In the last few decades, an odd practice developed in corporate worship: churches started turning out the lights. This tactic began in the early 20th Century when progressive pastors started “experimenting with the potential upsides of affecting people’s emotions with lighting.” That means congregations reduced worship to an emotional sensation and utilized lighting as a means to manipulate said sensation. This is why preaching and prayers now require background music. These are those who have “an appearance of godliness, but [deny] its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). It feels spiritual, humanly speaking, but lacks the actual Spirit.
Lighting is also turned down because worship has become intensely individualistic. In the dark, you don’t have to look at anyone and no one can look at you. You could actually attend worship and no one at the church ever know about it. But corporate worship, by definition, is not about the individual.
Nehemiah 8-9 join Leviticus 10 and Hebrews 12 as significant to our development of a theology of worship. In verse 1, the people of Israel are described as gathering “as one man into the square before the Water Gate” (Nehemiah 8:1). When the people gathered before the Lord for corporate worship, they did so “as one man.” That moment focused on the individual as part of the body. Together, God’s people stood, listened, answered, said “Amen”, lifted their hands, bowed their heads, and worshiped (Nehemiah 8:6).
This was important because God’s covenant promises to his people are corporate promises. They are given “to you and to your children after you” (Genesis 9:8, 17:9, Acts 2:39). When we gather for worship on the Lord’s Day, we join together to renew covenant with the Lord. We are reflecting on his promises to us as individuals who are part of a body. By the work of his Holy Spirit, he has knit us together as the body of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:4-7). This is the syllable upon which we must place the accent.
Paul explained this in Galatians 3:24-29. When he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), he is expressing a covenantal reality. The promises of the covenant, in and through Jesus Christ, have nothing to do with your station in life. God didn’t choose the wise and the rich to be heirs of the promises (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
At Babel, God, in judgment, divided humanity (Genesis 11:1-9). In mercy, he is binding us together again through the work of his Spirit. This was powerfully demonstrated at Pentecost, and is the meaning behind the gift of languages (Acts 2:5-11). When you gather for corporate worship, you must reflect on this aspect of your activity. You are in one room, with people from all walks of life who give glory to Christ as the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Together, we confess his glory, confess our sins, sing, pray, and lift high the work of Jesus Christ who is the very foundation of our worship.