Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People | Matt Merker
Merker, Matt. Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021. 176 pp. $14.99.
Understanding the true purpose of the gathering of believers in worship is a challenge for many evangelical churches today. As Matt Merker points out, knowing the reason of worship begins with discerning the purpose of the local church. He believes that “a biblical view of the local church informs all the practical aspects of putting a worship service together” (27). Thus, his book answers the questions of who gathers, why they gather, what they do when they gather, and how they structure their gatherings. Merker states that “corporate worship is the responsibility of every church member” (29), and he continues his emphasis on the responsibility of the worshiper throughout each chapter.
Chapter one poses the question of who is to gather for worship, which Merker answers as the local church “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” (35). Further, he sees the local body of believers functioning as “An Outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven” (35), “A Holy Temple” (38), and “The Body of Christ” (41). In his second chapter, Merker inquires why believers must gather, and responds by stating that “a local church is an assembly” and if a church “never meets, it is no church at all” (46). In continuing to emphasize a biblical view of the local church, he additionally comments that meeting as a body “isn’t just something churches do. A meeting is, in part, what a church is. God has saved us as individuals to be a corporate assembly” (46). Lastly in addressing the question of why we gather, Merker’s third chapter answers why God gathers believers, and asserts that “God gathers us unto his glory, for our mutual good, before the world’s gaze” (61).
Having answered the questions of why a church gathers, Merker addresses the questions of how a church gathers in his fourth and fifth chapters. He states in chapter four that “God, by his Word, governs what the local church should do when it gathers” (78), which he furthers by expounding on the purpose of the regulative principle of worship and the importance of applying it in worship practices. Chapter five focuses on liturgies, through which Merker considers specific elements and patterns of worship services. He provides a couple of sample liturgies in this chapter and lists even more in his Appendix.
Merker’s final two chapters answer the questions of how the church participates in the gathering and how congregational singing impacts the assembly. Both chapters include suggestions on how to incorporate all believers in different elements of the liturgy, about which Merker writes that the “various somebodies of the congregation unite into one body to receive and share the ministry of the Word, and the Spirit builds them up together into maturity” (130–31). As in previous chapters, Merker addresses the function of the local church and states that “a deep understanding of the local church is often what’s missing when churches don’t sing” (134).
Throughout his book, Merker quotes other worship writers and theologians, including Bryan Chapell, D. A. Carson, C. S. Lewis, and Marva Dawn, to name a few. Merker helpfully addresses the topic of corporate worship, focusing on biblical and liturgical traditions as discipleship-forming practices. He often provides illustrations from his own worship leading experiences, helping the reader to understand practical ways in which to employ the methods he addresses.
In his discussion on liturgy in chapter five, however, Merker makes the statement that the “actual content of each element of the service matters more than the order in which they are arranged” (102). He later states that “if we care more about the order of service than the content of each element of the service, we may ironically end up neglecting the proclamation of the gospel” (103). Although Merker makes these statements, almost every liturgy example he cites follows a similar pattern, which includes a Call to Worship, Praise, Confession, Assurance, Opening of the Word, Response, Benediction. Merker seems to undermine his point that the order of the elements of the service does not matter by providing examples that all broadly follow the liturgical examples found in Scripture. Ultimately, his point is to care more for the content of the element rather than the placement of the element in the liturgy, but his argument could be stronger if he would eliminate this idea completely or provide more explanation on where liturgies are found in Scripture, thus regulating why biblical liturgies broadly follow the structure mentioned above.
Overall, Merker’s book would make a tremendous resource for evangelical churches wanting to understand and employ more reformed worship liturgies. Corporate Worship serves as a basic primer for instructing those that are unfamiliar with biblical worship practices. Merker rightly concludes “Who the church is shapes how it worships. And corporate worship, in turn, shapes the church” (151).