Worshipful Preaching

That the sermon, if it is to be a Christian sermon at all, must be an honest attempt to expound a passage of Scripture should go without saying. To by-pass Scripture at this point is like trying to celebrate the Holy Supper without bread or wine; it is to show that one is ignorant of the commandments and promises which determine Christian worship.

But it is not enough just to take a text. To take a text and then proceed to use it as a peg on which to hang one’s own thoughts is as bad as having no text at all: it is to handle the Word of God deceitfully and to insult the Lord who wills to speak to his people through the words of Scripture. But to say that preaching must be expository is not to say that it must not be topical in the sense of having direct relevance to contemporary events. On the contrary, the scriptural passage has not been properly heard and understood, until it relevance to the actual concrete situation of the congregation has been recognized; and the more patiently and honestly expository preaching is, the more relevant and contemporary does it become. Of course it is true that there is a sort of exposition that leaves everything in the air, but that is no proper exposition. A scriptural passage is not properly expounded until its relevance to the hearers becomes plain.

—C. E. B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958):393

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God’s Initiative

Throughout the Bible it is assumed that the initiative in true worship is God’s.

Christian worship is also human action. The human action is altogether secondary, being made possible by, and responding to, the action of God.

—C. E. B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,”  Interpretation, vol. xii number 4 (October, 1958)

The Sermon as Worship

The sermon, if it really is a sermon, is most certainly worship. For the faithful exposition of the Word of God is itself at the same time both Word of God (the divine action of worship) and also hearing of the Word of God (the primary human action of worship), the preacher leading the congregation in its work of hearing.

—C. E. B. Cranfield “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,” Interpretation xii number 4 (October 1958)

Jesus My Worship

Who can do it?
Who can love God with all his heart, mind, and soul?
Who can achieve perfect union with God?
Who can worship God with a pure and unstained heart?
Not me!
Not you. Not Billy Graham. Not Bill Hybels. Not Matt Redman.
Not anybody I know or you know.
Only Jesus can. And He does for me and for you what neither of us can do for ourselves.

This is the message that is missing in the literature of contemporary worship [AND traditional worship!]. It is too much about what I ought to do and too little about what God has done for me. God has done for me what I cannot do for myself. He did it in Jesus Christ. Therefore my worship is offered in a broken vessel that is in the process of being healed, but is not yet capable of fullness of joy, endless intense passion, absolute exaltation, and celebration. But Jesus, who shares in my humanity yet without sin, is not only my Savior—He is also my complete and eternal worship, doing for me, in my place, what I cannot do. . . .

Thanks for Jesus Christ, who is my worship. We are free! And in gratitude, we offer our stumbling worship in the name of Jesus with thanksgiving.

—Robert E. Webber, “Contemporary Music-Driven Worship: A Blended Worship Response,” Exploring the Worship Spectrum, 130

Grace before Law

In the Bible, the form of covenant (in both the Old and New Testaments) is such that the indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of law and human obligation. “I have loved you, I have redeemed you . . . therefore, keep My commandments. . . .” But Judaism turned it the other way round. “If you keep the law, God will love you. If you keep the sabbath, the Kingdom of God will come”, etc. That is, the imperatives are made prior to the indicatives. The covenant has been turned into a contract, and God’s grace made conditional on man’s obedience. It is precisely against this inversion of the order of grace that Paul protests in Galatians 3:17-22. God made a covenant with Abraham, and although the law came four hundred and thirty years later (to spell out the obligations of grace) it did not suddenly introduce conditions of grace. It did not turn the covenant into a contract. To introduce conditions would be to break a promise.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):56

God as Subject

All priestly action within the place of meeting was by way of acknowledgment and witness to God’s testimony of Himself in the Covenant. God is not acted upon by means of priestly sacrifice. Priestly action rests upon God’s Self-revelation in His Word and answers as cultic sign and action to the thing signified. That is particularly clear in regard to the teaching of the OT about atonement, for the various words used to express expiation or reconciliation are used with God as Subject always, never with God as object (except in describing heathen sacrifice), and are only used with man as subject in the secondary sense of liturgical obedience to God’s appointment. It is actually God Himself who performs the act of forgiveness and atonement, but the priestly cultus is designed to answer to His act and bear witness to His cleansing of the sinner.

—T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood, 3