The Centrality of the Word in Christian Worship
I get to serve both as a professor of Greek and theology as well as the worship pastor at my local church. I am thankful for each of these posts since they each uniquely contribute to the other. As I thought about what should be the topic of my first post in three years, it was an easy decision. What’s more important than the Bible when it comes to the gathering of the saints to worship?
To be sure, this isn’t earth-shattering, but I think that the Word ought to be central in Christian worship for at least three reasons: [note—what this is not about is the matter of the regulative principle; that is for a future post]
FIRST, the highest point of the worship meeting is the preaching of the Word. Everything else prepares us for that, flows from that, and is a response to that. All worship leaders need to sit and think on this one. Do the songs, readings, prayers etc. prepare the peoples’ heart for the preached Word? We are not competing with the sermon, and thus are there to serve the people by all that we do. When I lead, I want to whet the appetite for the Word. I want there to be pressure on the preaching to “deliver the goods,” as it were. As a worship pastor who also gets to preach and teach, I see it from both sides. It is the Word that transforms. True, we are to sing the word as well (Col 3:16; cf. the Psalms!), but the Lord has ordained that the preaching of the Bible is the apex of our gathered worship.
SECOND, the songs that are sung are to be biblical. This is perhaps overly simplistic, but it seems that not everyone has gotten the message, so I will repeat it here: the songs that are sung are to be biblically and theologically accurate. To be sure, there will be figurative language befitting the genre, and I have plans for several posts regarding the hermeneutics of worship, but if the people of God are to be full of the word of Christ, then the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” that are sung must meet the “sniff test” when it comes to content. The musical portion of the service ought to flow from and drive people to the Bible.
THIRD, Paul tells Timothy to “attend to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). What is a more delightful sound to the ears of the Lord than his people reading His word aloud as an act of worship and adoration of the triune God? Be it a Psalm of praise to call the gathered church to a service of worship, guiding them through a passage of confession and pardon, or ending with a glorious benediction, reading of the Bible should actually be part of our worship. The Bible must be central to our corporate worship. To be sure, it means more than these three things, but certainly not less. May the Lord be honored in all that we do when we gather in his name!