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The centrality of scripture

1 January 2012 | by John Woolley

The centrality of scripture

‘What pastures are to the beast, the nest for the birds, the stream for fish, the scriptures are for believing souls.’ So wrote Luther in his own inimitable way. Christianity is a religion of The Book. The God who has revealed Himself to sinful humanity has preserved His revelation in a written form. The historic significance of the glory of God being revealed in the incarnate Jesus Christ is handed down to us as a story in a book. The life-bringing ministry of the Holy Spirit is one He sovereignly mediates to us through the ministry of a book. Scripture is absolutely essential to a genuine confession of Christianity.

This edition of the magazine seeks to look at the vital importance of this matter in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. Gary Benfold explains why it is vital for the whole church community to become conversant with scripture. Stuart Olyott writes how congregations are to hear the word while others focus on the importance of scripture to our daily lives as individuals and families.

The necessity of scripture to the confession of Christianity means that the church at her best has concurrently held to the belief in the centrality of scripture in her worship. Scripture tells us whom we are to worship: the God who is Spirit; when we are to gather for worship: the day our Saviour rose from the dead; where worship is to take place: no longer restricted to a building but wherever the Lord’s people gather; why we gather for worship: for the glory of God; how corporate worship is to take place, which is in conformity to the God-given pattern.

  • Are we convinced that the principles and precepts of scripture are the only foundations on which we can build a worship that is acceptable to the God who is Spirit and is seeking spiritual worshippers?
  • Are we confident that hearing scripture read publicly, in a lively and interesting way, should be a major integral component of any worship?
  • Are we convinced that the scriptural content of what we sing is of far more importance than our particular preferences about how and what we sing?
  • Are we committed to a clear and consistent exposition of scripture as the primary focus through which the Lord still speaks to His people?
  • Do we see the vital connection in our prayers between the promises of scripture and the content of what we pray?

Let me briefly consider three areas of application.

Priority in our worship

An impartial observer of our contemporary worship of varying evangelical shades could be forgiven for wondering whether we are more concerned for our gimmicks, smart presentation, and zippy songs, or on the other hand for our antiquated forms of expression, strict formality and dress code, than we ever are for the centrality of scripture in our worship. It is easy to lose sight of the wood for the trees in dealing with what we may call the peripheral matters of worship and what should be our scriptural priority in worship.

Limitation in our worship

Some may protest that such an approach is too strict. It is restrictive and the death-knell to ‘spiritual spontaneity’. Is it not a strait-jacket that hinders the Spirit’s moving? Paul saw no contradiction in regulating the Spirit-empowered gifts in the worship of the church in Corinth by the authoritative (apostolic) word. Scripture-saturated worship is dependent on the Spirit’s life-giving ministry. Empowered by the Spirit and being in accord with the Spirit’s own teaching our worship is never limited. If we are convinced that God has committed Himself to His word and has made it sufficient for the needs of our faith then surely we must expect Him to contain within the pages of that revelation how exactly He wishes us to worship Him. Far from this limiting our worship, scripture’s centrality is a most liberating, refreshing experience of Holy Spirit, God-centred worship.

Spirituality and our worship

It may be opening up the proverbial can of worms, but it is worthwhile asking. Is a failure to place scripture central in our worship an eloquent expression of the contemporary church’s lack of confidence in the authority and sufficiency of scripture? And, therefore, is it a main contributing factor to a poverty of spirituality in our worship?

Let no one foolishly mistake this as a call for an old-fashioned, formal, dry and dead-pan worship that is an anachronistic expression of a by-gone generation. Rather it is faith’s confession of its utter reliance upon the Spirit while recognising that He is committed to His word. It confesses, ‘We expect the Holy Spirit to use Scripture to lighten our darkness – quicken our spiritual deadness – quench our spiritual aridity and direct and enliven our worship.’

Let us have faith’s confidence in our worship that hears the voice of the Holy Spirit when scripture is read (Heb. 4:7), looks for the truths of scripture to reverberate from God’s people as they sing, sees the teaching of scripture as we celebrate the sacraments, pleads the promises of scripture in prayer and is hungry to hear scripture as God’s voice as it is proclaimed from our pulpits. Then we may experience a Holy Spirit empowered expression of Christian worship.

John Woolley was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Cardiff.