As a part of our Basic Chaplains’ Course, chaplains are exposed to different worship services outside of our primarily Evangelical traditions. This week, for example, we participated in two services that were very far from contemporary American Evangelicalism–we attended Catholic daily mass and an Eastern Orthodox divine worship service. In a nutshell, these two worship services were light years from what most of us were used to. The prayers were written ahead of time, portions of Scripture were chanted as they were read, the hymnody was minimal, the priests wore vestments, bells were rung, incense was burned…I could go on and on.
Aside from all of the differences in theology and praxis, some of which are indeed insurmountable for Protestants, I was struck by one thing more than any other–I was struck by the amount of Scripture read during worship. In each service, chapters and chapters (yes, CHAPTERS) of Scripture were read, chanted and sung! Back up and read that again–CHAPTERS were read during worship! Now think this through with me…as Evangelicals we pride ourselves on being ‘people of the Book’ and go to great lengths defending inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency, etc. We get all puffed up by our ‘high view’ of Scripture and never tire of patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves for defending the Word of God against the modernists, liberals, moderates, Catholics, and whoever else.
Ironically, however, the very Word of God that we are so quick to defend is conspicuously ABSENT from most of our worship. When was the last time you heard Scripture (like the Psalms!) sung in Evangelical worship? When was the last time you heard large portions of Scripture read in Evangelical worship? When was the last time you were blessed by the ‘Ministry of the Word’ that consisted of something other than two or three verses (ten to fifteen seconds) of the Word of God followed by twenty, thirty, or even forty minutes of the word of man?
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8.11, ESV)
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are in the midst of a famine. While not a prophetic famine like that of which Amos spoke, Evangelicalism is failing miserably in our corporate worship (not to mention our own private lives of devotion). Our Ministry of the Word is almost exclusively centered on the word of man and not that of God. In trying to rescue God’s Word from the shackles of medieval Catholicism and restore it to its rightful place in corporate worship, the noble intentions of our Reformed forefathers, from which Evangelicals are direct descendants, have been sorely forgotten to the point that God’s voice is now held captive again, but this time by those who initially intended to liberate it!
Woe to us for elevating our thoughts on Scripture above Scripture itself! Woe to us for spending so much time explaining our interpretations of the Word (which is of course necessary to a degree) and so little time allowing God himself to speak in our midst! Woe to us for emphasizing the ‘practical applications’ of the Word over against the Gospel of the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.