Tag Archives: Word and Sacrament

Al Mohler and the Centrality of the Worship

In a recent article, Al Mohler castigates modern worship. He observes that if evangelicals would agree with the idea that worship is central to the Christian life (a big IF), then the next question is, “What is central to Christian worship?” Mohler observes that the worship wars have led to different conclusions. Some elevate music as the center part of worship. Others advocate an evangelistic-shaped service to draw outsiders to the Gospel. More liturgical churches look at the sacraments as central to worship.

Mohler argues rightly that “many evangelical churches seem intensely concerned to replicate studio-quality musical presentations.” He criticizes the enormous amount of time and money involved in presenting a high quality musical experience on Sunday morning. This builds a society where Christians “shop for churches that offer the worship style and experience that fits their expectation.” The consumerist churches create ecclesiastical consumerist parishioners.

I second and third this criticism; always have and always will. However, Mohler misses a significant portion of the conversation on biblical worship. Mohler, attempting to rescue a Reformed view of worship, writes that “the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the word of God.” But is Mohler accurate in his assessment? Wright, who according to many is very un-Reformed, a observed that “Christian worship is a response of the whole human being and the whole human community to God’s grace and love for the world.” It is the whole human being that worship is re-orienting; not just his intellect, but the whole person. Worship then needs to be centered not only on words, but also in the Christian response to the word. God’s words brought the world into existence, but those words created something; that something was not abstract, but tangible and taste-worthy. b.

When Mohler centralizes the Word preached, he misses what came from those words. Indeed he misses the story of God who created and watched us eat from His creation.

Word and Sacrament are central in worship. Indeed the whole worship service is composed of these two aspects. The Word (includes confession and singing) prepares us to consume bread and wine. c The same Luther who spoke highly of the preached Word observed in his small catechism:

Our preaching should… be such that of their own accord and without our command, people will desire the sacrament and, as it were, press us pastors to administer it to them… For Christ did not say, “Omit this” or “despise this,” but “This do, as often as you drink it,” etc.

There was a certain urgency in Luther’s mind about not separating Word and Sacrament. Luther not only argued for weekly communion, but he saw that the Word was incomplete without the sacrament. He argued that when the Word is proclaimed, the Supper must follow. d

According to Mohler, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper each have a place in worship, but the preaching of the Word ought to be supreme. The position of the Reformers was not the one advocated by Mohler. The Reformation–anabaptist excluded–argued that though the Word plays a monumental role in the worship service (Heb. 4:12) it must not be separated from the Sacrament. e The argument the Reformers made, in my estimation, was not for the supremacy of the Word preached, but the inseparability of the Word preached from the Word eaten. What God hath joined together let no man put asunder!

  1. I dispute that statement  (back)
  2. As an advocate of Covenant Renewal Worship, I argue that the entire service is central, though the service can be summarized in Word and Sacrament  (back)
  3. Incidentally, this is one reason for why Word must come before the Sacraments  (back)
  4. Calvin argued that to avoid the Lord’s Supper is a form of devilish theology  (back)
  5. The Supper was, for Calvin, mutual:  Christ “is made completely one with us and we with him.”  (back)

Why Ministers Leave

The typical pastor stays in a church for 3.6 years. This does not seem to offer much hope for any long-term vision for a local parish. Planning ahead seems futile from the outset. This discouraging number stems from a variety of issues. Some pastors, fresh out of seminary, attempt to revive a church that has already died a thousand deaths. Their optimism suffers the same amount of deaths within the first twelve months. Other pastors eager to persuade a congregation of his theology immerse with psalmic zeal into the nuances of his dogmatic learning only to find that the congregation does not share the same interest or enthusiasm. In many cases pastoral conflicts ensue among staff ultimately leading to each one doing what is right in their own eyes. And the reasons for the 3.6 number can be multiplied.

In Dr. John Gilmore’s Pastoral Politics: Why Ministers Resign he observes the phenomenon of pastoral departure from various angles. In particular, he wants to offer hope to pastors who have gone through the terrible emotional pain of leaving or being forced to leave a congregation. He observes that “Both undergraduate Christian college and seminary courses should do a better job of proactively addressing the matter of pastoral closure.” Pastors usually leave their congregations under tremendous stress and uncertain about their future. If the numbers are right, “resignation” is a common word to the majority of congregations in this country.

When a pastor resigns he is not only leaving his job, he is leaving his life. The pastorate is not merely the exercising of rhetorical skills, but actually the exercising of life skills. No profession is so immersed in the lives of ordinary people than the pastorate. This past Sunday alone during our congregation’s fellowship time I engaged in over 10 different conversations in the space of 30 minutes. From children to older saints, each conversation was important to me because they were manifestations of what was important to my parishioners. As far as I am aware no profession (and I use that term broadly) is so engaged in the well-being of fellow men than the pastorate. And so when a pastor resigns, he resigns not just from a job, but from his life; the life he knew and invested in heart, mind, soul, and strength.

There is no doubt the ecclesiastical charlatans and wolves are out there, and to hell with them! But when the local pastor who sees his unique calling to shepherd and care for his flock resigns he loses more than just a salary, but in many ways his spirit.

Jonathan Edwards understood this. In his farewell sermon he prepared his congregants by saying that it was a matter of vast importance how a people treat their ministers, and in some ways the future of that minister is in the hands of how the sheep treat their shepherd, or as Edwards puts it, “how they receive and entertain a faithful minister of Christ.” Parishioners need to be aware that the implications of Hebrews 13:17 weighs heavily each day to the local minister.

As I stated in a homily delivered at a recent ordination service, no profession undergoes the ups and downs of life so quickly than that of a pastor. He may be rejoicing in the heavenly places on Sunday as he leads his congregation in adoration only to be confronted with a parishioner eager to seek a divorce after 20 years of marriage on Monday morning.

With that in mind, the 3.6 year average seems almost justifiable. But there is hope. And the hope lies not in some pastoral technique or on superb leadership skills, but in the Spirit of God through his intervening grace. The Third Person of the Trinity is the sustainer of the body through the Pentecostal fire poured in the church’s infancy and continued into the church’s maturity. It is by grace that those numbers are not lower and it is by grace that those numbers will increase and no longer reflect the evangelical scene.

May congregations learn to nourish their pastors in love and may pastors nourish their people in every spiritual blessing. And may pastors look with hope to the future of their parishes in the 20-30 years ahead and see the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and care bear much fruit in the lives of their people, their children, and their children’s children.