Theme: Elements of Worship
In this week’s lessons, we learn to praise and thank the Lord for his goodness to us.
Scripture: Psalm 136:1-26
In recent years, I have noticed in many evangelical churches a decline and in some cases the total absence of worship elements that focus our minds on God, and at the same time a loss of the importance of the gospel.
1. Prayer. It is almost inconceivable to me that something that is called a worship service can be held without any significant prayer, but that is precisely what is happening. There is usually a very short prayer at the beginning of the service and another prayer at the time the offering is received. But longer prayers, pastoral prayers, are vanishing. Whatever happened to the ACTS acrostic in which “A” stands for adoration, “C” for confession of sin, “T” for thanksgiving, and “S” for supplication? Now and then a few supplications are tacked onto the offering prayer. But there is no rehearsal of God’s attributes or confession of sin over against a serious acknowledgment that God is holy. How can we say we are worshiping when we do not even pray?
2. The reading of the Word. The reading of any substantial portion of the Bible is also vanishing. In the Puritan age, ministers regularly read one long chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New Testament. But our Scripture readings are getting shorter and shorter, sometimes only two or three verses, if indeed the Bible is read at all. In many churches there is not even a text for the sermon.
3. The exposition of the Word. We have very little serious teaching of the Bible today. Instead, preachers try to be personable, to relate funny stories, to smile, above all to stay away from topics that might cause people to become unhappy with the church and leave it. One extremely popular television preacher will not talk about sin on the grounds that doing so makes people feel bad. Preachers are told to preach to felt needs, not real needs necessarily, and this generally means telling people only what they want to hear. This is all utterly man-centered, and there is no gospel.
4. Confession of sin. Who confesses sin today—anywhere, not to mention in church as God’s humble, repentant people? It is not happening, because there is so little awareness of God. Instead of coming to church to admit our transgressions and seek forgiveness, we come to church to be told that we are really all right and do not need forgiveness.
5. Hymns. One of the saddest features of contemporary worship is that the great hymns of the church are on the way out. They are not gone entirely, but they are going. And in their place have come trite jingles that have more in common with contemporary advertising ditties than the psalms. The problem here is not so much the style of the music, though trite words fit best with trite tunes and harmonies. Rather it is with the content of the songs. The old hymns expressed the theology of the Bible in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome memorable language. Today’s songs are focused on ourselves. They reflect our shallow or nonexistent theology and do almost nothing to elevate our thoughts about God.
Worst of all are songs that merely repeat a trite idea, word or phrase over and over again. Songs like this are not worship, though they may give the church-goer a religious feeling. They are mantras, which belong more in a gathering of New Agers than among the worshiping people of God.
Explain the acrostic ACTS.
Why is pastoral prayer necessary?
Explain why the confession of sin is often neglected.
Application: Evaluate how your church incorporates prayer, reading God’s Word, exposition, confession, and hymn singing in its service.