I am convinced that the purpose of the believers assembling together is so that they may worship God. I do not intend this essay to be a full-fledged treatise on this matter, but a mere offering of some observations. I think a number of passages teach us that the church is for worship. One of the most pointed passages concerning the purpose of the church in the New Testament is Ephesians 4:11-16:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (ESV).
The penultimate purpose of the Lord’s giving the gifted individuals here is “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” This is certainly “doxalogical” or pointing toward God, which is the essence of worship. In fact, this passage instructs us that the “faith and knowledge of God” is the end to which even edification (‘building up’) points. Colossians 3:16 describes the body of Christ as a place where the word of Christ dwells richly, and instructs us to sing our songs in the assembly “to God.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 describes the assembly of believers as the holy “temple of God,” the locale of worship in the Old Testament. Of course, John 4:24 and Romans 12:1-2 make it clear that for the believer all of life should be devoted to worship, but this should not detract from our resolving to make the assembly of believers particularly devoted to worship. In fact, if all of life is worship for the believers, how much more should a gathered assembly of many believers be devoted to worship!
This principle is quite easy to abandon. In fact, even though we may confess that the purpose of the gathered assembly of believers is worship, we can be neglectful in our worshiping God. Perhaps we can even distort our worship into a worship of ourselves. Consider John Piper’s remarks on this matter:
“This distortion of divine love into an endorsement of self-admiration is subtle. It creeps into our most religious acts. We claim to be praising God because of his love for us. But if his love for us is at the bottom his making much of us, who is really being praised? We are willing to be God-centered, it seems, as long as God is man-centered. We are willing to boast in the cross as long as the cross is a witness to our worship. Who then is our pride and joy?” (God is the Gospel [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005], 12-13).
The danger is changing God–of committing the sin of creating a false god in our imagination, to which God in judgment says, “you thought that I was one like yourself” (Ps 50:21). We can easily commit the heresy of Finneyism, in some way altering or stripping down our gospel presentation so that an unregenerate may be more likely to embrace it. But we should also refrain from doing this for the church. The church must be confronted with the pure gospel, just like the unregenerate must be. I am concerned that we clearly communicate the gospel, but there is a difference between clarity and conformity. And the task of recognizing and incorporating this distinction is imperative, for in so doing we “keep ourselves from idols.” Whether in evangelizing or edifying, our primary goal should be glorifying God–and we cannot let the overuse of that phrase cloud our thinking on this matter. We should boldly be proclaiming the one true Triune God, seeking to set him before the eyes of men as He is. Church history serves us well here, in showing us how we in our current cultural setting have, for better or for worse, altered the Christian gospel. And make no mistake, in this age of unbelief, the task is difficult, but this is the way it has always been. A possible objection raised at this point would be that this is adding too much complexity to the Christian faith, perhaps with an appeal that we should just go “back to the Bible.” Though I understand and appreciate the sentiment, that is exactly the problem. Our American evangelical baggage has in some ways distorted our reading of the Bible. But, even if it had not, rigorous thought in these matters is warranted; loving God with “all our minds” demands nothing less than careful thought concerning who God is, and precise articulation of (while acknowledging his transcendence) exactly whom we are to believe in and grow in the knowledge of.