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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Reflections on Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 90

Q. 90. How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?

A. That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.


Too often today, our approach to the worship of the God of the universe is more than a bit casual. But this would make sense. After all, if the worship of the church is carried out in a flippant manner, it should be no wonder that the congregation would approach it flippantly. We cruise into church, coffee in hand, and schmooze for a few minutes until given the signal by the band or some "worship leader" that it is time to settle down and remember why we're there. And any notion of preparation for worship is out of the realm of thought.

Yet traditionally, the sacred nature of worship has been better understood, and has led those attending corporate worship to approach it with greater care than the contemporary church tends to exhibit today. Preparation for worship has begun at home, even during the week prior to coming to worship on the Sabbath. There is no activity comparable to the corporate worship of God, it has been understood, and while He is with me wherever I may be, and I may worship Him in all that I do, there is something unique and special about gathering with His saints to lift our voices up jointly in praise and adoration of Him. I live my life always before Him - and yet the culmination of all that living before Him is in union with His people. And so I am ever conscious, no matter what day it is or what I am doing, that that day is coming, the day to gather with His Church.

Once coming to worship, the minutes before the beginning of service has been used as a time of silent prayer and meditation. Our God is a Holy God. He is high and exalted, and there is none other like Him. And this reality has shaped the whole atmosphere of the worship service, even the time just before it.

This preparation has special bearing on how we approach the reading and the preaching of the Word of God. We all own Bibles, and by the grace of God we still live in a society where we remain largely free to read it as we wish. And so we grow accustomed to it, like an old friend that we take for granted will always be there, no matter how much we neglect him. Yet this casualness is a failure of our own, not of God's Word. It is a sin to be confessed and repented of.

The reading and the preaching of God's word holds a central place in corporate worship. Without the Word of God, after all, nothing in the universe would exist, let alone corporate worship. He creates by His Word, and He sustains the universe by His Word (Hebrews 1:3). It is by His Word that he raises the dead, both spiritually and, as He will when Christ returns, physically. And it is by His Word that He upholds and strengthens His Church during our sojourn now. We hear God's chosen minister reading the text of Scripture to us, and as God's representative, we hear him explain and apply the text so that we might better live in obedience to God. We are to prepare; we are to listen with diligence; we are to obey it. And so hearing the reading and preaching of the Word is an act of worship. We are not to be passive with regard to the Word. We are not an audience, as at a concert. God calls us to be mentally engaged when His Word is presented to us. And while it is always presented in authority and power, it is especially so when presented by an ordained minister of God, during the time He has set apart for that purpose. We then leave, having heard from the King's emissary, and go out as servants of the King, to do His bidding alone.

As the Catechism question states, the effectiveness of the Word of God in our lives relies upon our approaching it properly. In a time when the Evangelical church drifts further and further morally from the standards of Holy Scripture, perhaps we should consider whether it is not because we do not duly approach His Word, particularly when we present it and receive it in corporate worship. If we truly want to see people saved, and we want to redeem society for Christ, we would do well to consider this matter with care.

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