When we think of biblical literacy, many of us may picture ourselves tucked away in our home office or at our kitchen table with notebooks and commentaries encircling us like our own little army. Most likely it’s the early hours before the sun rises or the late hours of the night after the sun has already set—to guarantee it will be quiet and we’ll be alone. We have our hands cupped around a steaming hot drink and our glasses perched on the bridges of our noses. Perhaps we also plug in our earbuds to listen to worship music or a podcast.
Personal and solitary. This is what biblical literacy should look like for believers, right? But what if biblical literacy could also look like a room of diverse people sitting together, a baby or two crying in the background, music playing as a chorus of voices ring together in worship to God, feasting together for the Lord’s Supper, and a man behind a pulpit expositing the Word of God? Is church a place we can grow in biblical literacy? It is, and it’s not only one of the ways, but the main way God grows His children in their knowledge of Him and molds them more into His likeness.
As a mother of a busy toddler (and a soon-to-be mother of tiny twins) corporate worship often feels overwhelming. I’d much prefer to sit in the comfort of my home, where my son can be as loud as he likes, while I listen to a sermon curled up on my couch. Yet God has beckoned us to come to His house and meet together for worship and to hear Scripture preached:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV).
Why is corporate worship so important to God? Why has He made this His main means of sanctifying His people?
Corporate Worship is the Primary Means of Discipleship
In the earliest days of the Church, believers didn’t have the abundance of resources at their fingertips to study God’s Word like we do—in fact, they probably didn’t have their own copy of Scripture. The only way to hear and receive teaching on the Word was to go and hear it preached each week.
We often set up laws for ourselves of what it means to be a good Christian. We should be studying our Bibles on our own for an hour each day. We need five thick commentaries on our bookcase. We should listen to podcasts and lectures whenever we have a free moment. And if we miss a day, we’re condemned as a failure.
Yet, these aren’t laws God has set up for His people. These personal laws we’ve written would have been impossible for the people of God to accomplish for hundreds of years. We need to recognize that God has provided corporate worship, not as a supplement, but as the main means by which His people are discipled and thus learn about Him. As Pastor Justin Perdue has said,
“God has promised to uniquely bless corporate realities in a way that he has not promised to bless something you do in private. That does not mean that what you do in private is irrelevant…But it does mean that the most important thing by miles, when it comes to the Christian life and our growth and sustenance, is that we gather with the saints to partake of the means that God has promised to bless and to use for our growth, maturation, and sustenance.”[i]
For this reason, biblical literacy should always begin and stem from corporate worship.
Corporate Worship Provides the Sacraments
We may not view the sacraments as fundamental for our biblical literacy. We watch a baptism, we eat a piece of bread, we drink from a tiny cup, and we hear the Word exposited. It’s a nice ritual, but how much is it truly contributing to our spiritual development?
As Michael Horton has noted:
“For many Christians, especially evangelicals, the public means of grace (preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper) are ‘churchy,’ different from—if not antithetical to—one’s private, personal, and unmediated relationship with Christ. For many of us, it’s counterintuitive to speak of the Spirit’s work through creaturely means.” But in reality, “Faith is not something we can manufacture within ourselves; it is a gift of the Spirit, which he gives us through tangible, unspectacular, earthly means: another sinner’s speech in the name of Christ, water, bread, and wine. What could be more common? And yet, consecrated by God, they become his means of salvation.”[ii]
These simple, earthly acts are a means of God’s grace being communicated to His people. They nourish our faith. These acts, though so simple in appearance, are much greater than any time we could spend in private devotions. By them we are strengthened as we’re reminded of the gospel and the application of God’s grace to our wounded and sinful hearts. And by them we grow in biblical literacy.
Corporate Worship Gives Opportunity to Put Our Biblical Literacy to Work
Sunday mornings can feel like a rush through a burning building. We jump out of bed, try to get everyone dressed in unstained clothes, grab and munch breakfast as we scramble out the door, and barely make it to our seats on time for the service to start. Then when the final prayer and benediction are said, we gather our families up and hurry out the door. We might pause to check in with a fellow volunteer about next week’s responsibilities, but then we run to grab lunch so we can get the children (and maybe ourselves) down for a nap at a reasonable time. Perhaps some Sundays in all this rush, our families are the only ones to whom we speak.
When we move at this pace through the church building, I wonder if we’ve forgotten why we even gathered. Perhaps we’re no longer seeing church as a place to grow in fellowship, but rather something we should make sure gets ticked off our checklists.
However, as we meet together each Sunday, corporate worship should lend us the opportunity to put our biblical literacy to work. As we discuss life and Scripture before and afterward with our fellow church members, as we greet newcomers and let them see Christ in us, as we listen to and discern the words preached, as we worship and meditate on the verses we sing—in all of this we apply what we’re learning each Sunday and throughout our weeks in private study.
Go to His House with Rejoicing
Like the Psalmist, let’s go to the house of the Lord with rejoicing (Psalm 122:1). It’s not an interruption to what could have more time in private devotions. Rather, it’s the means by which we will grow in our biblical literacy and be able to edify others with it. “Christ delivers himself to us, gift-wrapped in the creaturely means of preaching and sacrament. In this way, the transcendent and majestic God makes himself ‘haveable.’ However, we must never forget that salvation is found in the Gift, not in the package in which it is delivered.”[iii] Let’s go to His house rejoicing, ready to receive and grow through God’s ordinary and creaturely means.
[i] Justin Perdue and Jon Moffitt, “Are Spiritual Disciplines Biblical?” Theocast, December 10, 2020, accessed December 15, 2020, https://theocast.org/are-spiritual-disciplines-biblical-transcript/
[ii] Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), p.333-344, 346.
[iii] Ibid, 365.