Just finished Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, by Bryan Chappell. Bottom line — if you’re responsible for leading, overseeing, or planning corporate worship in your church, you should read this book.
Chappell divides the book into two sections, Gospel Worship and Gospel Worship Resources. A casual look at the Table of Contents could lead you to think the book is all about formal liturgies, and irrelevant for churches that come from a more “free” tradition. Not the case. In the first section he defines liturgy as “the public way a church honors God in its times of gathered praise, prayer, instruction, and commitment” (18). That applies to everyone. He says that “whether one intends it or not, our worship patterns always communicate something” (18). That means what we do on Sunday mornings says volumes about what we believe. And when we plan our meetings, we shouldn’t imagine we’re starting from scratch.
We should not ignore the wisdom of church forebears just because it’s old, or automatically reject it just because we didn’t think of it. We consider the history because God does not give all of his wisdom to any one time or people.
The first few chapters trace the development of a gospel-driven liturgy through Rome, Calvin, Luther, the Westminster divines, and more modern expressions, focusing on the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Upper Room, or Communion. Through a helpful use of charts, Chapell shows the common and distinct elements of each liturgy, and emphasizes that each was seeking in some way to express the reality and effects of the gospel.
Chapell takes us far above the common focuses on style, order, preference, and music, and directs our attention to the primary purpose of our gatherings: to re-present and respond to the great story of God’s redemption in Christ, otherwise known as the gospel. Without becoming overly dogmatic, he demonstrates how a “gospel structure” can be seen in Isaiah’s encounter with God in Isaiah 6, Israel’s worship at Mt. Sinai, Solomon’s worship at the dedication of the temple, and in the prescribed order of sacrifices at the temple.
He breaks down this “gospel structure” down into eight basic components:
1. Adoration (recognition of God’s greatness and grace)
2. Confession (acknowledgement of our sin and need for grace)
3. Assurance (affirmation of God’s provision of grace)
4. Thanksgiving (expression of praise and thanks for God’s grace)
5. Petition and Intercession (expression of dependence on God’s grace)
6. Instruction (acquiring the knowledge to grow in grace)
7. Communion/Fellowship (celebrating the grace of union with Christ and his people)
8. Charge and Blessing (living for and in the light of God’s grace)
In the New Testament, Chapell says we find hints of a “gospel structure” in Rom. 11-15 and Rev. 4-21. But he astutely observes that “the lack of explicit detail [related to a liturgy] must reflect an intention to guide us by transcendent principles rather than by specific worship forms that could become culture-bound, time-locked, and superstition-invoking.” That means there can be variation in how these components are fleshed out. The important thing is that we have a gospel-driven purpose in why we do what we do.
He finishes the first section of the book with three chapters on the mission, aspects, and components of Christ-centered worship. This is one of the best illustrations I’ve seen of working through the “healthy tensions” that I talk about in my book, Worship Matters.
In the second half of the book, Chapell gives specific ideas for how to think about and implement different parts of a gospel-oriented meeting. While every chapter is worth reading, I particularly appreciated his thoughts on communion and his focus on rubrics, or transitions.
With so many books being written on the topic of worship today, I hesitate to recommend one so highly. Christ-Centered Worship is an exception. Definitely worth the investment of your time.