Thursday, February 25, 2010

Christ-Centered Worship

Starting next week, D.V., we will have a new blog on Village Seven's website. When it is up, I hope to do a weekly post on the topic of worship and related matters. In the meantime, I thought I might do a quick post on Dr. Bryan Chapell's most recent book, Christ-Centered Worship.
Dr. Chapell is president of Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America. He has written numerous books. Two of his most influential books are Christ-Centered Preaching and Holiness by Grace. I imagine this book will make its way onto many pastors' shelves and even some seminaries' curricula.

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 - Gospel Worship is the meat of the book. Part 2 - Gospel Worship Resources provides some guidance and some resources on how to implement the different elements of worship.

In Part 1, Dr. Chapell outlines and compares various historic church practices that have influenced worship in the western church. For those who do not have an interest in church history, this may appear to be rather dry. However, what Dr. Chapell does with this survey is very helpful. He shows that, historically, the church's worship has been shaped by the gospel story. Here, Dr. Chapell makes a strong case that the order of a worship service should not be governed by whims, or simply manipulating emotions, but should be shaped by the gospel. He notes, "Church leaders understood that if the message was inconsistent with the means by which it was communicated, then the message could easily get lost" (p.17). So, the very shape of the liturgy, together with its content, tells the gospel.

Not only does the shape of the liturgy tell the gospel, but the gospel drives our decisions about how we do worship. He writes, "Since our worship should have a gospel pattern and purpose, the only biblical way of prioritizing legitimate, but competing, worship concerns is to consider how our worship practices are consistent with our understanding of how we would present the gospel in our context" (p. 122).

Often, you will hear people (usually pastors) say that we do not come to worship to get, but to give God glory. In a chapter entitled, "Re-Presenting" CHrist's Story, Dr. Chapell cuts through this false-dilemna fallacy that pits God's glory against the needs of the people. As he notes, "Making God’s glory the exclusive goal of worship sounds very reverent but actually fails to respect Scriptures own gospel priorities" (p. 119). Instead, "Worship must be offered with concerns for God’s glory and the good of his people. Worship cannot be a reflection of the gospel without both concerns" (p. 121).

In his chapter on The Mission of Christ-Centered Worship, he develops this theme even further. In this chapter, Dr. Chapell gives some clear guidance to churches that have faced the worship wars. Too often, the debate has focused on personal preferences of musical style, with one group seeking to claim biblical superiority to the other. However, as Dr. Chapell points out, "If gospel priorities do not determine worship choices, then people’s preferences will tear the church apart" (p. 130). It is this focus on mission, realizing that the church has been placed by God in a particular context at a particular time, that should shape much of our stylistic decisions in worship.

One of the challenging issues that many churches face is how to blend people together from different generations. Dr. Chapell touches on this issue when he writes, "A church also has no future if leaders only consider how to minister to the present generation. We are mistaken, of course, to let our children determine what our worship should be; we are also mistaken not to consider how their children may need to worship" (p. 131).

Another controversy that faces many churches is, should the church minister to believers or to "seekers?" Chapell again points out that this is a false dilemna. He demonstrates, both from Scripture and church history, that the church has always had three audiences in mind in its worship services: the communicants (adult believers), the catechumens (children and new believers learning the faith), and seekers (those examining whether they will claim the truths of the gospel). He notes, "Being entirely “seeker-oriented” is not really an option for Christ-centered worship. But being “seeker-sensitive” is still an appropriate way to think about worship" (p. 139).

There is more that I can say, and will at a later date, but let me commend this book to you. It will help you think biblically about worship.