by Joe Thorn
The environment of the pulpit is not only formed by the Word, but also filled with the Word. It is commonly said that in the worship of the church the Word is read and preached, prayed and sung, and seen. The reading of God’s Word in corporate worship has been evaporating for some time. In many churches today, all that remains of the Word read aloud to the congregation is a verse or two at the opening of the service. But the command to read the Word publicly (1 Tim. 4:13) is not a call to nod to it in passing. It is a call to read it thoughtfully and thoroughly.
Reading Scripture in worship is not merely a call to give attention, but a call to hear God’s revelation of Himself. For it to be read thoughtfully and thoroughly requires us to read the revelation of God’s person and work by which people might be confronted, convicted, and comforted. Readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament ought to be common. Longer and multiple readings should mark the whole of the service as the church is led through its liturgy. The law of God should show us our sin, and the gospel of God should show us our Savior. And in it all, the church is called to respond to God in faith and repentance.
The preaching of the Word is not accomplished by spring-boarding from one text into a talk divorced from the text or the theology of the text. The preaching of the Word requires ministers to open the Word, explain it, expound upon it, and apply it—all while leading us to Jesus as Lord. While preachers will vary in style and mannerism, their shared approach ought to be the clear communication of Scripture so that the church might grow in its understanding and experience of God.
The Word must also be prayed in corporate worship. Prayer is not only a congregation’s appeal to God for what it lacks or needs, but also its praise based on who God is and what He has done. This means that proper prayer is necessarily grounded in the Word, for there we see God and His promises. The Word is prayed in adoration, confession, supplication, and thanksgiving. Prayer should be offered not only at the beginning, the end, and during the offering, but also throughout the service in various ways. It should not be used as a time of transitioning between elements of worship—in which the band or anyone else is given ample time to sneak up front for whatever comes next—but should be an essential element to worship.
The Word must also be sung in worship. The psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we sing may be taken directly from Scripture, or they may more creatively reflect particular truths of Scripture. Still, all a church sings should emerge from the Word of God in such a way that God is made known.
The Word is seen in the ordinances. In baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the gospel is preached. In baptism, we see one who has been cleansed of sin by the blood of Christ. Not only that, we see them buried with Christ as they are plunged beneath the water and then raised up in new life with Him as they emerge from the water. In the Lord’s Supper, we see the body of Jesus broken and His blood spilled for us. The bread and the wine are symbols of the gospel that saves. In both ordinances, the Word of God, specifically the gospel, is displayed for all to see.
Editor's Note: This post was adapted from Joe Thorn, The Life of the Church: The Table, Pulpit, and Square (Moody Publishers, 2017), 51-54. Used with permission.