–Winter of 1997
The Word in Worship
For many Americans the recent blur of holiday activities was momentarily suspended by a curious news story out of Clearwater, Florida, a few days before Christmas. It began when a pedestrian outside of a local bank noticed that one of the large smoke-colored windows appeared to reflect the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Word spread rapidly and within hours police officers had to be summoned to manage the influx of traffic as worshipers of Mary flooded the streets and sidewalks, offering prayers, reciting the rosary and shedding tears of adoration and joy. One wonders how it is that the groundskeeper seemed to be expressing the minority opinion when he concluded that the image was simply a coincidental result of a chemical reaction between the window finish and the lawn sprinkler.
It goes without saying that the religious frenzy displayed outside the Clearwater, Florida, bank, while having a veneer of spirituality and piety diverged widely from true Scriptural worship. Any time the central authority of Scripture is compromised, a fatal blow is struck to the heart of worship. Heresy and cultic malpractices are the inevitable results. Conversely, when God’s Word is consciously and consistently given priority, it contributes a soundness to worship, clearly defining the object of worship and governing the worship process in general.
However, lest we smile to condescendingly upon the misdirected idolizers of Mary, it might be appropriate to examine ourselves and ask if our worship is truly modeled and marked by the Word of God. There is little doubt that we pay lip service to the supreme and prominent place that Scripture should occupy in our religious assemblies. Furthermore, we have remained unquestionably committed to the supernatural character of the Bible, readily denouncing any and every threat or perceived threat to the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. But, does this laudable conviction manifest itself in a real objective way – particularly in the context of public worship? Or do our hurried worship services encumbered with a litany of organizational announcements, sandwiched between a handful of extemporaneous digressions ranging from stories of transportation difficulties on the way to church to half-humorous reflections on last week’s church get-together, leave little time for careful, thoughtful reading and meditating on the Word of God? Are sermons something more than motivational speeches or spiritual pep-talks wrapped in a Scripture text? Do they, in reality, unfold the holy Word?
In this book, The Ultimate Priority, John MacArthur, Jr., laments that, “some sermons are only marginally biblical but move the congregation and make them laugh and cry…They might be interesting, fun, entertaining, exciting and impressive sermons, but they do not help the people worship God.” The result of such biblically deficient worship is predictable. Worship eventually relaxes into a ragged, undefined shallow exercise that ultimately focuses on self rather than on God. Over time the average congregation acclimates itself to the spiritually lean atmosphere. Rather than sensing that something is wrong, they actually begin to enjoy and expect these services of entertainment where they always leave feeling good.
In Nehemiah the power of the Word of God to motivate true worship is clearly demonstrated as Ezra read from the sacred scroll in the presence of the standing congregation. Though convicted and challenged by the Word, the grateful assembly responded in chorus, “Amen, Amen.” With lifted hands they “worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” May God grant us such a revival…a revival of true worship, firmly grounded in and flowing from a meaningful commitment to the holy Word.