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Evangelical Christians have been especially attentive to worship in recent years, sparking a renaissance of thought and conversation about what worship really is and how it should be done. Even if this renewed interest has resulted in what some unfortunately have called the worship wars in some churches, it seems that what A.W. Tozer once called the missing jewel of evangelical worship is being recovered.

Nevertheless, if most evangelicals would agree quickly that worship is central to the life of the church, there would be no consensus to an unavoidable question: What is central to Christian worship? Historically, the more liturgical churches have argued that the sacraments form the heart of Christian worship. These churches argue that the elements of the Lord's Supper and the water of baptism most powerfully present the gospel. Among evangelicals, some call for evangelism as the heart of worship, planning every facet of the service—songs, prayers, the sermon—with the evangelistic invitation in mind.

Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the Word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching the Word retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.

Traditional norms of worship are now subordinated to a demand for relevance and creativity. A media-driven culture of images has replaced the Word-centered culture that gave birth to the Reformation churches. In some sense, the image-driven culture of modern evangelicalism is an embrace of the very practices rejected by the Reformers in their quest for true biblical worship.

Music fills the space of most evangelical worship, and much of this music comes in the form of contemporary choruses marked by precious little theological content. Beyond the popularity of the chorus as a musical form, many evangelical churches seem intensely concerned to replicate studio-quality musical presentations.

In terms of musical style, the more traditional churches feature large choirs—often with orchestras—and may sing the established hymns of the faith. Choral contributions are often massive in scale and professional in quality. In any event, music fills the space and drives the energy of the worship service. Intense planning, financial investment, and priority of preparation are focused on the musical dimensions of worship. Professional staff and an army of volunteers spend much of the week in rehearsals and practice sessions.

All this is not lost on the congregation. Some Christians shop for churches that offer the worship style and experience that fits their expectation. In most communities, churches are known for their worship styles and musical programs. Those dissatisfied with what they find at one church can move quickly to another, sometimes using the language of self-expression to explain that the new church "meets our needs" or "allows us to worship."

A concern for true biblical worship was at the very heart of the Reformation, but even Martin Luther, who wrote hymns and required his preachers to be trained in song, would not recognize this modern preoccupation with music as legitimate or healthy. Why? Because the Reformers were convinced the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the Word of God.

Thanks be to God, evangelism takes place in Christian worship. Confronted by the presentation of the gospel and the preaching of the Word, sinners are drawn to faith in Jesus Christ and the offer of salvation is presented to all. Likewise, the Lord's Supper and baptism are honored as ordinances by the Lord's own command, and each finds its place in true worship.

Furthermore, music is one of God's most precious gifts to His people, and it is a language by which we may worship God in spirit and in truth. The hymns of the faith convey rich confessional and theological content, and many modern choruses recover a sense of doxology formerly lost in many evangelical churches. However, music is not the central act of Christian worship; neither is evangelism nor the ordinances. The heart of Christian worship is the authentic preaching of the Word of God.

Expository preaching is central, irreducible and non-negotiable to the Bible's mission of authentic worship that pleases God. John Stott declared the issue boldly: "Preaching is indispensable to Christianity." More specifically, preaching is indispensable to Christian worship, and not only indispensable, but central.

The centrality of preaching is the theme of both testaments of Scripture. In Nehemiah 8, we find the people demanding that Ezra the scribe bring the book of the law to the assembly. Ezra and his colleagues then stood on a raised platform and read from the book. When he opened the book to read, the assembly rose to its feet in honor of the Word of God and responded, "Amen, Amen!"

Interestingly, the text explains that Ezra and those assisting him "read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so they understood the reading" (Neh. 8:8). This remarkable text presents a portrait of expository preaching. Once the text was read, it was carefully explained to the congregation. Ezra did not stage an event or orchestrate a spectacle. He simply and carefully proclaimed the Word of God.

This text is a sobering indictment of much contemporary Christianity. According to the text, a demand for biblical preaching erupted within the hearts of the people. They gathered as a congregation and summoned the preacher. This reflects an intense hunger and thirst for the preaching of the Word of God.

Where is this desire evident among today's evangelicals? In far too many churches, the Bible is nearly silent. The public reading of Scripture has been dropped from many services, and the sermon has been sidelined, reduced to a brief devotional appended to the music. Many preachers accept this as a necessary concession in the age of entertainment. Some hope to put in a brief message of encouragement or exhortation before the conclusion of the service.

As Michael Green said, "This is the age of the sermonette, and sermonettes make Christianettes."

The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active Word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the Word, opens eyes and applies that Word to human hearts.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary-the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

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Talk about it...

Dennis Smith

commented on Nov 26, 2013

I agree! So many churches today have 45 min. of entertainment an 15 or less min of the 'preaching of the Word". Revivals have turned into live concerts instead of sermons of convictions

Bob Weger

commented on Nov 26, 2013

I also agree with Mohler. Preaching is and must be the focal point in worship. the old saying: " what you win them with you win them for." Great article Dr. Mohler!

Ronald E Morrell

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Amen to Dr. Mohler's article but would like more on what he considers "genuine expository preaching."

Archie Goodwin

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Amen and Amen. The fall of Adam and Eve teach us just how important and vital to our lives the Word of God truly is. We may seek to substitute the Word with our own understanding of what worship is but when the dust settles, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words hall not pass away. Matt 24:35

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Where does Mohler see this happening? Most of the churches I am familiar with have 35-45 minutes of preaching each week. Even the ones that are not "growing" are spending that much time in sermon and text. Is this a straw man?

Joel Rutherford

commented on Nov 26, 2013

I agree. There are several strawman in this argument. One is attacking modern worship music by labeling it all as 'choruses' and then asserting that Manny have little theological content to them. My experience has been exactly the opposite. I also know a few situations where there are 15 minute sermonettes. Where there are, they are just as likely to be expository sermons as they are topical, in my experience. The messages of both Jesus and the biblical writers seems to be largely topical in nature, and not expository. I have never understood the need to attack one type of preaching, while lifting up another as being more spiritual. This just seems to be one more form of spiritual pride, that divides us rather than encourages us.

Pastor Jeff Hughes

commented on Nov 30, 2013

See my comment. I find that this happens a lot where I live, in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania. Music has become more dominant than the word of God preached is some of these churches, and often the Word of God is more about sound bites than the solid meat of the Word of God. This saddens me deeply; hey, if you want to sing 40 minutes, then preach for 50...problem solved! (as long as you don't have "watch tappers" sitting in the pew)

Randy Hamel

commented on Nov 30, 2013

The churches in Canada where I see growth all have a 30 minute plus sermon. All of them - so that shorter fluffy sermon has not been my experience.

John Sears

commented on Nov 26, 2013

I take issue with the statement that contemporary music has precious little theological content. (Some of the classic hymns fall into the same category.) I do not argue that some praise choruses are skimpy on theology, but there are many good contemporary songs that are strong in this area. Sounds like a classic appeal to the thought that older is better.

Randy Hamel

commented on Nov 29, 2013

Have to agree with you. I wonder if it is like vegetables - some do not like broccoli. Doesn't the Bible say to sing a new song? Well I tried the old hymns - and I do not mean to be disrespectful - but the modern praise and worship songs draw me into the presence of God - and not the old songs. However were all different - and my dear wife likes the hymns.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Nov 26, 2013

The preaching of God's Word is the central, paramount, and vital part of a worship service! While music is important, far too many place more importance on it than the preaching. This should never be! I do agree with others who say that one style of preaching is not better than the other. I preach topical sermons on Sunday mornings and expository on Wednesday evenings as we are going through the Gosple of John.

Daniel Israel

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Worship is actually true prostration before God. Anything can trigger this worship. Music, preaching, a testimony or a comforting word from a fellow believer. But unfortunately the music is splitting the church. The grandma cannot sit with her grand child and worship because both want two different kind of music. Church is supposed to be a place where all the age group to be worshipping together, but that is not the case! Preaching is nothing but illuminating God's Word in our path so that we may see clearly. How one person does it is between him and the Holy Spirit!

Paul Wilkes

commented on Nov 26, 2013

My last church , the worship became a performance and they tried to push out the preaching of the Word. In fact since I have left, a sermon has been shared without the Word! It seems to be happening in many churches here in Canada. I have also seen a lack of the preaching of the Word in a pastor's retreat arranged by a denomination! So shocked and saddened. It leaves me very disillusioned about the churches locally and I am thinking the Lord is leading us to begin a House Fellowship where the Word will be central!

Richard G.

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Good point brother! I live in Canada and it is really the case.

Hugo Fries

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Strawman arguments? that is to put it mildly. Why would he write and disseminate such a divisive article. Care for the body of Christ. Tread gingerly - with humility.

Roger Steinbrueck

commented on Nov 26, 2013

I don't know from entertainment. But my thoughts go to Saint Paul's advice to Timothy, "Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2) Preaching the word is important because Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) So I'll just "preach Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Harold Andrew

commented on Nov 26, 2013

The challenge mystifies because almost all pastors are seminary trained, how did most "worship" get to mostly music, prayer is almost distinct (rarely 5 minutes total in the whole service) and lack of teaching a book of the Bible through almost eliminates discipleship. I have never heard, in church, an extensive, multiple week or possibly months Paul and the church, That topic will make you desire to be part of church, not attend church.

Peter Dohnt

commented on Nov 26, 2013

In line with "the living and active Word of God" I think this topic falls far short of the ideal. Any emphasis that relates to what we do (individually or corporately) rather than to who we are and our response to who we are is deficient. To reduce "worship" to style and content and tradition of the founders of any movement just misses it. Romans 12:1 is the measure - full stop - the rest is just fluff no matter how it is presented. AND before the backlash let me say ministry and worship are not the same - much of what has been considered above is about ministry balance and styles of presentation - maybe a part of our worshipping "presenting ourselves as living sacrifices" but not worship in itself.

Peter Dohnt

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Hmmm ... and if I remember rightly from a little training and study I have done - wasn't Israel destitute of the word of god for a generation or so when Nehemiah and Ezra got involved in rebuilding. This clearly does not apply to the church today - there is a multitude of good options for biblicaly sound teaching not all of which is necessarily delivered from a pulpit in the form of a sermon, exegetical or otherwise. BTW - I love a good well presented and challenging sermon but "worship" - that's our whole life.

Sakhiwo Ntshiqa

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Thank you for the reminder. The church has been degraded now to a disco-like entertainment place, disregarding the teaching and preaching of God's Word. We are more like the world if not similar, instead of being the Light of the world.

Peter Dohnt

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Sorry Albert for not thanking you for your time and investment with this topic.

Derrence Smaage

commented on Nov 27, 2013

The 3-fold purpose of the church is 1. To worship God in spirit and truth (John 4) 2. To evangelize the lost (Matt. 28:18-20. and 3. To edify the saved (Eph. 4:11 ff.) The worship service should reflect the same, perhaps in equal portions of praise, sermons and invitation for salvation.

Roger Steinbrueck

commented on Nov 27, 2013

"...the Reformers were convinced the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the Word of God." Could our problem be in the concept "worship"? Worship is what we do. Maybe the service needs to focus on what God is doing for us -- inviting us into his banquet hall, healing our diseases, clothing us in his Son's righteousness, and feeding us on his word. Then, in response to God's undeserved love for us, we sing hymns of praise.

Billy Ricks

commented on Nov 27, 2013

I don't believe that the apostles and early disciples argued about what worship was. They knew that worship was bowing their lives emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually before the will of Jesus Christ was worship. We have to stop talking about who is and who isn't doing this and what is the best way to do 1 day a week and focus on getting our hearts bowed before God. Discussion is great but discipleship is best!

Charles Waters

commented on Nov 27, 2013

I knew this topic would draw some fire! Worship is about God not us. God chose the "foolishness" of preaching to save them that believe. ( 1 Cor.1:21) Consistent, methodical, expository preaching is vital to spiritual growth. Peter was inspired to write: "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby." I don't believe that verse is just for "baby" Christians but it can apply to all believers. The Word of God is essential for spiritual growth. The Word is also referred to as bread and meat in other passages. It is our spiritual sustenance . For this reason the music we use in worship should be scripturally correct. Many of the old traditional hymns are loaded with theologically correct content. I don't believe that older always equals better but I also don't believe that the older traditions should be dismissed because they aren't "trendy" enough. Some of the old traditions have lasted through the centuries for a reason. What if every generation just took it upon themselves to make any changes they wanted in the Bible, the church and its practices? I know I'm "old school" but I believe we should conform to what pleases God instead of conforming God to what pleases us. How can we know what pleases God? He tells us how to please Him in His Word. I offer one last verse in support of the importance of the Word in worship. Psalms 138:2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Nov 27, 2013

"What if every generation just took it upon themselves to make any changes they wanted in the Bible, the church and its practices?" Charles, this is indeed happening today! Today we have many "perversions" of the Bible, and as this article states, many churches are more entertainment centered than Bible preaching centered.

Charles Waters

commented on Nov 28, 2013

That would be my conclusion too. I had hoped that question would generate some feedback. Thanks.

Randy Hamel

commented on Nov 29, 2013

My friend practices are not in the Bible. We must not change the Bible - but each generation should be free to preach it how they choose. Same with music - that is just a preference - as long as Jesus is lifted up. What is contemporary to one generation is not necessarily true for the next one. I find the old people want the old music - but it is not connecting with high school and college aged kids. I am an older Christian who needs to let go my preferences so the young people can come and hear the gospel. Some churches have found a moderate position; one church had the first service with the old style music - it was the grey service - the young people went to their own service - and others have had success with a blended service - blessings to you brother.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Nov 30, 2013

Randy, my issue isn't with contemporary music verses hymns. We blend both in the service. My issue is that most people today are in church to be entertained by the music and not there to hear God's Word preached. While music is a part of worship it is not the most important part, the preaching is. Also, I do have a CONVICTION, not a preference as to what version is God's Word, and that would be the KJV. So many changes have been made in the modern versions that people are confused. God is not the author of confusion. Those are the changes I was talking about. Blessings to you also.

Randy Hamel

commented on Nov 30, 2013

I am in a new church plant in an area where the soil is very hard. I just pray that they come. I do not worry whether they are there for entertainment or not? When I first became a Christian I came out of guilt? I did not come to worship Jesus because I did not have a personal relationship with him. One day the Spirit of God convicted me of my sins, and that was the start. My preachers were all godly men. So I do not believe we should be concerned about motives - after all I know my motives are not always pure. Lets just preach the Word and let the Holy Spirit change the hearts. Then I am just happy if they read a Bible - because that is a sign of new life. God bless you today.

Charles Waters

commented on Nov 30, 2013

I believe the Scriptures do teach us how to conduct worship. Sometimes they emphasize what we shouldn't do (1 Corinthians) and sometimes they emphasize what we should do. Every generation should be free to preach it the way the Lord wants. People change. God doesn't. I teach our people that our preferences are not necessarily appropriate for worship. We have an obligation to keep it as close to the Book as we possibly can. That is the only way we can be sure that it is acceptable to God. Jesus told the woman at the well that the Father seeks those who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. He said they are the "true worshippers." In John 17:17 Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." God's Word will inform us so we will know how to please God and it will transform us so that we are able to please Him. Compromise is a slippery slope. It may start small but it never stays small. When the method is in conflict with the message the end result is confusion. We know that God is not the author of confusion.

Edward Ali

commented on Nov 27, 2013

I totally agree with what you said. Most of the songs we sing in Church today are mere repetitions, leaving only very little time for the preaching of the Word.

Randy Hamel

commented on Nov 29, 2013

I disagree. The churches that play more modern songs are attracting unbelievers, If you cannot get them into the door - how can you then preach to them. Also I have heard Pastor Rick Warren and others deliver outstanding topical sermons. I have also heard Pastor Henry Schorr of Centre Street Church deliver outstanding expository messages? Is the real issue the type of sermon, or whether the preacher is filled with the Holy Spirit? I do not think Billy Graham preached expository? Where in the Bible does it say we need to do that? But this man is no doubt godly - and I mean no disrespect.

Charles Waters

commented on Nov 30, 2013

Pragmatism is a dangerous policy for doing the Lord's work. David's new cart was a pragmatic approach to moving the Ark of the Covenant but it wasn't in line with God's Word. I'm not saying that preachers should never preach topical messages. I don't think anyone has suggested that. I have heard some tremendous topical messages that where technically topical / textual because they still emphasized the Scripture. I certainly agree that the messenger should be Spirit filled. The title of Dr. Mohler's article was Expository Preaching is the Antidote to Anemic Preaching. I hope we can all agree that "anemic" preaching needs to be remedied. I guess how we define "anemic preaching" is another discussion. Dr. Mohler's definition resonated with some of us and possibly alienated others but we will all give an account to the Lord for how we conducted the ministry to which we have been called. No disrespect intended here either. I enjoy the discussion.

Pastor Jeff Hughes

commented on Nov 30, 2013

Great discussion. That being said, I do agree with Dr. Mohler that music tends to be overemphasized in today's worship service. I saw a few comments that stated the messages were 35-40 minutes long in most churches but I would disagree...most churches where I live have 15-20 minute messages that, if half decent, you get really settled in and the message is over and you ask "It's over already"? There is a great divide in worship style; what we do at our church is have more upbeat music (most often, hymns that are updated to more modern types) but it has to be music that is focused on Christ, not on self (no '7-11' songs, 7 words sang over and over 11 times). Since God holds His Word above His own name (Psalm 138) worship IN the Word should be predominant.

Nathaniel Galapon

commented on Dec 2, 2013

Can we not have all three? Preaching sunday mornings, praise , song fellowship sunday afternoons and prayer and bible study some other time of the week? Did JESUS not exemplify all three? Sermon on the mount Mtt5-7 , Sung a hymn Mtt 26, Prayed Mtt 26. If we are obedient to Mtt 28:19-20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you... does the word command only mean the spoken word or also the exemplified word? is that not the essence of LOGOS and RHEMA?

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