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The church assembles for worship, part 2

October 3, 2007

Last week I offered an initial argument that believers gather for worship. In part 1, I discussed the significance of the phrase, “house of God” as applied to the church in the New Testament, that it points to assembled believers as the place of God’s special presence, the “new temple/tabernacle” for those in Christ Jesus. I argued that this phrase, “house of God,” used of the church in passages such as 1 Timothy 3:15 and Hebrews 10:19-24, should be taken to mean that the church is the new temple/tabernacle in this particular economy of God’s work in human history.

This installment wants to argue along similar lines. As I said, the application of the phrase “house of God” to the church means that the church is the “new temple,” the place for public worship. I believe this becomes even more explicit in the clear New Testament teaching that gathered believers are together a “new temple” in this era of God’s work.

This is most clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

The teaching that the assembled church is the temple of God should not be confused with the teaching in 1 Cor 6:19 that our individual bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is an important separate teaching with the implication that we should live holy lives lest we make the Holy Spirit a partaker of sin. The teaching that the church also is the “new temple” has the implications that the church must be holy and that God dwells in the midst of assembled believers. Because the Spirit of God dwells in the midst of assembled believers, that group of assembled believers is holy. The church is owned by God, completely devoted to him and his worship. Flowing from the fact that God dwells in the new temple–the church–comes the starting application: God’s church is holy, and those who hurt God’s church, God will hurt. The very principle of holiness speaks of the church being devoted to the worship of God. The church is owned by God, and is a holy place devoted to him. If God dwells in us, we are God’s. And what God desires, more than anything else, is our worship. Above all this is the clear teaching here that we are God’s temple. The assembly of believers is the new place for public worship in the church era. We are a temple, and should be devoted to the public worship of the Triune God when we gather together.

The church as new temple is not only taught in 1 Corinthians 3. In 2 Corinthians 6:16b, Paul says,

“For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.'”

The context in 2 Corinthians 6 is again one of holiness. Believers should not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, because God’s temple is holy, and such communion with the unrighteous would defile God’s temple. Christ has no concord with Belial. The reason we should not be connected with unbelievers is that the church is God’s temple, the holy place of his special presence. Therefore we should be separate from those who deny God and Christ. We are wholly sanctified to God, and dedicated to him and him alone. He is our father, we are his children. The church is the place of public worship because it is God’s temple–wholly God’s and holy to God.

The final passage I want to point to that teaches that the church is God’s temple is one I looked at last time, Eph 2:19-22.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

I love this passage because it combines the ideas of church as household of God, not only as Graeco-Roman household, but as temple. We who were “strangers and aliens” are now in God’s house, but we the church are also the “house of God,” the temple. Paul mixes in the metaphor of the church as a physical building (conjured by the references to “household” and “temple”) there too. But here it is reiterated that we collectively are the place of God’s dwelling by the Spirit. We are the new temple, the place for public worship in the Christian era. No more is there any need to go to the old temple. Christ’s church–the assembly of believers–is the place appointed for all humankind’s public worship of the Holy One of Israel, the Triune God.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2007 1:27 pm

    Ryan, this is great. I am going to steal it for a sermon I am planning on the church. I will be delivering it on Oct 14. We have been working through a series of messages on the metaphors for the church used by the apostles. I started with “It’s not your Church”, then “It’s a Building”, “It’s a Body”, “It’s a Growing Body” and last week “It’s a Flock”. So this next one will be “It’s a Temple.”

    Very good, thanks for this, it will add to the ideas I was already planning.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Kevin permalink
    October 3, 2007 2:41 pm

    Ryan—I wonder if our casual Bible readers miss this because our modern translations stopped using the plural “ye” in 1 Cor. 3:16-17? I guess there’s certain spots where the good ole KJV lends clarity. Still thinking. More in a bit.

  3. Kevin permalink
    October 3, 2007 2:52 pm

    You guessed I have these red flags waving in my head.
    Our English word “worship” does not seem to have an exact Greek equivalent; only a few words (leitourgia, proskyneo, thusia, others?) partially intersect our English. While these words are often used of believers, where’s the smoking-gun NT verse that commands the gathered church to do these? (Hold off on the tar and feathers) And the only time Paul used prokynein with the gathered church was when an unbeliever stumbled into the service and hearing the church’s prophesy—hardly the sort of evidence we want to bring up just yet. (Still hold off on the tar and feathers.)
    Having said this, I find myself agreeing with your statements here (and knowing that you hold the same Baptist theology as I). But I’m wondering if this is the first thing I would teach. I’ve found it more helpful to start in John 4 and Romans 12 to show the discontinuity with the OT cultus. The OT language was so bound up in temple location, the temple calendar, the sacrifices, and the priestly system. Given the modern churches that use (mediatory) priests to reenact Christ’s death as a sort of temple sacrifice, I’d rather start with the differences than the similarities.
    I’m wondering if Father Bill will pop in at this moment and ask if our NT worship should follow after the Temple pattern in Malachi: “In every place incense shall be offered to My name.” (Or at least this is what I imagine him asking. This is why I think Baptists might be better off starting with the differences between OT and NT worship.)

  4. October 3, 2007 3:52 pm

    Thank you, Don, for your words.


    Thank you for stopping by. Were I to teach a systematized theology of worship, I may very well start with the passages you mentioned, and I appreciate your bringing them up. I surely would not want to overlook them! My focus is a bit more narrow. So many people talk these days about the individual worship of Christians, the point that the church corporately worships is sometimes overlooked or even denied (for some of the reasons you mentioned). I am trying to prove that there is biblical warrant to say that the church assembles to worship.

    I do appreciate the interaction.


  5. October 3, 2007 10:06 pm

    To take it in another direction, Ry, is it not generally agreed that Col 3:16 has a corporate setting in view? And are not “hymns” by definition songs of praise to God? And by commanding the gathered church to sing songs of praise to God, is Paul not in essence commanding the church to engage in worship to God?

    Or am I missing your point altogether?


  6. October 3, 2007 10:15 pm

    No, you’re not. Good points, Chuck.

    I am not done with the series yet.

  7. Kevin permalink
    October 4, 2007 7:43 am

    Chuck–I agree with your application taken from Col. 3:16. Maybe Ryan will hit this later. But my broader question is: Is what you call an “in essence command” the main teaching point of Col. 3:16? It seems the only command here is to “let the Word of Christ dwell.” The rest are participles, right? And you’ve derived an application from a noun inside a participle phrase that modifies the imperative in the passage. It seems better to emphasize the Word of Christ dwelling (or the Spirit dwelling) as our main teaching point. And if we consider how the participles support the imperative, it leads us to conclude the gathered church (here) is ministering to each other with music.
    I say this because, while I respect and generally agree with Ryan’s work here, all of the passages we’re citing are “about” something else, and the devotional applications we’ve been able to extract are only secondary.
    Now, having waved the red flag, I agree with Ryan that it is possible use NT passages to build a point of practical theology. Carry on–we’re all interested.

  8. October 4, 2007 10:24 pm


    You are correct: the “in essence command” is not the main teaching point in Colossians. Some (e.g., RSV) like to translate the participles as imperatives, and they have a leg to stand on when they do that, but I prefer to keep them as participles myself. So I certainly concede that that “singing” is not directly a command in Col 3:16.

    I was reading the introductory material to Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), a companion volume to his God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994). Without here commenting on Fee’s pneumatology, I will note an interesting statement I found: “Ordinarily theology has to do with a studied, reflective understanding of things divine, dealing with how the various matters we believe about God and God’s ways can be put into a coherent whole. But we do not find Paul reflecting on the Holy Spirit, any more than we find him reflecting on the significance of the Lord’s Table or on the relationships within the Godhead, which he presupposess and which tantalizingly pop out here and there. As often happens with such foundational matters, we rarely look at them reflectively. They are simply part of the stuff of ongoing life, and what we say about them is often offhanded, matter-of-fact, and without argument or explanation.” (1-2)

    This statement is a good reminder that the Pauline epistles are, at least for the most part, ad hoc documents, and are not meant to be treatises which explicate the foundational traditions of the faith. This is not to say that they never do the latter, but that if they do it is for a specific purpose, and the occasion for foundational teaching in the doctrines of the faith would have been the personal instruction of Paul and others as believers were added to the church.

    All that is to say that just because something mentioned in a particular text of Scripture is not the “main teaching point,” does not mean that it is untrue or a sort of secondary teaching when considering the whole of Christian catechesis. “Main teaching points” in ad hoc documents, it seems to me, are often built upon more foundational teachings which are taken for granted and either left unstated or mentioned in passing.

    In the case of Col 3:16 (and I recognize the various possibilities of puncutating the verse), it appears to me that Paul is assuming the practice of singing hymns in the church, which by definition is singing songs of praise to God in the gathered assembly. I do not believe anyone has yet formally defined “worship” in this conversation, but singing songs of praise to God with thankfulness in one’s heart would no doubt be an acceptable expression of worship to God.

    Of course, Col 3:16 does indeed emphasize the need for the church to let the word dwell richly in them. And the gathered church does indeed minister to each other in music. But church music is not monolithic in its purpose, is it? It ministers to other believers — more clearly in Eph 5:19 (“speaking to one another”) — but in a grammatical parallel, hymns are also directed to God (“singing and making melody to the Lord”).

    I guess to sum up this lengthy response, we need to be careful not to read ad hoc documents as systematic treatises. By definition, the point of a hymn is to ascribe praise to God. Singing hymns as a church has a wonderful connection to the edification of believers, but because a hymn is what it is, the primary function of singing them must be praise to God, which seems to be pretty well bound up in what worship is.

    This is a good conversation. I’m thinking through this as we go, and I welcome the interaction.

  9. October 5, 2007 2:36 pm

    I appreciate your careful building of your case, Ryan.

    In a book I read describing the purposes of the church gathering a few years ago, Growing Adults on Sunday Morning by Knute Larson, I recall that I was turned off because worship was the great biblical purpose that was conspicuously absent from the book.

    Keep on building.

    But “humankind,” Ryan? You’re not resorting to language from the NIV-IL, are you?:)


  1. The Church Assembles For Worship, Part 2 by Ryan Martin | Religious Affections Ministries

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