The Nature of Public Worship

Public worship takes place in the gathered assembly of Christ

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Psalms 111:1 ESV

Public worship takes place on God’s holy day, when the people of God come together as a church. The psalmist highlights that in worshipping God wholeheartedly, it takes place in the company or assembly of the upright, in the congregation. The Lord’s Supper which is definitely part of public worship happens when the believers come together as a church.

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you and I believe it in part.

1 Corinthians 11:17-18 ESV

The difference between the church scattered and gathered

These are not two churches but one church viewed from two perspectives. By the church scattered is meant the church from Monday to Saturday, by the church gathered is meant on the Lord’s Day. We are scattered from Monday to Saturday for the purpose of shining as lights and acting as salt in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). As we tend to our responsibilities within our spheres of influence, at home and work, we reflect His grace. As we gather on the Lord’s Day to fellowship and especially worship, we are the church gathered.

The difference between informal and formal worship

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV

Informal worship takes place outside the church, whereas formal worship takes place inside the church building. Put another way, the former takes place by the scattered church, and the latter by the gathered church. By “formal” is meant “prescribed”—it’s worship that’s been given specific restrictions/regulation by God in His Word.

Informal worship also called private or family worship takes place when you read your Bibles, pray, sing, and praise God in your house and/or with your families. This can take place anywhere, as you think about God and tell others about His saving grace. But formal worship takes on the LORD’S DAY when the church is gathered according to the prescription of the Word of God.

In the verse above, Paul wrote to Timothy so that he may know how they ought to behave in the household of God. So, there is a specific prescription of how one ought to act in the church of the living God.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Jude 1:3 ESV

This text highlights the truth that the Christian faith that we need to contend for was once for all delivered not to an individual but to the saints collectively as the church.

Public worship the special covenant presence of Christ

Matthew 18:20 which context is church discipline promises the presence of Christ (Ps 46:4-5, Rev 2:1). In other words, there are fundamentally two reasons the church formally gathers—to conduct the business of the church and to worship. Notice the promise that Christ gives to His gathered church—”there I am in their midst.” Though Christ is omnipresent (Jer. 23:24, Pro 15:3), within and beyond the universe, His special presence which is referred to here is given to the church alone. He is uniquely present among His people.

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.

Exodus 25:8 ESV

God dwelt in the Old and New Covenant temples in a way He does not dwell anywhere (1 Cor 3:16).

God’s Special presence is Spiritual

When God’s people assemble to worship according to His word, He is among them. But Christ is spiritually and not physically present among us. Physically, He is in heaven, spiritually He’s among us by His Spirit.

God’s Special presence is Covenantal

When we say God is uniquely present in a certain place, we mean, He uniquely reveals Himself in a certain way in that place. For example, when we say God uniquely dwells in hell, we mean, He uniquely reveals His wrath in hell. And so, when we say God uniquely dwells among His church, we mean, He graciously dwells among His people.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

Psalms 46:4-5 ESV

Here, the church is described with two imageries—”the city of God” and “the holy tabernacle of the Most High.”

It is regulated by the sacred Scripture of Christ

Public worship is to be regulated or governed by the Holy Scripture—God determines the when, where, and what of public worship. The ‘when’ is the Lord’s Day, the ‘where’ is the church (the gathered people of God), and the ‘what’ is only what God commands.

In other words, when the church gathers on God’s day to worship Him, they are not at liberty to worship in anyway they choose. Historically, we refer to this as ‘the regulative principle of worship (RPW)’—this simply means God alone regulates worship. God’s holy word regulates or determines what acts or elements we are to bring into formal, public worship.

God determines how a man approaches Him. God’s law forbids all non-sanctioned worship. God’s word perfectly regulates formal worship


  1. Let us praise God—that is, let us enter into the worship of God with a sense of our privilege. God not only allows worship, but He commands worship, and He actually seeks worship (John 4:23-24).
  2. Let us fear God. Let us remember who it is we approach in worship. Having spoken about the activities of worship let us not forget the proper attitude in worship.
  3. Let us obey God. Let us resolve never to allow anything in worship, but what God commands. Let us resolve with intelligence to worship according to His word. The issue of worship being regulated by God, actually relates to the sufficiency of the Scripture.


Note: This blog is based on our pastor’s lecture on Church Membership class part 3.

The reader is also encouraged to read and listen to our Modular Course on Biblical Worship.

Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

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