Book Review – Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship

Bryan Chapell’s book, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, is divided into two sections.  For the purpose of this blog we will be reflecting upon the first section titled, “Gospel Worship.”  During the time of the Reformation the structure of the gospel was re-identified in one symbolic way, as Luther placed the pulpit and altar among the people in the first Protestant church in Torgau, Germany.  According the Chapell this was more than an architectural preference on Luther’s part.  It demonstrated that the people were not ruled by the church leaders but lead as the leaders were among them.  This symbolic structure is still used today in our church buildings and it is important.  Similar in importance is the worship service (liturgy).  It is the structure that tells the gospel.  When discussing liturgy one cannot ignore the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.  Much of what is in the traditional worship service in the Western Culture has its roots in Rome.  We are reminded that Luther did not intend to leave the Roman Catholic Church but to reform it.  Luther’s work proved to be a pivotal point in worship history as he promoted participation of laity in the liturgy.  Calvin for the most part was in agreement with Luther’s liturgical understanding.  However, Calvin used the Old Testament readings and brought a clear focus upon the Word at the onset of a service.  Among other things Calvin saw collecting alms, saying the Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed and participatory singing important parts of a service.  By the time of the Westminster Assembly the liturgy of worship had began to be hammered out upon the anvil of experience.  It is clear that many of the modern movements coupled with the influence of secularism affected the traditional liturgical style of worship.  Many churches have escaped from the very structure that not only told the gospel story but helped hold the centrality of Christ among His worshippers.  Chapell shares that worship should always honor the gospel, communicate the gospel, and shape the worship of the church (100).

It should be noted that the gospel does not find its dependence upon the symbolic structure of a building or in the structure of liturgy.  The dependence of the gospel is upon the Word and the Holy Spirit which has the power to change lives.  Without the presence of the Holy Spirit our worship is nothing but a finite attempt to reach infinite God.  A traditional order of worship is in jeopardy of becoming merely “canned” repetitions of words without embracing the power of the Word of God.  As Chapell states, “Worship is our love response to his loving provision, so nothing is more honoring of his grace than making its themes our own” (117).  Chapell does give us the vital ingredient, provision.  Because God has provided for us we can recognize our need of Him and respond to His provision from hearts that worship.  Criswell offers a more lengthy definition of worship, “To worship is to quicken the conscious by the holiness of God; to feed the mind with the truth of God; to purge the imagination by the beauty of God; to open up the heart to the love of God; to devote the will to the purpose of God” (Criswell 1980).  Even still we see that God is acting on behalf of the worshipper to enable him or her to worship.  If the structure of the liturgy tells the gospel story as Chapell presents, then we should be able to hear the story every time we worship the Lord.

Today the church faces many challenges in its effort to remain Christ-centered in worship.  Cultural, theological and personal preferences are so diverse that one needs to choose what style of worship is right for him or her.  What is essential is that in the decision process one does not lose sight of the true meaning of worship in giving glory to God.  And the church’s mission is to present the gospel through its worship.  The mission is the safeguard that ensures the unity among the church as a whole.  Identifying and defining the Christ-centered values of the church ensures the centrality of grace.  We can conclude that keeping those values in focus allows the components of our worship to remain as fresh as the Word itself.  Chapell’s book to this point is informative and challenging.  He captured the value of liturgy through his detailed presentation of the structure of historical worship.  Certainly this book is a gem and should be placed within hand’s reach of every pastor for reference and appreciation.

Chapell, Bryan.  Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice. Ada, MI:
Baker Academics, 2009.

 Criswell, W. A.  Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors.  Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press,
1980.

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