The Horizontal in Worship

Written by Barry J. York |
Sunday, November 27, 2022

One place we need to renew our sense of the horizontal in worship is when the Bible is being read and preached. You are not there merely listening to it by yourself. You are to hear God’s Word not only for its personal benefit, but you are also to listen as a fellow member of the body of Christ. Each person is to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, emphasis added). Understanding this corporate dynamic affects how we listen to God’s Word.

When the minister calls you to worship on any given Lord’s Day, undoubtedly he seeks to draw your heart’s attention heavenward, as he should. He uses texts of Scripture to call you to praise the Lord and to shout joyfully to Him. As Paul told the church at Colossae, as those who “have been raised with Christ,” we are to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). In worship, we are to heed his admonition when he says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Our worship is “vertical” as we glorify and commune with our triune God.

Yet, we must not miss the needed “horizontal” nature of worship as well. Setting our minds on things above, and not on earthly things, does not mean we are to ignore the others around us who are worshiping with us. In worship, we are not only to fulfill the great commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We are also to love our neighbor who is there with us in worship. As the congregation arrives on Sunday morning, it is gathering for corporate worship. Thus, we need to be sure that we are putting the corporate into our corporate worship! In looking up, we must also look around.

Obviously, we think of this before and after worship. Christians enjoy seeing their brothers and sisters in Christ, greeting them and catching up with them, whether in the sanctuary before the service or over a cup of coffee afterward. But what about during the service? It is especially during the service that we are to be mindful of one another.

Do the Scriptures encourage this horizontal dimension of worship? They most definitely do. For example, think through how, as we participate in the various elements in worship, each element encourages this viewpoint.

When we are called to worship, we are called not as individuals but as the body of Christ, a temple of living stones who together offer sacrifices to the Lord (1 Cor. 3:161 Peter 2:4–5). Many of our calls to worship emphasize moving beyond a mere personal sense of worshiping God to this corporate aspect. Listen to a few of these admonitions.

  • I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! (Ps. 34:1–3)
  • Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Ps. 95:1–2)
  • 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. (Heb. 10:24–25)

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