The Transforming Power of Biblical Worship, Part 2
A few weeks ago during our Sunday morning service I preached a sermon entitled “A True Disciple Loves the Church.” One of the points in that sermon was that a true disciple loves the church’s worship. We love the church’s worship because we have the great privilege of drawing near to God in worship through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. You may remember that during the sermon I mentioned what theologians commonly refer to as the regulative principle of worship. That’s a fancy way of saying that our worship of God must be regulated by His Word. God has the right to tell us how He will be worshipped and we must obey Him. We are not free to worship Him in any way we choose. We require clear warrant from Scripture for what we do in worship.
You may also remember that I tried to summarize what Scripture commands us to do in worship by examining Acts 2:42: “And they (the early church) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The early church was committed to the Word, the sacraments, and prayer (known as the elements of worship) all in the context of biblical fellowship together (i.e. no Christian is meant to be a Lone Ranger). Let’s look more closely at these elements of worship by viewing them in a five-fold pattern summarized in this way: Read the Word, Preach the Word, Sing the Word, Pray the Word, and See the Word. We’ll keep our attention on the first of these elements in this article.
God exhorts us to read the Bible when we gather for public worship. We see this pattern established for us in the OT. One example is from Nehemiah 8. The exiled people of Israel had returned to Jerusalem and are in the process of putting back together the broken pieces of their world. They’ve finished rebuilding the wall around the city and then celebrate by having a worship service. What did this worship service consist of? Reading (and preaching) the Word.
As we turn to the NT we see Paul give a clear charge to Timothy to devote himself to the same thing. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” Timothy was to devote himself, to give his careful attention, to reading the Scripture in worship. Why? Because God’s Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and He uses his Word to save, sanctify, and comfort his people (2 Tim. 3:15; John 17:17). Friends, when the Word is read in worship we must give careful attention because King Jesus himself is speaking to us.
I’m extremely thankful that Pastor Bill was dedicated to making sure our services were saturated with Scripture. I long to do the same. If you look at our order of service each week you will notice that we strive to achieve this by dedicating a portion of the service to the public reading of Scripture. We always read the passage that will be preached, but we also try to read from another portion of Scripture. Reformed churches have generally adopted two approaches to this reading. The Latin names are lectio selecta (selected reading) and lectio continua (continuous reading). Both approaches are wonderful ways to expose the congregation to the treasury of God’s Word. One of the advantages of the lectio continua approach is that the congregation is able, in course of time, to gain exposure to the whole counsel of God by working through books of the Bible.
I distinctly remember my former pastor telling the congregation that after about five years of his ministry we had listened to over twenty books of the Bible through either the preaching or lectio continua reading of Scripture. Think about that: in just five years of regular reading and preaching of God’s Word we can hear one-third of the Bible. Is there any greater cause that we can devote ourselves to as a church than hearing God’s Word read and preached? In the coming weeks we are going to start working our way through portions of the Old Testament in a lectio continua format for our reading of Scripture. We will start with the book of Ruth and then follow the story line that Ruth introduces (that of David’s kingship) all the way through the books of 1 & 2 Samuel. It is our prayer that this reading of Scripture will encourage your heart, sharpen your mind, and ignite your affections to hunger for more of God’s Word.
In closing, consider these words of encouragement from the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 157) on how the word of God should be read. “The Holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.”
May the Lord cause His Word to bear much fruit in our lives as we give careful attention to it.