I’ve been reading Bryan Chapell’s newest book Christ Centered Worship this week, much to my delight. Chapell is one of my favorite authors. Holiness by Grace prompted a radical, sanctifying paradigm shift in my understanding. So when I saw he’d written on worship, I was thrilled.
His first few chapters trace the liturgical histories of Rome, Luther, Calvin, and Westminster. In his chapter “Westminster’s Story,” he points out that the divines emphasized the role of the spoken Word. “The goal of most Reformers was to renew the church through understanding of and faithfulness to the Scriptures” (66). This approach has spread through the English-speaking Protestant world–and for good reason. Nevertheless, Chapell identifies that there are pros and cons to this approach:
The consequences of making worship primarily about knowledge are both positive and negative in post-Reformation Protestantism. On the positive side, believers are consistently urged to worship in spirit and in truth. Ideally, they are led to heart engagement with their God not by sentiment nor by superstition, but by right understanding of his Word. Such worship protects the church from error and the believer from idolatry.
The negative impact of turning the sanctuary into the lecture hall is training believers to become merely reflective about the gospel in worship and tempting them to believe that right worship is simply about right thought. As a consequence, the worship focus becomes study, accumulating doctrinal knowledge, evaluating the Sermon, and critiquing the doctrinally imprecise. Congregational participation, mutual encouragement, heart engagement, expressions of grief for sin, and joyous thanksgiving may increasingly seem superfluous, or even demeaning. Celebration is dismissed as “charismatic,” awe is lost, and sacrament is reduced to remembrance instead of encounter with the presence of the risen Lord. As another has written, even the praise can become more about “exhortation to thanksgiving than giving thanks.” When this happens, then those whose hearts yearn to respond to God in all the ways his Word describes (and all the ways he has made us to worship) will seek him elsewhere–including those places where truth has been sacrificed to experience (67).
Chapell’s analysis is thought-provoking, particularly as we prepare for corporate worship this Sunday. Will we worship only in truth?