What would our world look like if everyone worshipped God the way they thought was best? Unfortunately, we know all too well. The book of Judges starts with God fighting for Israel and finishes with the line “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 21:25). Of course, in between it gives us numerous awful accounts descending toward every kind of Mad Max psychopathy and evil perpetrated by the people that were living this way. And it isn’t like the kings fixed it either. When people worship as we see fit, we are capable of terrible things (Gen. 11:6).
Therefore, we should conclude that God is particular about the way that He is worshipped, if not from this, then from His explicit instructions for Israel in the Old Testament or the church in the New. When Jesus spoke with the samaritan woman (John 4:20-26), she also was of the opinion that worship could be done wherever, whenever, and however a person wanted. Jesus’ response to her was that God is indeed discriminating. It didn’t matter if it was a result of tradition (our fathers worshipped…), earthly common sense, or cultural shifts. Worship is determined by God.
How ought we worship then? When we are in a collective setting, worship for the disciple of Christ has a clear biblical precedent. We necessarily infer that we should meet together on Sundays to observe the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 11:2, 23-34; Acts 20:5-7; 2:42). While we are there, there should be singing and praying, as we are commanded to do (Acts 2:42, Col. 3:16-17, Eph. 5:19-20, 1 Thess. 5:17-18). Whenever Christians got together in this format, you usually find some sort of sermon or biblical instruction; an example we are wise to follow (Acts 2:42, 20:7, 1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim. 4:2-3). Incidentally, while they were gathered, several congregations collected funds to set aside should there be a need among the brethren (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
Of course, we must wonder why the infinite God needs any kind of worship behavior like this, and the reality is that He does not (Acts 17:24-25, 7:48-50). We do. In passages where collective worship is discussed, we often see language describing encouragement and edification for the worshipper (1 Cor. 14:3-6, 12, 15-19, Acts 9:31, 11:23, 20:2, 1 Thess. 5:11, Heb 10:24-25). When people worship how they want, others are injured. When people worship how God wants, they are built up. There are so many reasons why God doesn’t let us do things the way we think is best, and it is wonderful. Like Jesus told the woman at the well, God is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and truth. We are made to be worshippers, therefore we ought to listen to the will of the One who is being worshipped for all of our sakes… and for His (1 Pet. 4:1-11).