The church’s sermon and song.
It is my contention that the most essential element of any weekly worship service is nothing more or less than the Word of God. Sola Scriptura is (or ought to be) the driving force that motivates every aspect of a church’s weekly gatherings. Through praying, reading, singing, and preaching God’s Word, the church is brought into fellowship both with one another and with “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father.” (Jn 15:26) As the congregants’ ears resound with the words of God, their hearts are aligned to praise and practice the Lord their Maker and Deliverer. (Ps 95:1–7) Such is why every part of the worship service must come under the careful and prayerful consideration of the church’s leadership.
If there are aspects of worship that have not been bathed in prayer or engrossed in the gospel, it is the responsibility of the pastor and his elders to revise and re-think how they can reorient the church’s worship around the Word. “The pastor,” writes Kent Hughes, “must make sure the gospel is central in all services.”1 The overriding errand of the church’s worship must remain an uplifted focus on the Messiah, rejoicing in his first advent and looking hopefully and confidently for his second advent. “Each part of a service or coming together of God’s people should be a means of grace,” asserts Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. “Every part may bring God’s Word to those who wait upon him — through what is sung, prayed, read, said, taught, and preached.”2 “Each part” entails all that a church does. Every function, program, ministry ought to be saturated with the Word.
The means by which this focus on the Word manifests will vary depending on the culture and make up of each church. But the thread which ties all true worship together is a worship of the Word that is derived out of a reverential awe of what the Word says. (Acts 2:42–47) Corporate worship of God’s Word ought to have as its intended end a rejuvenated and united body of the Lord Jesus. (Eph 4:1–6) “The grand design of gospel proclamation,” writes Jared C. Wilson, “is gospel enthrallment, gospel enjoyment.”3 “The worship service, biblically,” continues Wilson elsewhere, “is a gathering of Christians to enjoy God in communion with him and each other.”4 There is no greater purpose or message with which the church should be engaged.
The church’s sermon and song is Christ alone. Solus Christus is the church’s anthem. “Jesus,” continues Hughes, “is the temple we go through to worship God rightly, and in him we become the temple of the living God.”5 (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:13–22; 4:23–24) The writer to the Hebrews indicates as much when he asserts that is is “through him,” that is, through Jesus Christ alone, that we are to “continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” (Heb 13:15) All that the church is, says, and does ought to be drenched in the words of Christ on their behalf. Such is what comprises the church’s confession and worship.
Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:16–17)
R. Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry, edited by Douglas Sean O’Donnell (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 92.
Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 204.
Jared C. Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 80.
Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 62.