If you attend many evangelical churches in America, you are likely to see the entire church worship center arranged around a stage for a band so that the people can see the show that happens on a weekly basis. At North Point Community Church in Atlanta where Andy Stanley serves as pastor, it’s common to hear their band lead the people in songs such as “Free Bird” as they did back in 2013 or like the parody they performed near the end of the Christmas season in 2016. What a tragedy to for people to confuse such performances with worship. It seems that the light of the gospel has gone out completely in many evangelical settings.
This past Lord’s Day, I went to worship at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in the heart of London, and I was not entertained. The entire service was quite simple. Upon arrival, the deacons provided a warm greeting at the door and handed us a Bible for the service. As we took our seats, there was a board on the wall with numbers on it which directed our attention to the hymns that we would be singing. There was no music minister leading the congregation, no large expansive choir, no praise band, no screens with moving images, no smoke machines to add dramatic effect, no colored lights, no jokes were employed in the sermon, and nothing that seemed to be remotely designed to entertain the crowd.
And yes, there was a crowd. It was already dark by 6:30pm on Sunday evening, but the church was filled with people. They were ready for the moment when the pastor would take the pulpit. He came to open with prayer and Scripture reading, and then he directed us to open our hymnals to the first hymn where he then led us as we stood to our feet and worshipped God through song. There would be multiple hymns and Scripture readings before the sermon was delivered.
From an American context, it was quite simple. Some would perhaps even consider it quite boring in terms of a worship service when compared to our American evangelical worship context. When you talk to people about why they chose a specific church, far too often they talk about a specific program the church offers them or their children, the choir of the church, or how the “worship” makes them feel. Tragically, the once bright light of the gospel that exploded during the days of the Reformation is being greatly dimmed—and in some cases snuffed out altogether.
In many American church contexts, the lights are being turned off in the worship center so that people can have their eyes focused upon the stage. Rather than the sermon being central, now it’s the show. The show can find various forms from full rock concerts to self-help talks geared to make people feel a certain way. Doctrine has been overshadowed by drama and theology has been swapped for the trickery of pragmatic church growth schemes.
If we traveled back in time to the days prior to the Reformation, we would find the people starving to death spiritually and led by false shepherds to embrace the Roman Catholic Mass as the center of fellowship and worship of God. The false doctrine of transubstantiation loomed over the people.
As we move through the Reformation, the table was no longer central. The pulpit became central as the Word of God was brought to the people and the people were brought to the Word. The worship of God had been deformed and God raised up men who would lead people back to the Bible which would reform the worship practices of God’s people.
The Reformation was a rediscovery of God’s Word and an explosion of light and life. If you were to travel to Geneva and walk into St. Pierre’s Cathedral, you would find these words on the wall just behind the pulpit where Calvin thundered the Word: post tenebras lux—which means, after darkness light.
Tragically, Europe has fallen back into the abyss of darkness. Many of the once brightest churches and pulpits of the Reformation are now art galleries, museums, and coffee shops. Rather than worship centers, such campuses now serve as community centers.
As the gates of hell continue their assault upon God’s Church—we must not fall prey to the scandals, schemes, and cultural pressures. God desires to be worshipped and we must gather together for that purpose. Worship should be God centered rather than man centered. When a church comes to understand that reality—it will revolutionize their approach to worship and ministry. The holiness of God remains central and man’s dependence upon him is what drives the church’s worship through the blood of Christ.
Charles Spurgeon never attempted to entertain people in his day. In fact, regarding preaching, he said the following:
Avoid a sugared Gospel as you would shun sugar of lead. Seek that Gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills, for that is the Gospel that makes alive again. And when you have found it, give good heed to it. Let it enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his Gospel soak into your soul. 
I’m grateful that London still has a church (among a few others as well) who are not organizing entertainment centers in order to put on a show for their community. Instead, they are providing the ordinary means of grace on a weekly basis where God’s people are spiritually nourished and encouraged to worship God.
The next time you think about your worship service, before you complain about it being boring or dull or stale—before you embrace the false idea that your church needs to do something other than the ordinary means of grace to attract the community—just remember that one of the most successful worship services is one that leaves you feeling as if you were not entertained in the slightest degree.
The world is filled with manuals for almost everything imaginable. We have manuals for vehicle repair, lawn equipment operation, and computer usage. So, when it comes to the worship of God, we have a sufficient manual in the sacred Scriptures that we call the Word of God. If the Word of God is the central hub in the worship of God—what does it accomplish in the lives of God’s people? How does the Bible shape or affect the worship of God?
The Word of God Informs our Worship
We are called to know God. The journey of faith is not merely centered upon rituals of worship. If all of life is for the glory of God—that means that we are called to worship God on a daily basis. In Deuteronomy 6, we find the prescription for discipleship in the home where parents are to teach their children in the morning, along the way throughout the day, and before they go to bed in the evening—from the Scriptures. Knowing God in general through creation is a beautiful thing, but it’s simply not enough. God has given us the Word—the sacred text in order to make himself known in a special and intimate manner.
The Word of God is sufficient to communicate truths about God’s character. The attributes of God reveal his omnipresence, his omniscience, his omnipotence, and his immutability. These grand truths are not recorded in the Bible so that we can have material for seminary classes or doctrines for debates within evangelical circles. They are written in order that we will know God and love God.
When we sing “Amazing Grace” as a gathered church, we are not singing empty words. The verses contain doctrine about our God that originate in the pages of the Bible. Such knowledge about the wonder and beauty and love of God should lift us to the heights of praise. It’s not the arrangement or the crescendo that should stir our emotions but rather than mind and the heart being moved by the truth about the fact that a sovereign God has chosen to save a people for his glory through the blood of his Son—who were saved by the mercy of God alone—not the worthiness of the rebels.
The Word of God is like a fire according to Jeremiah 23:39. It’s like a hammer that crushes according to the very same verse. The Scriptures are like a sword that pierces according to Hebrews 4:12, and yet the Psalmist declared that they are sweeter than honey in Psalm 19:10-11.
Furthermore, the Word of God provides us the manual of worship. In other words, there are right ways and wrong ways to worship God. We do not have the freedom to invent new and fresh ways to worship God. In the Scriptures, we find the ways that God has demanded his people to worship him, and to deviate from that plan is to engage in sinful worship that’s fleshly, man-centered, and that which doesn’t glorify God. In Deuteronomy 12:4, the LORD gave the Israelites a clear command stating, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.” In other words, God expects worship to be carried out in a specific manner—unlike the pagan worship of the world.
In the New Testament, that same pattern exists. We find Ananias and Sapphira being judged by God for inappropriate worship in Acts 5. We see the church in Corinth experiencing God’s judgment for perverting the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. God has a standard and a plan for the way he desires his people to worship him, and it’s not to be left open ended for the imagination of man to decide. The Word of God informs our worship.
The Word of God Reforms our Worship
It is the goal of Satan to deform anything that God has created. He began this work of deforming the created order in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). He has sought to deform the relationship between God and man. He has sought to deform the family structure. He has sought to deform marriage. He has long attempted and been successful in deforming worship. God desires for his people to honor, praise, and glorify him in worship—yet Satan desires to deform worship to rob God of glory.
In modern times, we have watched the downgrade of worship within evangelical circles. Church services have been rearranged to satisfy unbelievers and it has given rise to the entertainment model of worship that’s centered on the satisfaction of the human heart rather than the glory of God.
In recent years we’ve seen examples of this downgrade in church services such as North Point Community Church led by Andy Stanley where the band opened a worship service with a pop song from the 90s with lyrics such as, “Love the way you turn me on” and “You’ve got the right stuff baby.” The contemporary Christian music world has likewise drifted way off course today where we have songs that could be focused on the relationship of a man and his girlfriend as opposed to a believer singing to his God. If it’s so watered down that we can’t find proper theology—it’s not God honoring worship. Sadly, the church has drifted along the currents of culture and it has led to a downgrade of worship that is entertainment based as opposed to worshipful and worshipper engaged.
This is not a new development. Years ago the worship of God was so perverted by the Roman Catholic Church that the Scriptures were concealed, congregational singing disappeared, the traditions of the Catholic Church took priority over the Word of God, and the worship of God was dark and lifeless.
It was through the movement known as the Reformation that the Scriptures were brought out of the dungeon and elevated to a primary place in the life of God’s people. Modern translations brought the Bible to the people and it reformed the worship of God that had been long deformed by satanic influences and man-centered ideologies.
That’s why we have a saying that emerged from the Reformation that says, “Semper Reformanda”—always reforming. It comes from a longer Latin phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) that first appeared in a devotional book by Jodocus van Lodenstein in 1674. Day-by-day the worship of God, the pure doctrines of God, and the life that brings glory to God will be deformed. Sometimes it seems as if it’s only a slight movement and then suddenly it picks up pace quickly, but the agenda never stops. Satan has a desire to deform that which honors God. We must be constantly reforming our worship to get back to the straight and narrow path that glorifies God.
It’s not about being “old-fashioned” or “traditional” in our worship of God. It’s about being biblical. It’s about honoring God in the way that he has specified. The Word of God not only informs our worship, but as we continue to read the Scriptures we continue to make necessary adjustments in order to reform what Satan has deformed. Even when we think we have the external functions in their proper place and regulated by Scripture, there is a need for the church to be always reforming the heart to guard against becoming like the Pharisees that Jesus once warned when he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8).
If the church is unified in a lectio continua approach to Bible reading and Bible preaching—it will create a solid and healthy foundation that will mark the life of the church. Lectio continua is a Latin phrase that means, continuous reading. This phrase has been used to describe the continuous approach to systematic expository preaching—the popular method of the Reformers and towering giants of church history.
The long cherished lectio continua approach to preaching has been a healthy method for many years throughout church history. Unfortunately, in recent years, preaching has fallen on hard times—even among those who claim to be Reformedexpositors. There seems to be a wide and shallow definition of exposition within even the most healthy pockets of evangelicalism. The typical pulpit method today is fad-driven and man-centered. This pragmatic approach to the pulpit ministry results in informal and often immature talks that are shallow, short, chatty, and filled with more cultural cliches than biblical theology. After all—it works.
If the church today will indeed see a revival—it will be based on a firm commitment to God’s Word rather than the shallowness of man-centered gimmicks. We need a return to the lectio continua approach to reading and preaching that will cause the church to gain massive theological growth. Those old paths were walked once before and it brought great results. May the Lord be pleased to do it again.
Lectio Continua as a Bible Study Methodology
How can we expect the people in the church to have an appetite for sequential expository preaching if they are not practicing sequential expository Bible reading in their home? If your personal Bible study looks like a cherry picked verse or paragraph from day to day—it will not only leave you with a superficial understanding of the Bible, but it will likewise leave you with a discontented spirit on the Lord’s Day when your pastor is seeking to preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.
The random Bible verse approach or the mainstream boxed devotional approach to Bible study will often lead a person to adopt poor study habits as well as a low view of a expository preaching. Why would you approach the pages of the Bible in a way that you would never approach your mother’s will after her death or a legal document that you received in the mail? Why would you read those documents line-by-line in an attempt to understand the meaning, intent, and message of the documents rather than merely picking out a line or two from the center of the letter? With that in mind—why would anyone dare to read the Bible with that type of approach?
The benefits of a continual and sequential reading of the Bible in your personal study is that it allows you to deal with the original author, his grammar, his intent, and his meaning in each verse and the entire book as a whole. With all of this information, you can then have a good grasp of the entire book of the Bible and its place within the canon of Scripture as a whole. At this juncture, you can begin to connect the dots to your personal life and make proper application.
Before a church can learn to love expository preaching—the people must first be capable of expository listening which emerges from expository reading on a personal level. Solid corporate worship begins in the home.
Lectio Continua as a Preaching Ministry
As stated previously, the lectiocontinua approach to the pulpit was the common method of the early church and the patristic eras. When Huldrych Zwingli sought to lead his congregation back to this historic approach in 1519—he was met with many questions and concerns. However, his commitment to a sequential exposition of God’s Word proved to be the right move. John Calvin would adopt this same approach as he labored in the pulpit. As we read church history, we get a glimpse into the ministry of Calvin:
He began his series through Acts in 1549. He completed it in 1554.
He preached 46 sermons through 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
1 and 2 Corinthians – 186 sermons.
He preached 86 sermons through the pastoral epistles.
His series through Galatians was 43 sermons.
He preached 48 sermons through Ephesians.
159 sermons through Job. Many modern preachers haven’t preached one sermon from a text in Job.
His series through Deuteronomy was 200 sermons long.
He labored through Isaiah in 353 sermons.
His series through Genesis was 123 sermons in length.
We get a glimpse into his commitment to lectio continua preaching as he finished his sermon on Easter in 1538 and was banished by the City Council from his pulpit. Calvin would not return for more than 3 years. On the first Sunday back in the pulpit, he picked up in the very next verse. He was communicating something to the people. He was making it known that he was committed to sequential preaching through books of the Bible. He wasn’t finished. His work was not complete.
Standing upon the shoulders of the Reformers have been men like D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, and in modern times—John MacArthur. It seems that God blesses the faithful proclamation of his Word—yet modern man-centered preaching styles are headed in a different direction. In an interview with Ed Stetzer in 2009 regarding his book titled, Communicating for a Change, Stetzer asked Stanley about preaching. The question was, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?” Andy Stanley responded, “Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.”
Not only does Andy Stanley have a skewed understanding of expository preaching, he apparently has a skewed understanding of preaching throughout church history—beginning with the apostles. Yet, Andy Stanley is not alone. The popular church growth techniques are rolled out at conferences each year and those methods get results. Often, they get fast results. Such pragmatism fills empty seats and offering plates and so for that reason, lectio continua has been pushed to the backseat in modern times.
Historically, the first mark of an authentic church is the right preaching of the Word. If you get this mark wrong, everything else will be negatively impacted. Yet, today, when you ask someone why they chose their church, they will talk about the choir, the programs for the children, the way the church made them feel, and various other things—but they rarely if ever discuss the fact that the church has a proper expository preaching methodology. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the top priority in many professing Christian homes.
Shallow preaching leaves people spiritually dry and hungry. The evangelical church is not a picture of health. Modern preaching is using every gimmick known to man in order to fill worship centers including rock concerts, slick movie clips with media presentations, and every other trick you can imagine. Only through a robust pulpit where the Bible is sequentially explained verse-by-verse on a weekly basis can we have confidence that God will usher in a revival, change people’s hearts, and ultimately reach the world.
God doesn’t need our tricks and gimmicks. God’s Word is sufficient. Sola Scriptura lives on. Preach the Word!
Are you becoming more or less of an encourager? “It is imperative that we adopt this mindset and that, even as times get more and more hostile towards true believers, we learn to grow in our encouragement for the sake of our own good and the good of others.”
Yesterday morning, in our study through Romans, our text was Romans 3:9-20. I titled the sermon, “The Truth About Sin” because Paul comes to a climax in his argument about how both the Jew and the Gentile are all under sin—guilty before God. In short, sin kills and we’ve all been born as guilty sinners. Paul does a great job of looking at how both the Jew and the Greek are guilty—and he does so from the Old Testament.
Not long ago, Andy Stanley made another controversial statement that made its way through evangelical circles. He stated that the Old Testament was not necessary for new covenant believers. In short, this is what Andy Stanley said:
Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well…Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures.
The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is, did Jesus rise from the dead? And the eyewitnesses said he did.
As we look at Romans 3:9-20, we have to ask an honest question. Was Paul writing to new covenant believers? Sure he was—it was post-resurrection. We must be honest with this text and recognize that Paul could have quoted Jesus about sin without quoting any other passage of Scripture. However, that is not the approach of Paul. In order to prove the absolute wickedness of the human heart of both Jew and Gentile, he points back to the Old Testament and quotes thirteen different verses to establish his point. If the new covenant believers need to “unhitch from the Old Testament” why was Paul quoting from the Old Testament so much?
Paul points to the depravity of all people in Romans 3:9 and demonstrates that both Jew and Greek are all under sin. He then takes his readers on a journey through the Old Testament to prove his case. Verse 10-12 are quotes taken from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. This entire section is focused on the character of the human heart. In verses 13-14, Paul turns from the heart to the tongue as he focuses on the speech. These verses contain quotes from Psalm 5, Psalm 140, and Psalm 10. Finally, Paul turns from the tongue to the works of a person—how a person lives life. In this section, Paul quotes from Proverbs 1, Isaiah 59, and Psalm 36. It’s quite clear as Paul drives home his point that the human heart is filled with wicked desires and there is no fear of God before depraved sinners.
Finally, Paul points to the law of God and reminds his readers that no person can keep the law and please God. It’s through the law of God that we are held accountable and that we have the knowledge of sin. The very moment that a person believes that their ability to perform their religion is able to please God—they are doomed. That type of thinking produces spiritual hypocrites who are like whitewashed tombs—white on the exterior and full of dead man’s bones on the inside.
Has God changed your heart? Have you experienced the transformation mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:17? If not, why not submit yourself to Christ today and repent of your sin as you believe that Jesus paid for all of your sin on the cross? You may be a wicked sinner, but Jesus is a faithful Savior.