In Kent Hughes’ The Pastor’s Book, it is stated that, “When you can bet your Cadillac that there will be greater reverence and more Bible readings, songs, and prayers at the local Roman Catholic Church than at the Bible church, you know something is terribly amiss.”1 While, at first, this assertion might seem excessive, it posits a sobering truth: the Word of God has been sidelined in favor of either what is more measurably successful or what is more attractive. Far too many modern churches have become enamored by the “church growth movement,” which seeks to attract as many individuals as possible to attend church services. This pragmatic approach to worship seeks to foster atmospheres that are familiar and comfortable, often implementing equipment and elements many in attendance would recognize from secular concerts. This is not to say that modern technology is a hindrance to biblical worship. But at the same time, lost in the flurry of lights, fog, and showmanship is a simple reverence for the Word of God.
The sequestering of Scripture is no “straw man” or sweeping generalization. The preponderance of modern churches have changed how Scripture is utilized in their worship service planning, placing the bulk of the emphasis on creating a “worship experience.” Many modern churches organize and orchestrate their worship service so as to manipulate, even prey on the congregants emotions. Often, this is accomplished by centering the service around worshipers themselves, selecting songs and crafting presentations that overwhelm the emotions and set the “mood” for what follows, which is usually a sermon that is less Scriptural than it is inspirational. And “when the mood is the point,” writes Jared C. Wilson, “the message becomes expendable.”2
This is not to say that emotions are unbiblical when worshiping. Right worship can (and should) be filled with emotions. It is biblically untrue and spiritually unhealthy to contend for worship that is devoid of all emotional responses. (Jas 5:13) In fact, one’s emotions ought to be stirred if one is rightly fearing and reverencing the almighty God. However, that does not mean our worship services ought to be emotional. While that might seem like an esoteric distinction, there is a bevy distinguishing marks that differentiate worship that stirs emotions and worship that is emotions-driven. “To the extent that the church stages worldly experiences,” says economist James Gilmore, “it will lose its effectiveness.”
To avoid this gross misuse and disregard for the Word, a pastor and his elders ought to strive to implement a liturgy for the church that is centered on and driven by the Word. One might baulk at the notion of implementing a church liturgy, alleging that is too “high church,” too “Catholic.” But the truth is, “every church is liturgical because all churches have an order of service.”3 The question is not, “Should we be liturgical or non-liturgical?” but rather, “Is our liturgy biblically based?” Is the order of service geared towards inviting the congregants into the subjectivity of emotional moods or into the triumphant reverence of God’s written Word? “If we are to resist the lure of subjectivity,” writes Hughes, “we must reset our sights on Scripture.”4
Accordingly, an effective church, one that worships rightly, is one that saturates the order of service with Scripture, reading it publicly, singing it corporately, and proclaiming it expositionally. It does not strive to manipulate or engineer emotional responses, rather, it elevates the emotions “by the truths of the gospel rather than just by the sweetness of the tune.”5 It seeks to induce “reverence and awe” at the awareness that the God of Scripture, who “is a consuming fire,” is also the Savior of the world who reckons sinners righteous and invites foreigners into his kingdom. (Heb 12:28–29; Eph 2:12–18) Right worship is God-fearing, Scripture-saturated, and Jesus-focused, moving the worshipers to tremble and trust in their strong, sovereign King. “The words of God, rather than the words of the worshiper, are to take priority.”6 Biblical worship is always responsive. That is, when the Words of God are proclaimed, through sermon and song, the worshipers respond in love, praise, and humility. They are, likewise, moved to exalt and edify one another through the mutual confession of what the Lord has done. What is confessed is always because of what has already been accomplished. Biblical worship is worship that springs from the Word.
R. Kent Hughes, ed. Douglas Sean O’Donnell, The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 31.
Jared C. Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019), 109.