REFORMATION 500: Sola Scriptura

I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. [A man of one book.]

—John Wesley

The Word in Prayer and Song

All too many free-church prayers and hymns have forsaken biblical imagery in favor of a host of frivolous, superficial, pop psychological jargon and cliches that chatter about “celebration,” “becoming human,” “finding ourselves,” “being free to be you and me,” and other amorphous trivialities. This is particularly tragic among those whose forebears once felt that the presence and guidance of Scripture in worship was something worth dying for.

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

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 Primacy of the Word in Worship

God’s Word to us matters more than our words to God. (Is. 66:2; Ps. 19:7-11)

  • Music ministry is Word ministry.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of proclaiming Word passionately.
  • Seek to know your Bible better than your instrument.
  • Lead people to sing the Word, hear the Word, see the Word, and pray the Word.

—Bob Kauflin, 9/28/15

In Memoriam: Hughes Oliphant Old

Where is it that we go to ask these questions about the meaning of our service of worship? The ultimate place in which we must search for the meaning of our worship is in God’s calling us to live to the praise of his glory, his creating us to serve him. The apostle Paul, perhaps better than anyone else, put his finger on it when he taught that out of God’s love for us in Christ we “have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12). What this would mean, then, is that it is in the revelation of God’s will for our worship that we discover how he will have us worship him.

This revelation is found all the way through Scripture. We find it, for example, in the precepts of the Law. The Decalogue starts out with four commandments about worship. First, we are worship and serve but one God; second, our worship is to avoid idolatry; third, it is to glorify God’s name; and fourth, it is to remember God’s works of creation and redemption on the Sabbath in rest from human works. Then, as an elaboration of this basic law, there is the ceremonial law. While the church has never considered the ceremonial law to be prescriptive for her worship, it has often been studied for its insights into worship. All this liturgical law was expounded by the prophets and exemplified in the worship of Israel. The story of the golden calf and the disobedient sacrifice of Saul make clear what it is not. The prayers of Hannah, David, ad Elijah make clear what it is. Above all, we see in Jesus the fulfillment of the rites and ceremonies of the Law. Jesus taught his disciples a great deal about true worship, and he often led them in prayer. He himself was baptized at the hand of John the Baptist. He often broke bread with his disciples, and in the Upper Room he gave them instructions about how they were to continue to break bread as a sacred memorial of his death and resurrection. In the Gospel of John we are taught to worship in Spirit and in truth. The book of Acts gives us several important insights into early Christian worship. We read there of a number of baptisms, and we find a rather thorough description of a daily prayer service. We learn quite a bit from this book about the ministry of the Word in almsgiving. The apostle Paul in his epistles gives us several important passages on prayer, on the sacraments, and on preaching. Chapters 10-14 of his First Epistle to the Corinthians is a virtual treatise on worship. Scattered throughout his various epistles we find all kinds of liturgical material. The Scriptures, both the Old and the New Testaments, are very rich in teaching about worship. It is in God’s Word, —in the same Word that calls us to worship, —that we find the sense of that worship.

We take it as a basic principle of our inquiry, then, that it is to Scripture, first of all, that we must go when we would try to find an answer to our questions about the meaning of worship.

—Hughes Oliphant Old (died May 24. 2016), Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology: Some Thoughts on the Theology of Worship, 8-10


Why study the theology of worship? Why is a biblical understanding and foundation of worship important?

1. God’s Word tells us who God is.

God is the subject of our worship.
Worship is about Him.
We must worship Him as He really is.

2. God’s Word tells us what God wants.

GOD is the object of our worship.
Worship is for Him, for His pleasure.
We must worship Him as He wants to be worshiped.

3. God’s Word is our guide in every area of life

So certainly it is in this important area of worship.

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

4. God’s Word tells us that all of life is to be worship.

“. . . present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1)

So a biblical understanding of worship has ramifications for our entire lives.

5. God’s Word is our only unchanging standard.

“Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven.”
(Psalm 119:89)

Times change, people change, tastes change; only God’s Word does not.

6. Only God’s Word can give us a unified understanding of worship.

What are the essentials of worship, that do not change from denomination to denomination, place to place, age to age?

—Ron Man, teaching notes