A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF CORPORATE WORSHIP
Although the word “worship” occurs in the English Bible, the true meaning of the word cannot be described by the findings of a word study. Even a conceptual study that merely looks at one or a few particular contexts will not accurately portray the grand theme of worship. Thus a biblical theology of worship becomes necessary not only to correct the pragmatic and anthropocentric tendencies of our day, but also to provide a definition that accounts for the relationship that exists between God and his people and the manner in which we ought to worship him. While it may be disputed if there is genuinely one central theme of the Bible, many scholars have noted and proposed the concept of “covenant” as the unifying theme and heart of biblical theology. Richard C. Leonard provides an excellent summary of the significance of “covenant” in biblical theology:
"When you stop to think about it, Scripture came into being as the expression of the relationship between God and his people. To use the formula that occurs repeatedly in Scripture, "I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 37:27, etc.). The Bible typically portrays this relationship in terms of the covenant or its theological equivalents: the kingdom of God, the family of God, new life through membership in the Son of God. All issues and concerns raised in Scripture have their place within the ebb and flow of the covenant relationship between the Lord and those who have pledged their loyalty to him in worship and obedience. In this sense, covenant is the air we breathe in Scripture. Even where the concept of the covenant recedes into the background, it still supplies the framework and the thematic material for understanding all parts of the Old and New Testaments. In particular, it has profound implications for Christian worship." (1)
Although worship has been defined in many ways, it is ultimately the expression of our relationship with God, who said “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2) This sort of relationship is fundamentally covenantal. Because our worship always says something about who God is and who we are as his people our definition ought to communicate this covenantal relationship. Therefore, David Peterson’s definition of worship is most helpful: “Worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.” (3)
The following examines the formation of the covenantal communities of the Old and New Testaments with particular attention to their corporate worship. Then, in view of the fulfillment and escalation of redemptive history in the person and work of Jesus Christ, an organizing principle/atonement theory for corporate worship will be suggested.
1. Richard C. Leonard, “The Biblical Covenant and Christian Worship.” [n.p.] Online: http://www.laudemont.org/a-bcacw.htm. This is an online version of the article previously printed in Reformation and Revival Journal Vol 2, Number 2, Spring 1993.
2. Leonard, “The Biblical Covenant and Christian Worship.”
3. Peterson, 20 (italics original).