Church Services Declare the Gospel, or they don’t…

When I got my compound bow, I took it to the range, loaded an arrow, attached my trigger, drew back the string, looked through the fluorescent sights, and lined up the target. Moving my shoulder blade back to get the smoothest shot possible, my finger tapped the trigger without bending and the arrow flew through the air. Surprise, it missed the target. I retrieved my allen wrench, adjusted the sights appropriately and shot again until the sights were exactly where I wanted them to be.

When God purchases us for Himself, He begins this process called sanctification. We miss the mark and He adjusts the sights of our lives. He does this throughout our lives. He does this in the context of the local and universal church. Let me ask you this question. What is the layout of the worship gathering at your church? Most churches are similar, at least in the west, so let me take a guess. You begin with a welcome and maybe some announcements. Perhaps you begin with a song potentially followed by a welcome and maybe some announcements. Then there is a song set and maybe some congregational readings. After the song set, the pastor will move to the front if he is not already there and he will preach. The preaching might be followed by an invitation or reflection time. After this, the congregation will be dismissed following prayer or another song. Did I get close?

What do you imagine the order of service has to do with declaring the Gospel? Scripture does not give a prescription. It tells us that things ought to be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). What order? What do our worship services declare about our theology, our beliefs regarding who God is?

Acts 1:12-26

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem — a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying:

Peter, John,

James, Andrew,

Philip, Thomas,

Bartholomew, Matthew,

James the son of Alphaeus,

Simon the Zealot,

and Judas the son of James.

All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.

During these days Peter stood up among the brothers — the number of people who were together was about 120 — and said: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David spoke in advance about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was one of our number and was allotted a share in this ministry.” Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst and burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood). “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

Let his dwelling become desolate;

let no one live in it; and

Let someone else take his position.

“Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us — beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us — from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two You have chosen to take the place in this apostolic service that Judas left to go to his own place.” Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias. So he was numbered with the 11 apostles.

Theological order

This is just before Jewish Pentecost. The apostles had gone to Jerusalem. They were gathering with about 120 people, whom we presume were the first local church gathering. The apostles and women who traveled with Jesus were in prayer together. Peter stood up in the midst of the whole congregation and said, “the Scriptures had to be fulfilled.” He proceeded to exposit the Scriptures, explaining Judas’ betrayal.

After expositing the Scriptures, there was a response. They did not merely hear the word but responded to the word of God. This was seen in the church’s selection of another apostle so that there would be twelve to represent the twelve tribes. The first local church sought to fulfill what the Scriptures taught in what they did and in the way that they did things.

Look to the next chapter, verses 42-43:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.

Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.

The new congregation after Pentecost, consisting of more than 3,000 kept this order. They first devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, the expositing of Scripture as Peter has already shown, then in response became doers of the word (fellowshipping, breaking bread, and praying). The result was that fear came over everyone, an awe-inspiring wonder in response to the greatness of God. There is a theological order and I wonder what our liturgy declares about our belief in God.

Declaring the Gospel in the liturgy

If we begin with a ‘welcome’ or the sharing of announcements, have we truly declared Christ to be preeminent? If our singing to or about God preceeds our hearing from God’s word, have we truly declared that God is the author and finisher of our faith? If we neglect singing to our God in response to His word and work through sanctification, have we truly declared that God inspires within us fear and awe-inspiring wonder? What would it mean to have in our churches such a Christ-centeredness that every aspect of what we do declares the word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What would it mean for us to be an expository church? Do our sights need some adjusting?

Jesus responded to Peter after Peter’s great confession, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).

In the building of Christ’s church, Christ does not begin with entertainment, with evangelistic events, with an attractive youth ministry, or with a welcome and some announcements. I am not condemning any of those things. Jesus builds His church in first the revelation of God to people. That revelation manifests and Christ builds His church. Is this something we exemplify, yes in expository preaching, but also in everything else that we do and the order in which we do those things?

When I got married, my lifestyle changed and I began to live like a married man. The things that I do and the words that I speak and the way that I spend my time declare the truth of my relationship with my wife. Are our churches such that we are declaring the relationship with have with Christ by His grace, or are we in some way still flirting with the ways of the world and the unrighteousness of self?

These questions, at this point, are only rhetorical. Are your brains churning? Are your curiosities peaked? Have you thought about what a biblical church service looks like in response to theological truth, or have you ordered things pragmatically, firstly trying to make things user-friendly? This is the first part of a new study we are doing with our elders at TCATS. It will take much time to wade these liturgical waters. Let us explore the Scriptures together. Let us be doers of the word, fulfilling it more and more as our sights are adjusted and in the way that we do the things that we do. Subscribe to this blog to see what we unfold as we look through the Scriptures after this introduction. Dwell upon these things.

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