From: The Pen of Robert Spinney
Most American Christians today do not understand how listening to an hour of preaching can be an act of worship. This is because we tend to regard worship as something inherently emotional. Worship, we believe, is something that we feel. We like to be “lifted up to the Lord” in worship, which seems to require heavy emphasis on songs. “Good worship” is worship that moves us, touches our heart, and causes us to sway a little. Because we equate praise and worship with emotions, we tend to think of our standard Lord’s Day morning worship services as containing two distinct parts: the “praise and worship” part ( which consists of singing primarily of singing and perhaps public testimonies ), and the teaching or lesson part ( which consists of the pastor’s morning sermon ). We see the sermon as a wholly intellectual and didactic event ( read: it doesn’t move us emotionally ), so we think that the worship stops when the preaching begins. I get blank looks from otherwise energetic Christians when I speak of “worshiping while one listens to the Word being proclaimed” or “preaching as an act of worship for preacher and listener” or “meeting God in the preached Word.”
What is the problem? In addition to placing too much importance upon emotions, we American Christians suffer from a sub-biblical view of preaching. But this may be because — in spite of all our affirmations and orthodox statements of faith — we have a sub-biblical view of the Word of God itself.
We can ( and should ) say many good things about the Word of God: it is infallible, it is inerrant, it is God-breathed, it is useful, it is relevant, it is the final authority in matters of faith and practice. But we should add one other thing, something our Protestant forefathers emphasized but we have forgotten: the Word of God mediates the presence of God to us. In other words, God does not normally speak to his people today through dreams or Isaiah-like prophets. He speaks through his Word. That means if I wish to hear God’s voice and enjoy his presence, I need to sit before his Word. To put it another way, we meet God through his Word. The Holy Scriptures not only teach us, exhort us, and correct us ( although they do all these things ), God’s Word is also the normal medium through which we encounter God himself and receive from him. . . .
Few American Christians today believe that the Word of God mediates the presence of God. Ask the average American Christian when ( or where ) she is most likely to commune with God intimately, and she will respond, “When I’m singing.” This is why we use the phrase “praise and worship services” to describe a meeting where we do nothing but sing. In other words, we use songs to mediate the presence of God. Although we would never admit it, we secretly believe that hymns, contemporary Christian songs, and praise choruses are more powerful than the Holy Scriptures. . . .
I understand that the appeal for Word-based worship, or worship that is centered upon the hearing of the Word of God, may sound strange, just as we are beginning to abandon it in favor of more “exciting” methods. But Word-based worship was commonplace among our Protestant forefathers. Protestants of all stripes understood that the guidelines for a biblical and profitable worship service could be reduced to one phrase: Word and Sacrament. For centuries, Christians have met with their God in the written Word ( as set forth in the sermon ) and in the living Word ( as set forth in the Lord’s Supper service ). We may be the first generation of Christians to think that we can have a praise and worship service without the presence of either the preached Word or the communion table.
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