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What is the Chief Purpose of the Christian Worship Service?

February 20th, 2010
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Debates across all Christian church bodies of which I’m aware, for quite a long time, have been going on over the question of what the Sunday morning worship service is really all about. I should qualify that last statement. This discussion is going on across those churches that actually still do regard the Sunday morning worship service as, first and foremost, the occasion when the Holy and Almighty God serves His people through Word and Sacrament and they respond with prayer, praise and thanksgiving, giving their adoration and worship to the All Holy and Glorious Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A growing trend in such churches is to view the Sunday morning service as a tool to be used to attract non-believers to the Christian faith. Such a fundamental shift in understanding of what the purpose of the Sunday morning worship service is all about has extremely serious consequences for how worship is conducted, what goes on during the service, and so forth. Consider the following observations:

Worship is either an encounter with the reality of God, or it is some kind of attempt by man to raise himself by his own bootstraps. It then becomes an occasion for moralizing, a theatrical show, or a sort of pep rally. On the contrary, in the ancient church, the reading of the Gospel was surrounded with festive splendor because here Christ addresses His faithful followers. As the exalted Lord of the Church He today still exercises His prophetic function through His preachers and teachers. We still bear witness to His presence in the acclamations before and after the Gospel. We sing: “Glory be to Thee, O Lord!” and “Praise be to Thee, O Christ!”

- Earnest Koenker, Worship in Word and Sacrament, p. 47 HT: Weedon.

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  1. February 20th, 2010 at 09:59 | #1

    AP V 189 [310] So the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive gifts from God. On the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God. However, we can offer nothing to God unless we have first been reconciled and born again. This passage, too, brings the greatest comfort, as the chief worship of the Gospel is to desire to receive the forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness. Christ says of this worship, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). And the Father says, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5).
    Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (130). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

    42 Among our opponents, there are many regions where no sermons are preached[Page 221] during the whole year, except in Lent. (tr-327) But the chief worship of God is the preaching of the Gospel.
    Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (220). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

  2. February 20th, 2010 at 18:07 | #2

    How does focusing the worship service as an opportunity for the unchurched to hear a direct proclamation of the Gospel lead to moralizing or a theatrical show or a pep rally?

    Are not the unchurched most likely to attend church on Sunday mornings? Doesn’t it seem reasonable to try and have a good opportunity for them to hear the Gospel message there?

    Sure, traditional liturgical worship can do an excellent job of proclaiming the Gospel. But so can contemporary worship.

    I agree with what Guillaume says: But the chief worship of God is the preaching of the Gospel. Who needs the Gospel more than non-believers?

    • February 21st, 2010 at 06:53 | #3

      The focus of the Sunday gathering of the saints is not on the “unchurched” but on the gathering of Christians to receive Christ’s gifts and sing his praise. You are raising a red herring to deflect the point of the post. That’s not helpful or appropriate. This post does not suggest unbelievers don’t need to hear the Gospel. That you have to resort to such tactics reveals the fundamental weakness of your position.

  3. mark of brighton
    February 22nd, 2010 at 14:02 | #4

    I may not say this the best way but God works through word and sacrament. The divine liturgy is a vehicle through which God works to deliver his gifts to me. I was brought to faith in my baptism, my faith is strengthened and preserved through the Word and the Lord’s Supper. When we adopt the ways of the world, we are using (no offense intended) dead things rather than the living means of grace. Leaves flow with the current, only something living can swim against the current. And again, it is a living Word because it is God’s Word.

  4. Randy Keyes
    February 23rd, 2010 at 08:52 | #5

    I remember reading an article back in “Moody Monthly” in the 80′s or early 90′s that mentioned the reason many Baptist churches first had a Sunday evening service that was strictly evangelistic in nature was so that the unchurched would come in and marvel at the “new gas lamps” and it would be an opportunity to share the Gospel. Now, think for a moment. Some Sunday mornings they probably ran those lamps, but they had a separate time other than their normal worship service when they had an “evangelistic service.” Notice also, that most of the “Revival meetings” were in the evenings and were separate from the “normal worship times” of the church.

    Why do I bring this up? I find it interesting that even in the history of the Revivalists, they had times that were separate from “normal worship” that were for the purpose of evangelism. Then as time went on, the lines were blurred and then finally you fell into the “Willow Creek seeker service” which was a weak gospel presentation which has run its course and even they are abandoning it to a greater extent. I find that interesting.

    Fads come and go, but people need and yearn for substance, and that substance is Christ who comes to us in Word and Sacrament.

    Thank you for the post, Bro Paul.

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