Perhaps you’ve wondered why Christian worship is so heavy on words? Perhaps you or your church has been criticized for being too propositional, too auditory, too…wordy. Well, here are twenty-five reasons why verbal proclamation–through the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of the Bible and biblical truth–should have the preeminent place in corporate worship:
1. Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:14-15). We cannot call on Jesus unless we believe in him and we cannot believe in him unless we hear of him from the lips of a herald. Faith begins with words.
2. God has chosen word-gifts and word-offices to build up the church (Eph. 4:11-12).
3. God creates through his word (cf. Gen. 1; Col. 1:16). God’s work of creation is always a speech act.
4. God regenerates through his word. We are born again through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:23). And “word” here is not merely Jesus Christ, but the preaching Peter’s audience had received (v. 25).
5. God’s people are called to follow his commands and keep the laws. Jesus exhorted “if you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15; cf. Deut. 11:1). We cannot love unless we are obedient and we cannot obey unless we are instructed in the law of the Lord. That is why the Psalmist not only rejoices in the person of God, but delights in his decrees and statutes (Psalm 119:16, 24).
6. Throughout the Bible, there is an unmistakable priority of hearing over sight. In distinction to the popular religions around them, God insisted that he was a God who would be unseen (cf. Exodus 20:3-4). When Moses asked to see God, the Lord refused, saying, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (33:20). Instead, God caused his goodness to pass in front of Moses by proclaiming his name–“Yahweh”–and declaring his character–“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (33:19). Biblical faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb. 11:1; cf. 1 Peter 1:8).
7. All the corporate worship we know of in the early church is saturated with words. While there are many things we don’t know about the worship of the early church in the Bible, we do know that they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42). We know they were devoted to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13). We know they brought hymns, words of instruction, revelations, tongues and interpretations (1 Cor. 14:26). In other words, while we can make inferences and prudential judgments about the role of visual arts in worship, we know for certain that their gatherings were infused with words.
8. Jesus Christ is the preexistent, incarnate, eternal, Word of God (John 1:1). It is sometimes objected that our focus in worship is to be on the Word (Jesus) not the word (the Bible). This is surely true. We worship Christ not the Scriptures. But the argument goes too far if it places a wedge between the incarnate Word of God (Jesus) and the word of God (Scripture). We don’t believe the Bible is Jesus Christ, but let us not miss the connection between the Word and the word. God created by means of the eternal Logos–his wisdom, his speech, his voice, his word. At the same time, we know that God created by and in Jesus Christ. Both truths demonstrate that the Logos is the mediating agent in all of creation and revelation, whether by means of the Divine Voice or incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, the Word we see revealed and embodied in Jesus, is the same Word we meet in God’s self-disclosure in the pages of Scripture.
9. Paul places a high value on maximum intelligibility in corporate worship (1 Cor. 14:1-25). There are times and places for ambiguity and subtlety. Corporate worship, however, is for proclamation. And words are the least ambiguous (though not always crystal-clear themselves) means by which the truth can be proclaimed. Dance can honor God, painting can praise our Maker, and music can please the Lord, but no other art form can proclaim the truth with as much shared intelligibility as words. Even the parables, which are often cited as encouragement for using stories and drama, were too ambiguous. That’s why Jesus told parables: to be unclear. “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you,” Jesus told his disciples. “But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven” (Mark 4:11-12).
10. Jesus was a preacher. “But he said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent’” (Luke 4:43).
11. The church was founded on the teaching of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20; cf. John 16:13).
12. Teaching-preaching was a normative part of early Christian worship. The first Christians inherited from the Jews a strong tradition of teaching and preaching (cf. Acts 13:14-16; 15:21). From at least the time of Ezra, for example, we know that the Levites “helped the people understand the law.” They “read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 6:7-8; cf. 2 Chronicles 15:3). We see this same emphasis in the New Testament church. Paul was preeminently a preacher (Ephesians 3:7-9). He commanded Timothy mainly to preach and teach (1 Tim. 4:13) and to instruct others in the same (2 Tim. 4:2). Titus’ primary instructions are concerned with teaching what is in accord with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). One of the main roles of the elder was to teach (1 Tim. 3:2; cf. Acts 6:2), so much so that “the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Clearly, the authoritative teaching and preaching of Scripture was a normative part of the early Christian gatherings, if not the central event of their meeting together.
13. We live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).
14. The gospel is first of all news (Rom 10:15). Words must be central in corporate worship because the gospel is first and foremost a message–not an experience or an expression or even a command, but a declaration of good news.
15. Powerful emotional experiences come through Holy Spirit anointed preaching. Giving priority to the word, does not mean short-circuiting our affections. Our aim is not wise and persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words (1 Cor. 2:4, 13). True preaching does not simply fill our heads with knowledge, but removes the veil from our eyes (2 Cor. 4:3) and clearly portrays Christ crucified (Gal. 3:1).
16. The word of God is no dead letter. It is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12; cf. Acts 2:37).
17. Transformation into Christ-likeness is not less than a mental-cognitive activity. We need words and truths in order that we might be transformed by the renewing of our minds and reach maturity in the knowledge of the Son of God (Romans 12:1-2; Eph. 4:13).
18. Jesus abides in us through his words. There is no rigid distinction between the person of the Jesus and the words of Jesus. We know Jesus through his words. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you,” Jesus tells his disciples, “ask whatever you wish and it will be given you” (John 15:7). For Jesus the two are interchangeable: remaining in him and his words remaining in us. When his words abide in us, we abide in him.
19. The promises of God sustain us in hard times. For example, the Psalmist says, “My comfort in suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life” (Psalm 119:49). And, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (119:92). And “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word” (119:147). Only the word of God has the power to keep us going when life grinds us down.
20. God has exalted above all things his name and his word (Psalm 138:2).
21. When all else passes away, the word of God will remain (Isa 40:7-8; 1 Peter 1:24-25).
22. Our only weapon in spiritual warfare is the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Eph. 6:10-18; Matt. 4:1-11). We fight the devil’s temptations to disobedience and despair by claiming the promises of God and knowing who God declares us to be; that is, we resist the devil with words and by belief in God’s words to us.
23. All of Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).
24. Through God’s great and precious promises, we are able to participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:4).
25. The Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35). There is much flexibility when it comes to corporate worship, but since we know that the Scriptures are inviolable, and that we are sanctified by the truth, and that the word is truth (John 17:17), we would be foolish if we did not make a priority that which we know has the power to save, transform, and endure.