In the 2nd century, a governor named Pliny the Younger wrote about a Christian worship service. The Roman Empire was highly intolerant of Christians. Despite the persecution, followers of Christ gathered in worship. In his letter to Trajan, Pliny the Younger wrote, “… they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.”
What would a visitor learn about the gospel by observing your Sunday worship?
The elements of our weekly worship paint a picture. And we’re wise to ask what that picture looks like when all is said and done.
By “worship,” I mean singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), praying (1 Tim. 2:1-2, 8), Scripture reading (1 Tim. 4:13), preaching (2 Tim. 4:2), and the ordinances of baptism (Matt. 28:19) and communion (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Each of these elements constitute corporate worship. And while all of them may not occur each week in your context (i.e., baptism and communion), each of them should be included regularly in congregational worship. Another common element of corporate worship is giving (2 Cor. 9), and this, too, is an act of worship.
So, when all of those elements come together, what kind of picture results?
Churches are known for painting all kinds of pictures. That’s why there are “traditional churches” and “contemporary churches.” But our worship shouldn’t be centered on a style.
Our weekly worship should display the gospel. This means that, when taken together, the elements of our worship point to the cross of Christ. And those in attendance should be aware of why Christ died on the cross to begin with. So, the realities of sin, death, blood, sacrifice, and resurrection should be recurrent themes in our gathered worship.
With the space I have left, I want us to consider two reasons why Christ-centered worship is a must.
First, only through Christ is our worship acceptable to God.
Try as we might, our own efforts are never good enough. We can spend hours each week preparing for our corporate worship. Selecting great songs. Practicing our instruments. Picking the “best” Scriptures. Rehearsing the “godliest” prayers. And preparing the most powerful sermon. But none of those things—in and of themselves—produce the worship God desires.
Don’t get me wrong, I value excellence in our corporate gathering. I work to ensure our music sounds good, our Scripture readings are appropriate, and our prayers are meaningful. And I know our pastor works hard to prepare good sermons.
So, there’s a way in which we “try our best” on a Sunday morning. And I’m not just talking about those on stage. Each and every Christian should be “giving their best” to God through their singing, attentiveness, giving, and the like.
But here’s the bottom-line: our most well-prepared, excellent worship is unacceptable to God apart from Christ.
Peter writes, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:4-5 ESV).
Christ is our great high priest who bore the cost of our sin. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. So, with confidence, we draw near. And we worship.
Acceptable worship comes only through Jesus Christ. But there’s another reason why our worship must be Christ-centered.
Only through Christ can people change.
One of the reasons why churches differ in their approach is because they have different philosophies of the relationship between edification (those inside the church) and evangelism (those outside the church) in Sunday worship.
For example, Church A asks, “How can our worship edify believers?” On the other hand, Church B asks, “How can our worship evangelize unbelievers?” But when our worship is Christ-centered, both edification and evangelization take place.
The apostle Paul writes, “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” (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV).
A little later, Paul refers to unbelievers when he writes, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (4:4 ESV).
So, if beholding Christ is how people change—both unbelievers and believers, then shouldn’t Christ be the central focus of our corporate worship?
You see, as Christians, we never get past the gospel. There’s never a time in our lives when the gospel is irrelevant or unnecessary.
Transformation comes through Christ. Both for the lost (justification) and the found (sanctification). We must be more concerned with Christ being the center of our gatherings than advocating a certain style or setlist.
I’m out of space to say any more. There are several reasons why Christ-centered worship is a must. But I hope we’ll consider these two reasons as we seek to bring God glory.
Isaiah Pauley is the Minister of Worship for Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va. Find more at www.isaiahpauley.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.