Who’s at the Center?

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The Protestant church — especially the Protestant church in North America — is terribly fragmented and divided, irreparably so, short of a movement of the Spirit to reunite her.

But there is something the vast majority of segments of the Christian church agree on: local churches exist, in part at least, to perpetuate the worship of the Lord God by assembling on the Lord’s Day, Sunday.

Here is the question I want to ask. What is the purpose of that Lord’s Day assembly? It seems to me that most of the church believes (if not in theory, then in practice at least) that the Lord’s Day assembly of the local church should be designed for unbelievers. In fact, many churches view their Sunday worship service as an opportunity to congregationalize lost people and craft an experience that will make the gospel appealing to them. Unchurched Harry is the real center of gravity in the worship.

Think about that. If this is true (and I am convinced it is), then a great many evangelical churches view the worship of the local church in pragmatic terms, as a tool of outreach to unbelievers. And many would have finely nuanced, proof-texted, rational arguments to defend this practice as a positive ecclesiological principle. And praise bands, too.

But here is precisely where the church needs reformation. Precisely because the church is for the world, because the church exists as a missional community, the local church’s Lord’s Day assembly must be designed for the church. As someone has said, in her worship the church “does the world right.” In Lord’s Day worship God meets with His people, calling them to Himself, cleansing them of their sin, consecrating them through His Word, communing with them at His table, and then commissioning them to go out in to the world with the gospel of grace. In the Lord’s Day assembly, God is glorified among His people — and among the nations — as an all-sufficient and glorious Savior and Lord. The Triune God blesses His people and shapes them into Christ’s image through the cross-shaped liturgy of gospel-steeped worship. God’s people receive His grace, and in the power of that grace, they are impelled to take the gospel into the world. The flow is out from the grace of worship and into the world to complete the Great Commission by the power of the Spirit.

We are robbing God of His glory and actually harming our ability to complete the Great Commission if we attempt to dethrone Him from the center of the church’s worship, a center that belongs to Him alone as He dwells with His people.

Let me say it again: the worship of the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day must be for the Lord’s people — in the sense that it is primarily a meeting of God’s people with the God of grace — if it will be biblical worship, if it will be for the world, if it will fulfill God’s purpose for the church. This is one more way to say that if there will be reformation and renewal in the church, it will begin with the worship of the church.

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4 Responses to “Who’s at the Center?”

  1. ubergoober Says:

    David,

    I agree with your point that the worship of the church is a unique moment between God and his people. I particularly like the statement that “in her worship the church ‘does the world right.’”

    The question that comes up for me (notice how deftly I avoided using “emerges”?) is: What does it look like? Can it look like different things and still be theocentric? authentic? worship? Or is there a prescriptive form (format) for worship that makes it more biblical, more theocentric, more authentic?

    I’m grateful for our ongoing conversation about these things!

    Soli Deo Gloria,
    Rob

  2. davidbryant Says:

    Rob,
    Yep, a great question has indeed bloomed.

    I believe that what this looks like is covenant renewal, which is by its very nature theocentric and “biblical” (everyone can use that moniker, it seems — I mean by it “whole Bible”). You don’t have to call it covenant renewal, but that’s what it is. In a world that is covenantal at its root, it’s inescapable.

    Sort of like when you get married, you are picturing Christ and His bride, the church. You may not think of it as that, and you may do it badly (not you, you’re a good husband!), but that’s what it is. Husband-wife relationships can be nothing else. In the same way, worship is covenant renewal.

    Am I doing it well, self-consciously faithful to God’s Word, or not? That’s the question I am trying to answer.

  3. ubergoober Says:

    Thanks for walking through this with me. The question which surfaces behind the last one is: Is worship (namely, the worship service) given prescriptive form in Scritpure? Do we see, for instance, New Testament examples of a covenant renewal liturgy practiced in worship gatherings? Is there Old Testament teaching that lines things up in a certain way? Or do you draw things together and assemble them in a way that serves to be the reminder and renewing moment of the covenant God has made with his people?

  4. davidbryant Says:

    So Rob, this looks like the discussion topic of our next breakfast! Looking forward to it already!

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