The Word in Worship

A look at the average Sunday service today in the average Protestant church reveals, in the words of James D. Smart, a “strange silence of the Bible in the church.” The Bible is not read in the worship of most Protestant churches in any systematic way. The Old Testament is often omitted altogether. Thus, the preacher recanonizes Scripture to suit his or her own taste. When bits and pieces of the New Testament are read, they function mainly as a textual springboard for an often unbiblical sermon. This relative silence of Scripture is surprising, particularly when it is within those churches who pride themselves in being “biblical” churches. We Protestants are supposed to be people of the Book, followers of the Word. But the average Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian church would be put to shame in its treatment of Scripture by the worship of the average Roman Catholic church—which reads three lessons every Sunday.

William H. Willimon, The Bible: A Sustaining Presence in Worship, 14

The Tyranny of Style

Designing worship around style, however, can sometimes lead to an obsession with the present to the neglect of the past—or to only one particular past with little regard for the broader history of the church. We can easily forget those who have gone before us, even those who are worshiping earlier in the day than we are; this dishonors them and is unhealthy for us.

—Debra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry, 177

Could Be (Has Been) Worse!

One contemporary from 1800 described Presbyterian singing as “serious severe screaming quite beyond the natural pitch of the voice, a wandering search after the  [tune] by many who never caught it…the dogs seized the occasion to bark (for they always came to Kirk with the family), and the babies to cry.” Another preacher had to warn a congregation: “Do not whisper, talk, gaze about.  Do not practice that unseemly, rude, indecent Custom of Chewing or of spitting, which is very ridiculous and absurd in Public, especially in God’s House” (“The Genuine Presbyterian Whine’:  Presbyterian Worship in the Eighteenth Century,” American Presbyterians, Fall 1996, pp. 157-170).

—Harry Boonstra, “The Best of Times? The Worst of Times? Snapshot of Worship Styles,” Reformed Worship 47 (March 1998),

Don’t Change for the Sake of Change

Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was ‘Feed my sheep;’ not ‘Try experiments on my rats,’ or even, ‘Teach my performing dogs new tricks.'”

—C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Chapter I

Song in Its Proper Place

It is unscriptural to view worship songs as capable of initiating or guaranteeing God’s presence….Songs of worship cannot create, deliver, or otherwise command God’s presence. We cannot sing down the presence of God. The presence is already real. Music is an element in worship, like other elements, that helps us to interact conversationally with the triune God who is present, but music must not be given power on our terms.

—Constance Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song, 67-68

“That would be more characteristic of Baal worship.”

—John Witvliet