The congregation is not an audience.
To confuse the two requires a cultural understanding of public worship instead of a biblical one. The two words are based on different words:
- “Audience” is based on “audio” which refers to hearing.
- “Congregation” is based on the verb, “to congregate.”
An audience is there to hear. A congregation is an intentional gathering of people.
To put it plainly:
- An audience is a gathering of people to intent on hearing something.
- A congregation is a group of people who have come together for more than just to hear.
Why does a congregation congregate?
A biblical name for the church is “the called out ones.” We congregate because the Lord has called us together. The Bible is clear: “Do not stop congregating!”
By observation we can see important differences between an audience and a congregation:
- People in an audience have no inherent relationship to each other. They are just in the same room at the same time for the same event—to “hear” the same thing.
- Members of a congregation are in relationship with each other. They are brothers and sisters in Jesus, parents and children in the faith, and grandparents and grandchildren in the Family of God.
- Audience members are observers; they have come to watch the goings on. They expect to receive something from the presenters.
- Congregation members are participants; they have come with work to do. They intend to give something to the Lord—worship!
- Audience members have few responsibilities toward each other, just common decency.
- Congregants have great responsibilities toward each other. These can be summed up in the biblical phrase “decently and in order.” We must worship with all our heart, soul, mind and strength while not taking the spotlight off the Lord Jesus.
A Powerful Prepositional Phrase
One of the most important phrases in the Bible is easy to overlook: “In the midst of the congregation…” Another version of is: “In the Assembly…” To me these words mean that I must always consider the “common good” of the whole congregation. I must not treat them as if they were an audience—that would be a terrible demotion.
They are the people of God!
I waited patiently upon the Lord; he stooped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord. Happy are they who trust in the Lord! they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods. Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God! how great your wonders and your plans for us! there is none who can be compared with you…. Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, and so I said, “Behold, I come. In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: ‘I love to do your will, O my God; your law is deep in my heart.'” I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I did not restrain my lips; and that, O Lord, you know. Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation. …. Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad; let those who love your salvation continually say, “Great is the Lord!” Though I am poor and afflicted, the Lord will have regard for me. You are my helper and my deliverer; do not tarry, O my God.
Hebrews 2:10-12 NIV
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”
From the Psalms NIV
I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.
My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the Lord.
I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise you.
Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.
Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders.
Praise the Lord. I will extol the Lord ]with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly.
One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works
Praise the Lord .Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.
1 Peter 2:4-6; 9-10 NIV
As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Come Now, O Royal Priesthood
Words and Music: Stephen Phifer
1. Come now, O Royal Priesthood, bring the Sacrifice of Praise,
The fruit of lips that sing His Name, the song of ancient days.
Made holy by His Righteousness, made regal by His Grace,
Come now, O Roy-al Priesthood, bring the of Praise.
O sing! Sing unto the Lord Your King
And Praise! Lift your voice with thanksgiving.
Let the measure of your praises be “the glory due His Name.”
Come now, O Royal Priesthood, bring the Sacrifice of Praise!
2. Come now, O Holy Priesthood, bring the Sacrifice of Love;
The first commandment now obey, affections fixed above,
Where Jesus reigns in majesty on a Throne of Truth and Trust.
Come now, O Holy Priesthood bring the Sacrifice of Love.
3. Come now, O Holy Nation, for the King is calling you
To stand for Him and live for Him, a people brave and true;
Ambassadors of Heaven with Heaven’s work to do.
Come now, O Holy Nation for the King is calling you!
© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
See also: “A Prayer for the Sanctuary”