Who and How We Worship
Clear Gospel, Biblical Preaching, and Holy Worship
⏱ 10 min. read
This is part three in a series of presentations on our nine core convictions. You can read our convictions about discipleship here. And you can read how we engage in gospel mission here.
Why does worship matter?
At the last Third Sunday, I talked about how I longed for Redeemer to be a place where the glory of God rested heavy on us in our worship. This will be no more evident in who and how we worship. And I also insisted that the church mattered because it the hinge of redemptive history: God intends on glorifying himself in the church. Our ideas about the gospel, preaching, and worship will either reveal or detract from that glory.
The church is a precious thing. And it is God’s exclusive plan for glorifying himself through Christ. So, it means that churches, thinking about what it means to get church right, what it means to “do” church faithful, what it means to organize a church is one of the most important things many of us will ever have the privilege of giving our lives to this side of eternity.
I want to remind you of what David Wells wrote:
The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated [or now, contemporary] music. Those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to stanch the flow of blood that is spilling from its true wounds.
The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant. His grace is too ordinary. His judgment is too benign. His gospel is too easy. And his Christ is too common (Wells, God in the Wasteland, 30).
In other words, when God rests too inconsequentially upon his churches, we end up trading glory for a cheap imitation. We are created for glory: to glorify and be awed with glory. It should be no wonder then that so many people walk away when we make this trade. They are looking for answers for the hurricanes in their life. If we allow ourselves to make this trade, we’ll be the clowns who offer an umbrella to the person who needs a shelter.
Let’s pause and briefly reflect: What ought to drive a church—the content of its message or the uniqueness of its presentation (Cf., Dever & Alexander, How To Build A Healthy Church, 38)?
There is no doubt: The Apostles believed that uniqueness in presentation could actually be a liability to your faith. Only content mattered! Hear Paul in 1 Cor 2:1-5:
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
There needs to be a proper understanding and necessary emphasis on the gospel because the priorities of a given church are shaped by the news it shares. The Apostle called the gospel of “first importance” for this reason.
Here Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
The gospel is the remarkable wonder-upon-wonder that God became a man to restore his creation to their original glory. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not—a man, taking the name Jesus Christ—to redeem a particular people to himself through his obedient life, obedient death, triumphant resurrection, and powerful ascension. This work can be credited to anyone anywhere on the basis of faith. Our desire to let our neighbors hear this clear news that we are restored and redeemed in Christ animates all activity and life at Redeemer.
But why must we insist on a “clear gospel”? There are at least three reasons we must:
Clear gospel protects us from mission drift.
What we believe about the gospel ultimately shapes what we emphasize and strive to accomplish.
Clear gospel determines our methods.
The Bible testifies that Christian growth is not an input-output formula. Instead, if we acknowledge the sovereign work of God in salvation, we’ll abandon tired efforts we call ministry and give ourselves to the biblical ministries prayer and presence to make disciples.
Clear gospel, not impressive growth, is our measure of success.
Jesus tells a warning in Matthew 13 about what happens when unhealhty growth explodes. In his parable of the sower, he talks about four types of soil. The second and third soils produced rapid but unsustainable growth because each soil was ultimately inhospitable. Brothers and sisters, cool gospel chokes out gospel growth, perverts methods, and diverts the mission of the Church.
Each of us has a natural tendency to hear the call of a cool gospel and assume that we must work to make ourselves what Micheal Stipe called “shiny, happy people.” But like being asked to make more bricks with less straw, “cool gospel” is a cruel slavemaster. The whole point of God’s sovereign and inseparable acts of calling, redeeming, and sanctifying a people to himself is that we aren’t to be more diligent and scrupulous. Instead, as John Webster so wonderfully puts it, “What is required of us is nothing. Which is to say this: what is required of us is faith” (Webster, Christ Our Salvation, 18).
We offer to God a resignation to our own self-cleansing and never ending striving in the face of the majestic sovereign work of God in Christ. The struggle to become good enough over by ourselves is over in Christ. This is clearly good news: a clear gospel.
Now in light of that, why would preaching (culture says yuck!) be so important?
The Bible is clear: no one can be made right with God apart from hearing the clear gospel. So, Redeemer prioritizes expository preaching. There is no teacher clever enough, sage wise enough, or guide competent to save. Christ alone can save. So, his Word must be our words.
We have both the fortunate (for indoor plumbing and English translations of the Bible) and unfortunate station of being so far downstream from the New Testament world. See, you and I probably think that the idea of preaching is such a religious activity. But, set in its context and the comparative religions, preaching is a decidedly secular act.
Why? The early Christians’ neighbors’ priests and sages would be constantly innovating novel teaching, sacrificing to appease, and striving on pilgrimages. Even today, nonChristian religious services are theatrical: either repetitive prostrations, spinning wheels and waved prayer flags, or extremely shocking aesthetic practices of monks or other leaders. Yet, these early Christians made it a practice to set up shop and give the good news–evangelize–that all of that was in vain. The apostles chose a word “preaching” that was the same word the message a herald would bring to announce the emperor had vanquished another enemy.
Biblical preaching sets in the plainest terms without any muddying the clear gospel that the Father, Son, and Spirit have accomplished redemption in Jesus Christ. The world does not need more sages on stage or guides on grandstand. What it needs is men and women to open their mouths as ambassadors and proclaim in the words of the old Easter hymn: “The strife is over it is done. The victory of life is won. The song of triumph has begun. Alleluia.”
Biblical preaching is expository, which is to say it explains what God says about himself and what he has done.
A commitment to expository preaching is a commitment to biblical preaching. It is the pattern of the Apostles who patiently explained the meaning of the Bible in light of Christ’s work. Redeemer is committed to getting out of the way of God’s own words in our preaching so that our neighbors hear and see Christ crucified and not us.
There is certainly a place for theological preaching and there will be seasons where Redeemer clarifies and explains the meaning of Christ’s work in a particular context, situation, or doctrine. The ordinary pattern of preaching at Redeemer, however, ought to explain a given book of Scripture over time and explain how to Christians can obey it. This is because each person needs to hear the full range of what God has said.
Biblical preaching magnifies Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected.
There is nothing to add here. We have no need for preaching that does not hold out to us sinners in need of grace Christ crucified and resurrected.
If we understand the centrality of the Word for a clear gospel and biblical preaching, then we ought to ask another question: does God’s word have anything to say about what we should do when we all get together?
Worship and singing are used interchangeably in our church culture today, but Redeemer clarifies that worship is not a sentiment, a feeling, or an experience. Instead, worship is the disposition towards something you or I believe matters the most. Everyone holds believes that something matters most; we are all worshippers. Holy worship holds the Triune God in the highest esteem.
Our Sunday gatherings are an opportunity to set apart a day to esteem the Lord in prayer, hearing the Word preached, singing to one another, and taking the Lord’s Supper. Each of these acts is worship, because in them we are setting aside something lesser—our time, tasks, and hobbies—for something altogether more glorious.
Holy worship recognizes that God cares how we worship.
Both the Old and New Testament indicate clearly that God most certainly cares not only what we worship but how we worship. And why? Because we become what we love. God despised idols not only because they were insensate, but because they mar the image of God within each human being: Psalm 115:8 “8 Those who make them [i.e., idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.”
What happens when we start with how God reveals we ought to worship him? Because we become what we love. When beholding the Lord in worship according to how He desires, listen to Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit describe what happens: 2 Cor 3:18 “18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Holy worship allows a congregation to walk in freedom.
One of my absolute favorite moments in church history is a barbecue of traditional Swiss sausages that Christoph Froschauer threw for his exhausted workers. They had just exhausted themselves to meet some printing demands, presumably for the church there in Zurich. When they were jailed for breaking Lent, Zwingli felt the bishop was being rather brauty about the thing and took to the pulpit to vigorously defend Froschauer’s Christian liberty to eat a smoked sausage, and this kicked off the Swiss Reformation. We now call this “The Affair of the Sausages.”
But what came out of that was a freedom in worship: everything focused on and from the Word of God. Zwingli rightly argued that the Word of God circumscribes the pastors’ authority. Everything must be centered on the Word.
At Redeemer, we will:
- Read the Bible to hear from God Himself.
- Preach the Bible to be built up in faith
- Pray the Bible to train our hearts to hope for heaven and trust while on earth
- Sing the Bible to each other so that the Word of Christ would dwell richly in our hearts
- And see the drama of the Bible unfold in the sacraments
Now, Redeemer is not committed to any genre of music; its music will neither be “traditional” nor “contemporary.” We believe that categorizing a gathering’s music as such places the emphasis on taste and preference. Instead, we prioritize congregational singing and make musical decisions which amplify the congregation’s ability to obey the command of Scripture to not only sing to the Lord but to one another. At Redeemer, the congregation is the “worship team.” We care not when the song was written. Instead, we care to whom it is sung. So, we prioritize singing songs which are biblically true, theologically rich, musically beautiful, and singable by all.
At the end of the day, Redeemer will be an ordinary group of people who gather in one place to read and hear some words from a special book and eat and drink at God’s table (Cf., Webster, 4). When we do this, we are gathering in the domain of salvation. To do anything else is, as John Webster wrote, “to add our bit to the work of salvation, clinching the deal by signing on the dotted line,” and if we think we have add anything or overcomplicate this, then we are saying we’re saved by our own faith added to what Christ did (Cf., Webster, 5).
True faith lets God do His work. Redeemer will then rest in God’s work by holding fast to the clear gospel through biblical preaching and holy worship.
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David Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Eerdmans, 1995).
John Webster, Christ Our Salvation: Expositions & Proclamations, edited by Daniel Bush (Lexham, 2020).
Mark Dever & Paul Alexander, How to Build A Healthy Church: A Practical Guide for Deliberate Leadership, 2nd ed. (Crossway, 2021).
Additionally, the nine priorities are inspired in part and partially adapted from River City Baptist Church, “Priorities,” https://rivercityrichmond.org/priorities.