God Loves the Gates of Zion More: The Glory of God in Public Worship

Does God have a preference between worship in the local church over private devotion?  Is he more manifest in one than the other?  The psalmist answers this question, “the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob” (Ps. 87:2).  Why does he love the gates of Zion more?  God put his name on Zion’s gates, and had the temple built there as the place of worship.  Jacob’s dwelling place, on the other hand was the house of Israel, where Jacob’s posterity worshiped the Lord in the home, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 25:15).  As Zion is the place of public worship, so Jacob’s dwelling is the place of private devotion in Israel’s daily life.  The psalmist explains that Yahweh prefers public worship “more than” private devotion.  Public worship takes priority before private devotion, namely, because public worship glorifies the Lord more than private devotion.

The glory of God sets the precedent for Christian duty in my church (circa. 1563).  Heidelberg catechism question 91 asks, “But what are good works?” The answer,

Only those which proceed from a true faith,a are performed according to the law of God,band to his glory;c and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.d

Our standard for Christian duty is God’s Word, our motivation is faith, and the end goal is the glory of God. My argument begins by asking this question, “If a single individual glorifies the Lord in private devotion, will not more glory come corporately?”  Is there not more glory bestowed upon God, when families unite to praise Him in public than in the praise of a single family.  For this reason the psalmist summons all the earth to praise God (Ps. 69:34; 148:7, 13).  When the whole earth praises God, he is most glorified as Puritan David Clarkson wrote, “when his glory is most declared, then it is most declared when it is declared by most.”[1]  Again, for that reason, when God finally calls heaven and earth to join in the public hallelujah chorus before the great assembly at the last day, he will receive ultimate glory (2 Thess. 1:10).  Until that becomes reality, the church already participates in that day in her public worship.  God has given certain eschatological attributes by the Spirit through his Word and sacrament that raises His church up in this last day.  The church cannot ascend into heaven (Rom. 10:6), so the Lord descended with his Word (v. 9) to create this hearing community (v. 14).  The ascended Christ gave the office of pastor to preach this Word (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:2), which happens only in the sacred assembly, so public worship glorifies God more than private devotion.[2]  Over the next several posts, I’m going to look at the attributes of the church which show that God is most glorified in public worship.  This will in turn show why public worship is to be preferred over private devotion.  What I’m not saying.  I’m not saying that the Christian should not have devotion, especially family devotion.  He must.  What I’m arguing for in these posts is the priority of public worship over private devotion.  Evangelicals have flipped this paradigm and I want to flip it back to the Christian historic position.


         aRom. 14:23.

         b Lev. 18:4; 1 Sam. 15:22; Eph. 2:10.

         c 1 Cor. 10:31.

         d Deut. 12:32; Ezek. 20:18, 19; Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:7–9.

[1] Clarkson, Public Worship, 189.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 4 of Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 299–300.

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