Testament authors do not designate worship as the purpose of the gathering of the church. Even though believers certainly worshiped together, they did not call their meetings â€œworship services.â€ For the most part, the New Testament writers applied Old Testament terminology for worship and temple service metaphorically to the work of Jesus Christ in his life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Believers began to associate worship terminology with the gathering of the church during the centuries following the writing of the New Testament. Peterson quotes Everett Fergusonâ€™s discussion of the changes in the use of worship terminology:
What began in Christianity as a metaphorical and spiritual conception was by the age of Constantine ready to be taken literally again. The extension of sacrificial language had come to encompass the ministry as a special priesthood (Cyprian), the table as an altar and buildings as temples (Eusebius). Sacrifice was increasingly materialised and traditional content was put into the words. Sacrifice became again not only praise and thanksgiving but also propitiatory (Origen and Cyprian). A blending and transformation of conception â€“ pagan, philosophical, Jewish and Christian â€“ created a new complex of ideas.
He continues by warning contemporary believers against using worship terminology in this way by stating, â€œWe not only use words, but words use us.â€
Frame recognizes that the traditional use of the term â€œworshipâ€ in respect to the meeting of the church derives from the Old Testament tabernacle/temple systems. While he admits that this is â€œdangerous,â€ he is not willing to give up the term â€œworship service.â€ In caution, he states, â€œTo say this, however, is not to say that there is a sharp distinction between what we do in the meeting and what we do outside of it.â€ This is the distinction that many believers have lost, as the meeting of the church has become synonymous with â€œworship.â€ For example, one author states, â€œThe primary purpose of worship is to honor God, but as worship is portrayed in the New Testament, it also serves the purpose of edifying believers and evangelizing nonbelievers.â€ The author has confused the definition of worship as â€œhonoring Godâ€ with the use of the term â€œworshipâ€ as the meeting of the church. â€œWorshipâ€ does not serve the purpose of edifying believers; instead the gathering of the church should serve the purpose of edifying believers. This confusion comes about because the phase â€œthe gathering of the churchâ€ has become synonymous with â€œworship.â€
Banks describes the proper connection between worship and the gathering of the church. He states:
Since all places and times have now become the venue for worship, Paul cannot speak of Christians assembling in church distinctively for this purpose. They are already worshipping God, acceptably or unacceptably, in whatever they are doing. While this means that when they are in church they are worshipping as well, it is not worship per se but something else that marks off their coming together from everything else they are doing.
He describes this â€œsomething else that marks off their coming togetherâ€ as â€œthe growth and edification of its members into Christ and into a common life through their God-given ministry to one another.â€ When the church accomplishes this purpose during the meeting, it is worshiping, because it is obeying the command of God. However, in the same way that believers must not equate the Lordâ€™s Supper simply with eating (1 Cor. 11:20-21), they also must not equate worship with the meeting itself. Instead, they are worshiping because they are being obedient during the meeting, not because they are meeting.
 Ervin Bishop, â€œThe Assembly,â€ Restoration Quarterly, 18.4 (Winter 1975), 219.
 For example, see John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 239.
 G. Temp Sparkman, â€œCorporate Worship: The Experience and the Event,â€ Perspectives in Religious Studies 18 (Fall 1991), 241.
 Henry Schellenberg, â€œToward a Basic Understanding of Worship,â€ Didaskalia, 15, 2 (Winter 2004), 17.
 See Bishop, â€œThe Assembly,â€ 219-21, and Peterson, Engaging with God, 206.
 David Peterson, â€œFurther Reflections on Worship in the New Testament,â€ The Reformed Theological Review, 44 (May-August 1985), 36-37.
 Robert C. Girard, Brethren, Hang Together (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 247-48.
 Peterson, â€œFurther Reflections on Worship in the New Testament,â€ 35.
 John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1996), 32.
 Ibid., 34.
 Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 239.
 Robert Banks, Paulâ€™s Idea of Community (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 89.
 Ibid., 90.
 David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 221.