Every Sunday, local churches worldwide, seeking to be faithful to Christ, will gather for worship. Each will have its own flavor and style. What activities must mark the gatherings of a local church? What activities are essential? In 21st-century America, we often appear confused about what a Sunday morning gathering of Christians should involve. Should our services be marked by an extended period of music and dim lights followed by an encouraging talk? Is it permissible to use popular movie clips to gather interest in worship? Should we take time to circle our chairs and simply chat about life? Must a service be highly structured and rigid in form? Should gatherings be liturgical or informal? Without understanding what the Scriptures say on this subject, we often defer to what we like or do not like. We shop for a local church that adheres to our preferences. I want to lay before you that God's Word states that the Scriptures must be central despite various opinions and feelings regarding how Christian gatherings should be structured.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes, "Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, [and] to teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13, ESV). From this passage, we see that the Scriptures were to be chief in the life of the church. Timothy was to publicly read God's Word to the gathered Church so that they would hear and know the sacred writings. He was to exhort or preach the Word. Finally, Timothy was to devote himself to teaching sound doctrine, the truth about God, and the gospel. From the rest of the letter, we know that the church where Timothy ministered was plagued by false teachers and fraudulent teaching about God. Scripture was the answer then, and nothing has changed.
Paul charges Timothy to make the Scriptures central to the gathered body of believers. We see this same pattern in the Old Testament. In Nehemiah 8:8, we read, "[The priests] read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense so that the people understood the reading." Here the priests read God's instruction and explained it to God's people so that they understood the meaning of the passage. In the first century, when Jesus attended synagogue, the Scripture would have been read, and then a teacher would expand on the meaning. We should see this same pattern in the contemporary church.
Some might argue that what people need is not the Bible but short messages on finding peace now or living a full life. After all, the world is crazy at the moment, and people need to be encouraged. What I believe they are saying is that people need something relevant. There is nothing more relevant to creation than instruction from the Creator. Psalm 19 states that God's instruction is perfect, reviving the soul. God's instruction makes the simple wise. The heart rejoices and enlightens our eyes. God's Word will endure forever. It is worth more than gold, sweeter than honey, and without error (Psalm 19:7-12, paraphrased).
When the church of Jesus Christ gathers for worship on Sunday mornings, the Scriptures must be central. There is nothing more relevant, encouraging, or comforting to God's people than his perfect written Word. God's people must be fed from God's Word. I pray that our congregations dig deep into the Scriptures, stand in wonder of the holiness of our triune God, and are heartened by His goodness.
Alan W. McElroy is pastor of White Cliff Church (Southern Baptist Convention).
Perspectives is a regular column sponsored and written by members of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association.