This August, Baker Academic will publish Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice. Chapell, who is President and Professor of Practical Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, previously has published Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 2nd ed. (Baker, 2005), a text I use in my Homiletics I course and one which I highly recommend for preachers of the Scriptures. This August will also witness the release of his Ephesians commentary in the Reformed Expository Commentary Series (P&R Publishing).
Bryan and I had a brief opportunity to talk about Christ-Centered Worship while attending The Gospel Coalition conference last month. As a result of the conversation, I have asked him to share some thoughts on the book with us:
It would seem that the notion of having Christ at the center of our public gathering would be ubiquitous for believers. So what do you mean when you say “Christ-Centered” worship?
My hope in Christ-centered Worship is to show how the church’s worship has always been shaped by its understanding of the Gospel, so that contemporary believers will understand their right and responsibility to shape their worship based on Christ’s ministry to and through them. Gospel purposes should shape our worship more than personal preferences or respected traditions. My goal is not to take sides in the traditional/contemporary worship debate, but rather to encourage church leaders to identify their church’s specific Gospel calling as the basis of making decisions about worship that may be traditional, contemporary or something even better.
You have said that the church gathered should include confession of sin as an essential element of worship. Why do you say this?
Worship, in its essence, is a re-presentation of the Gospel. We are not simply doing a few hymns and prayers as the “prelude” for the sermon. In the history of the church, across the ages and across traditions, we begin worship with recognition of the glory of God. This leads to acknowledgment of our humanity and need for grace. This is followed by assurance of God’s provision which leads the heart to respond in thanksgiving and desire for more instruction to walk in accord with God’s will. This pattern reflects the progress of the Gospel in the life of the individual believer who has come to a saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. Thus, just as there can be no true Gospel understanding without acknowledgment of our sin and need for grace, so there can be no Gospel-true worship without confession of sin. This does not mean that confession must only be done one way (in a prayer, in a hymn, in a unison reading, etc.); it does mean that a service without some form of confession deprives God’s people of true worship of the God who saves. Christ-centered worship should to discern how to maintain the distinctives of the Gospel in ways appropriate for our individual church’s culture, ministry and mission. In the book Christ-centered Worship, I try to provide many practical examples of how to do this across churches, denominations and cultures.
How does having Christ-centered worship affect our witness in the public square and religiously pluralistic mission fields?
Worship that is truly Christ-centered – that is to say, reflecting the essence of the Gospel in its pattern and progress – automatically is a form of doxological evangelism. Our praise of grace in corporate solidarity is a simultaneous expression of our mutual humility and common hope. Such worship necessarily focuses on the unique claims of Christ, but not in a way that is triumphalistic or bigoted. By acknowledging our need rather that our superiority, we indicate our openness to the hurting and questioning while at the same time heralding the grace that is in Christ alone.
(UPDATE: Please note that in the original post, part of Dr. Chapell’s answer to question 2 was lost. I have posted the full answer.)