The Bible is Central
The Bible has always been central to the life of the Christian church. The ancient Hebrew stories, songs, prophecy and wisdom that saturated the Jewish world of Jesus’ day greatly shaped even Jesus himself as he lived on the earth. The earliest Christians explored the Scriptures in an attempt to understand what Almighty God had accomplished through Jesus, and as a result, they planned to shape their lives accordingly. Today, we continue to study the Scriptures to discover how to live and thus, how to worship.
Scripture has never been merely a reference book for answering questions or a recipe book to create certain results, though it could possibly be used as such. From the very beginning Scripture has been given a prominent place in the church’s worshiping life, indicating that it has been understood to not only be part of the church’s thinking but also part of the church’s worship. Scripture is the foundation of all Christian worship in that it reveals God to the worshiper – what He has done in the past, what He is doing in the present, and what He will do in the future – and shows us what the appropriate response should be as we worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).
Less Word, More Everything Else?
If the importance of the Word is foundational to Christ–followers, why has Scripture fallen from its once prominent place in the Christian life? In spite of all the emphasis we evangelicals have placed on the importance of the Bible, there seems to be a crisis of the Word among us.
In a 1993 survey, 1033 American pastors described their highest ministry competencies as Scriptural knowledge (85%), teaching (83%), and preaching (81%) (George Barna, Today’s Pastors: A Revealing Look At What Pastors Are Saying About Themselves, Their Peers, and the Pressures They Face, Ventura: Regal 1993, 70-71). As a result, the conclusion can be made that the Bible is important to the church, as it should be.
However, in the average church, a different story is told of the congregation. The same study shows that most Christians can’t recite at least five of the Ten Commandments, can’t name the four Gospels, don’t know that Jesus is the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount, and think “God helps those who help themselves” is actually a verse in the Bible (Barna, 48-49). The researcher concludes that “Lay members are abysmally ignorant of the basics of the Bible…no amount of Bible-based preaching, scriptural teaching or small-group meetings moves the congregation to a higher plane of Bible knowledge…Obviously the Bible is not a high priority in the lives of most people” (Barna, 48).
Furthermore, the Bible no longer seems to be important in our corporate worship gatherings. Whereas in the past corporate worship services were filled with Scripture recitations, which included Old Testament, New Testament, Epistle and Psalm readings, the average evangelical church rarely incorporates each of these today. We have seen a trend of more singing and longer sermons, resulting in less and less Scripture reading. Most often, Scripture is relegated to the sermon, and even then, many sermons today are moving away from delving into the text for greater understanding and moving to focusing on a biblical thought, sometimes offering just a self–help type of message. The importance of Scripture is given lip service but is not given priority in our churches.
A Renewal of Scripture
My challenge to all of us who lead congregational worship is to strive toward a renewal of Scripture within our worship services. We should recite, read, present, think upon, pray, and sing the words of God. Read biblical passages to lay a foundation for the song you are about to sing; pray the words of Scripture over your people; invite the congregation to read a passage of Scripture together, unified in one voice; choose songs saturated with the word of God. Allowing Scripture to touch every aspect of our worship service encourages the congregation to hide God’s word in their hearts so they might live lives less of sin and more of Jesus.
Above all, we can be sure that God will use his words to transform his people through the power of the Holy Spirit – “for the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.” (Psalm 33:4)