Matt Merker wrote Corporate Worship because he knows that there is a connection between who the congregation sees themself to be and how they worship as a church. In order to do understand corporate worship, “we must understand the local church. When we approach the Sunday service with a biblical view of the church body, it transforms how we engage in gathered worship.” (p.26).
So, who is the church? Merker states that it is, “an assembly of blood-bought, Spirit-filled worshipers who build one another up by God’s Word and affirm one another as citizens of Christ’s kingdom through the ordinances” (p.35). He then takes the reader through several implications this has on worship. After understanding of who the church is, he addresses a vital question: must we gather together? While we do have commands from the Scriptures to consider, Merker namely focuses on the beauty of a gathered assembly of believers. “Just as the sight of his bride makes a groom’s heart swell with love, church members should overflow with affection for one another when they behold the assembly” (p.51). Moreover, we can fully behold the beauty of the church when we dwell on God’s miraculous work of bringing us together: “to put it as strongly as possible, worship is God’s work first before it is ours. God the Father grants us to honor him in and through our mediator, God the Son, by the power of God the Spirit. Our worship originates in the triune God and resounds to the eternal glory of the triune God” (p.55).
Therefore, knowing that we are God’s people called to assemble together, what must we do? There are three key purposes for our church gatherings: first, to his glory (vertical); second, for our mutual good (horizontal); finally, to be put before the world’s gaze (evangelism). The church primarily gathers to glorify God, and there are particular ways we can do this when we meet as a church (more to come on that later). A close second place to this is the opportunity to gather so that we take the Bible’s commands seriously by singing to one another and encouraging one another to give thanks to God (Ephesians 2:18-21). Lastly, our gatherings should have a sense of evangelism to them. We can anticipate that unbelievers will come marvel at this diverse group of people, and this book provides many ways for the church and its leaders to make the unbeliever welcome in our midst.
With the nature of the church and its purposes understood, the focus of the book turns towards corporate worship. Merker begins by laying out arguments for the regulative principle, and he gives a concise case for why churches ought to abide by it. Additionally, he uses some case studies to see how following the regulative principle can safe guard the church. This comes in full view with an example of a Sunday gathering where he breaks down the elements of worship and their respective order. Even more importantly, the book finishes by showing the necessary elements of a worship gathering. The foundations of this book are solid, and for this reason Merker can then display the implications of having a God-centered, corporate, worship gathering with the saints of your local body.
For me, these chapters were glorious reminders of why I need to hear the Scriptures read and preached, why I need to pray and sing with the church, and why we observe Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He writes in a manner that is understandable to introduce all of these elements, but even for one who thinks about these things often, these chapters enriched my love for God’s people. Additionally, I felt cared for and loved by our Chief Shepherd because he has revealed himself to us so that we might gather together in an orderly manner to worship Him and edify the saints.
The final chapter on congregational singing caused me to wonder why I so often listen to the ‘Together for the Gospel’ albums from past conferences. I have often thought to myself, “why do I like this music? What draws me to it time and again?” For an untalented vocalists as myself, I realized, thanks to this book, that it is because they are songs that I can sing! As Christians, we are called to sing to God and to one another, and songs such as these allowed me to do so by means of their basic melody and profound lyrics. I stopped thinking about myself and focused on the gorgeous harmony of the voices around the room that I hear on Sunday. “As new converts and mature saints harmonize together, the church becomes a seminary in which all of us are simultaneously professors and students” (p.137).
On a brief note for any who might seek Merker’s help in considering what type of songs we should sing on Sunday, I applaud Merker for allotting only one paragraph to this section. He has made this a more timeless piece by not getting too detailed on this argument; rather, he urges elders to use wisdom to care for the flock by ensuring that the songs they are choosing are teaching the body appropriately.
Matt Merker has made a wonderful contribution to the church by making one dwell on the glory of God before emphasizing how we are called to worship Him. He certainly has a specific aim of upholding the need for the whole congregation to participate in the gathering, and this is a book that the saints need to read so that they are spurred on to gather as a local church. God has called you as an individual to commit yourself to a body of believers, and he has required certain elements in this worship. I hope this book encourages you to go be the church this Sunday as you “read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and see the Bible (visibly depicted in the ordinance of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)” (p.14).