One of the mottos of the Reformation was Post tenebras lux—“after darkness, light.” They were referring to the recovery of the gospel after a period wherein it was obscured by the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Superstition, false teaching, and corruption had drawn a curtain over the glorious refulgence of the good news of the person and work of Christ, but during the sixteenth century, that curtain had been drawn back, and the light shone once again.
The Reformers’ use of light as a metaphor for the gospel is informed by Scripture. Throughout the Bible, light (and its close analogue, fire) appears in connection with God and His glorious work. Light was the Lord’s first creation in Genesis 1. The Lord revealed Himself to Moses through a bush that was burning but not consumed (Ex. 3). God signaled His presence among the Israelites by lighting their land while the rest of Egypt was shrouded in darkness (Ex. 10:23). The Lord led the Israelites through the wilderness with a pillar of fire to light their way (Ex. 13:21), and the lampstands in the tabernacle allowed the priests to approach the throne of God and pointed to His presence (Ex. 25:31–40; Lev. 24:2). The fire at the top of Mount Sinai also exhibited the presence of God (Ex. 19:18). The Lord’s making “his face to shine upon you” and lifting up “his countenance” is parallel to blessing from God in Numbers 6:24–26. Light represents a blessing from God in the book of Job. It is a metaphor for the illuminating power of the Word of God in the lives of the faithful (Pss. 43:3; 119:105). Light represents the message of hope for the nations in the book of Isaiah (9:2; 42:6; 51:4; 60:1–3).
The New Testament picks up on these associations and applies them to Christ. He is called the light of the world (John 8:12), as are those who are united to Him by faith (Matt. 5:14). In Christ is life, and that life is the light that exposes the evil works of men and makes plain the good works of the righteous (John 1:4, 7–9; 3:19–21; Eph. 5:13–14). The glory of Christ is represented by His blindingly white clothing and shining visage (Matt. 17:2; Rev. 1:12–16; 19:11–12). Christ is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s hopes of a light for the nations (Luke 2:29–32; Acts 13:47; Eph. 3:9). He is the light that illuminates the path of the faithful (John 12:35–36, 46). He is the light of the glory of God (Acts 9; 1 John 1:5). His followers are called “children of light” (1 Thess. 5:5) who have been “called . . . out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). He “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16). And He is the lampstand in the midst of the new Jerusalem whose light will shine continually (Rev. 21:22–25).
Medieval cathedrals emphasize this dyanamic; their sanctuaries are flooded with light thanks to the magnificent stained glass windows.
Light is a good thing in the Bible, and darkness is never a good thing. The life of the Christian is a walk in the light. And nowhere else in the Christian life do we get a better picture of the Christian life than in corporate worship. We are called into His presence, we confess our sin, we are assured of pardon, we hear from His Word, and we respond in praise and thanksgiving. This is the Christian life in microcosm, and it is done in the light, for Christians do not walk in darkness. Corporate worship is a taste of heaven, an anticipation of the Sabbath rest we will enjoy in the glorious, radiant presence of the Lord.
The Apostle John writes, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). If we are in the light, we are not there by ourselves. We are in fellowship with other believers. What’s happening at the front of the church is not the only thing that’s important—the people around us are important, too.
The Westminster Confession of Faith notes:
All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outer man.
Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God. (WCF 26.1–2)
In the same breath, the confession states that we are in fellowship with other Christians just as surely as we are in fellowship with Christ. And we are to maintain that fellowship in the worship of God. This is the first and highest expression of our fellowship in Christ.
There is something meaningful and, indeed, edifying about seeing the faces of our fellow worshipers. We see the same people there every week, sitting in the same places. We see them singing, partaking of the sacraments, trying to keep their children quiet, flipping through their Bibles. And they see us likewise doing the same things. They are our fellow travelers. They are in this life with us, and that can be a source of great assurance.
We hear the Word together, we partake of the sacraments together, we pray together, we confess our sins together. This is not by accident. To be called into fellowship with Christ is to be in fellowship with others. Worship is not about us individually; it is about us corporately. For one day, we will behold the face of God together, as the one body of Christ united to Him by faith. May God grant us the grace to walk in His light, to worship Him in Spirit and truth, and to enjoy fellowship with and worship alongside our fellow saints as we march—together—toward heaven.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 16, 2019.