The Central Component of Worship
From IsaiahXI site
Within the Christian Church there are many examples of liturgically-structured and less-structured types of worship. Most faith traditions include music, prayer, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, Scripture reading and homiletics/preaching. Others add to these forms drama, interpretive movement and visual arts. My point is not to enter into a debate between the regulative and normative principles of worship and whether or not these elements should be included in worship. My aim is to discuss the theological content of these elements if they are included in worship.
A common belief within the Church, especially the evangelical Church, is that the purpose of each form of worship is to prepare the congregation to hear and respond to the sermon delivered by the preacher. When I was growing up, we called the worship service “preaching.” “Mommy, are we going to preaching today?” I have not heard that use of the word in many years, although I have no doubt it is still around. Statements such as this one assume that the sermon is the central and only necessary component of any worship service, that everything else is perfunctory and unintentionally sets the sermon on a level equal to Scripture.
Is the belief that preaching is the central part of any worship service a biblical one? I have not found any scriptural support for such a belief. In fact, the Bible commands us at various points to include other elements in our worship, including singing, prayer and exhortation. Too, the goal of preaching, as I understand it, is to exegete and disseminate the Word of God in such a way that the people of God internalize it and apply it to their lives. Haddon W. Robinson defines the word â€œpreachâ€ in hisBiblical Preaching. “Preach means ‘to cry out, herald, exhort‘” (emphasis in original).(1) In his article “The Preacher and the Text: What Is the Goal of the Message?“ Aaron Menikoff argues well that the ultimate goal in preaching is â€œto make much of the sovereign, holy, gracious, loving, unchanging Lord.”(2) Preaching, however, is not the only way these goals can be accomplished. In fact, it is imperative that the other forms of worship accomplish these goals as well.
While preaching is an integral part of corporate worship, it is not the central aspect of worship. If there were to be no preaching during any given worship service, God could be glorified by other forms, assuming those forms were grounded in Scripture and worship could still take place. Neither is music the central component of worship; if music were omitted from a worship service, the people of God would still be able to worship. In general, however, both of these forms — and others that might be included from time to time — serve to point the people of God to the Word, written and Living. Their inclusion in worship is to the great benefit of the Kingdom.
Each form of worship mentioned above falls into one of two categories: the Pure Word and the Interpreted Word.
The reading of scripture is a deliverance of the Word of God in the purest form available to us (the issues of translation not withstanding). There is no interpretation to it. There is no alteration. It is Scripture, plain and simple.
Prayer is an interactive conversation with God Himself and, like the reading of Scripture, is a pure form of communication with God. The concepts behind the two ordinances, the Lord’s Supper and baptism, are observances of biblical events. One recalls the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and the other recalls the baptism of Jesus Christ and is a public symbol of obedience to Him. Regardless of the methods used to reenact these ordinancesâ€”whether passing containers of crackers and individual cups of grape juice or intinction for the Lord’s Supper, or immersion or sprinkling for baptism (these are altogether separately debatable issues) — the concept of each of these forms is a reenactment of the Word, without repackaging or reframing.
The other forms, however — music, drama, visual arts, interpretive movement and preaching — are all ways of reframing the Word of God; each is someone’s interpretation, extrapolation or explanation of the Scriptures.Some of these forms are inherently affective; others are more intellectual. Nevertheless, each of them takes the Word and repackages it for (hopefully) better understanding, internalization and application. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that any of these forms of worship is more important than another.
At the root of all of these forms, whether they consist of the Pure Word or the Interpreted Word, is the Word. The Word of God, not the ways we package the Word, is central to worship. This has tremendous ramifications for those who plan corporate worship. We must ensure that everything we include in a service is founded on solid, biblically-based theology. If any element is theologically weak, it is better left out of the service altogether.
Beginning around the 1960s and 1970s (these dates are admittedly arguable), Christian music began to abdicate its role as a conduit of biblical theology. Songs began to espouse shallow and often inaccurate images of God. Following this trend closely was the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement which sought to provide Christian-based music in an entertainment setting as an alternative to other worldly forms of entertainment. While CCM has filled a niche in modern Christianity, those who plan worship began to use music produced by CCM artists as material for worship, a role it was never intended to play and for which it was and is inadequate. Within the last decade, however, a few song-writers have recognized this error and have begun to write theologically-rich material, often using as their lyrics direct quotations from or faithful adaptations of Scripture.
Doctrinally-rich music in the twenty-first century includes music by Sovereign Grace Ministries, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, each of whom has resisted the temptation to which their predecessors so easily succumbed (and to which many of their contemporaries are guilty of falling), namely writing music that has little to no theological content and is written more for affective expression than intellectual understanding. While Sovereign Grace, Getty and Townend are not the only sources of well-written music, their music is consistently Christ-centered and worthy of consideration for use in corporate worship.
Leaders of worship, both pastors and musicians, have been called to a glorious but weighty task: to point the people of God to the Son of God, through Whom we have unfettered access to the Holy of Holies. The material we include in corporate worship is crucial to the success of our goal. If the material does not point to Christ, we will have failed in our calling. Therefore, we must always carefully examine the material we include in corporate worship to ensure it is theologically rich and accurate. In other words, if any component of worship does not â€œpreachâ€ it does not belong in worship.
Let me make a few disclaimers now:
1) I am NOT directing the content of this post to any individual or group of individuals. I have not had a recent disagreement with anyone on this topic, so this isn’t an attempt to get the last word in a passive-aggressive way.
2) I am NOT saying in this post that preaching is unimportant and/or unnecessary. On the contrary, I am attemtping to set preaching and all other aspects of worship in their proper place, that is as a servant to the Word. To say that I advocate removing preaching from corporate worship services is inaccurate. To say that I am elevating music or any other form of worship above preaching is also a misrepresentation of what I have tried to put forth in this article.
3) I AM saying that whatever is included in corporate worship, whether it is music or drama or preaching, must be grounded in Scripture.
1 Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 18.
2 Aaron Menikoff, “The Preacher and the Text: What Is the Goal of the Message?” [introduction], ( 9Marks, 2006).
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