Worship Wars3: Problems With Bible Readings

Posted on December 30, 2007. Filed under: Bi-vocational Ministry, Worship Wars |

Sunday, December 30, 2007– So far in my writings on the Worship Wars I witnessed in a small, elderly, bi-vocational SBC church I have given a definition of worship (which needs more work) and a brief history of the development of diversity in worship and then I described the worship at the church where I pastored for 15 years along with all the key conditions present. Today I will get into the Problems we had, some of the mistakes I made, and discuss the issues revolving around worship.

The first complaint I received about worship after I started pastoring was that I included too many Scripture readings in the order of service. This took me aback somewhat so I asked how many Scripture readings they were used to having. No more than 1-2 was the answer. I was using 4-6 readings per service. This was probably a rookie mistake on my part, but here is what I was trying to do: I would begin the service with a scripture that would relate to some aspect of the sermon or that pertained to the church calendar. I would frequently read one of the verses that one of the hymns was based upon so as to demonstrate the scriptural theme and foundation of our hymns. I would include a responsive reading for the congregation and would read a verse about offerings, sacrifices or God’s abundant provision just prior to the offering. Just before the sermon the sermon text would be read and I would then close the service with a scriptural benediction from the back of the hymnal.

On Sunday nights there would be only 2-3 readings: at the beginning of the service I would read our way through a New Testament book one chapter or portion of a chapter at a time but in the middle of the song service we would take a break for some testimonies and prayer requests and we would sometimes have another reading then, For several months we would read from Proverbs and have a brief explanation of the verse (we called this portion of the service Proverbs to Live By) or at other times we read through some of the great Baptist Confessions of Faith which would frequently include some Scripture. Then I would read the sermon text prior to the sermon. We read through most of the New Testament over the 15 years on Sunday nights.

The problem was that I had disturbed what the congregation believed to be the proper order of service with adding these extra readings on Sunday mornings. In my travels around the country and being a member in Baptist churches in Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington, plus watching some TV churches, I had observed that while Baptists claim to be a “people of the Book” and were called “Bible Thumpers” by some, our worship services did not include nearly as many scripture readings as the more “liberal” churches and Catholic churches did. I even noticed that the charismatic churches, including a couple of Assembly of God congregations I had visited did not include the Scripture as a significant part of the worship other than in the sermon. And even in the sermons I heard through the years there tended to be more jokes, stories and personal opinions than scriptural content.

Maybe my youthful enthusiasm led me astray; my eagerness to “do worship right”. Or perhaps I took Jer. 15:16 too seriously, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” I suppose that maybe, just maybe, I took 1Tim.4:13 a little bit too literally, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” And I am reasonably sure I totally misinterpreted Rev. 1:3 “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

Do not get the idea that there was a competetition to see if I could get more Scripture in the service than any of these other churches. My driving idea was that I wanted the Bible to be the basis for every aspect of our worship. I wanted to open the worship service with something like a “Thus saith the Lord!” The Word of God is God’s revelation to us and we should begin worship with a revelation from God’s Word. Our hymns’ ought to be Bible based, therefore I would use a verse conveniently placed at the top of the page for each hymn in the hymnal. (Here I thought I should be scored with a twofer- I was using the Bible and the Hymnal at the same time!) As we prepared to give the offering I thought it would be good to hear from the Lord’s Word about sacrifice, giving, and the Lord’s provision. The responsive readings were for the congregation to actively participate in the Word as a part of worship. The sermon text was not to be merely a jumping off place for my personal opinion, it was to be examined, explained and applied in the light of all of Scripture. The closing benediction (another twofer since it came from the back of the hymnal) was to be a blessing from the Lord to the people as they departed.

But, being sinners, it appears that we do not want some blessings. The objections to my modification of the order of service in the first few months of 1992 were loud, forceful and unrelenting. I backed down and compromised with 4-5 readings. I kept the opening readings, responsive readings, sermon text and benediction. I occasionally included a verse from one of the hymns. Essentially then, I only gave up the offertory reading; so maybe we made some progress after all.

I could go into the objections and arguments directed at my Bible based sermons at this point since that deals with issues regarding the Word and worship. But the sermon issues were so huge and so numerous, that it would be better to reserve that for another posting.

Let me conclude this posting with a summary of the problems and some recommendations. When I came into the pastorate in 1992 I properly identified a weakness in our worship (that is widespread in Baptistdom)- a lack of Scripture in our regular worship. As a rookie I improperly and arrogantly suddenly changed the way our church worshiped without preparing the congregation. I should have gradually brought in these extra readings. To paraphrase Cornelius Ryan, I went a Bible verse too far.

If you are not a church planter and starting a church from the ground up where you can set the worship style from the beginning, and you are instead a minister going to an established church that has a set pattern for their worship, go a little bit slower than I did. Pace your changes in worship to bring the people along in a slow, steady manner. If we are going to be a “people of the Book” we desperately need more of God’s Word in our hearts and lives and including more Scripture in our regular Sunday worship is a good beginning.


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