Friday, October 31, 2008

Sola Scriptura and Service Planning

(The following article is part of the Third Annual Reformation Day Symposium, hosted by Tim Challies. Go to today to check out more articles related to Reformation Day!)

“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” – 1 Timothy 4:13 (ESV)

Sola Scriptura, or the Scriptures alone, is an indispensable belief for the Protestant Reformation and true Christianity. The doctrine of justification by faith alone, taught in the Scriptures (especially the book of Romans), was recovered from a rampant neglect and the contradictions of the Roman Catholic Church. The 16th century Reformers believed in sola fide (salvation only through faith in Christ) because they believed in sola Scriptura. It was through their study of the Scriptures that men like Martin Luther and John Calvin came to reject the false teaching of the Roman Church that salvation was by faith in Christ plus works. The Bible teaches faith alone, so we must believe and teach it as well, pointing sinners to trust in Christ.

So why is it that many who would claim to be heirs of the Reformation, or who would at least call themselves “Bible-believers” have so little of the Bible in their public worship services? The sad observation has been made that, in many instances, a Roman Catholic church service will have far more Scripture read than most “Bible-believing” churches. The tragedy is that the group that repudiates Bible-centeredness is sometimes better at demonstrating the importance of hearing God’s Word than churches who explicitly claim that it is central to them, and that it is their only standard for faith and practice.

Whatever our denomination (or “non-denomination”), if we believe the Bible, we need to intentionally integrate Scripture into the public gathering of God’s people. Most Bible-believing churches will have Scripture read in the sermon or just before it, at the least. But many churches will have no more Scripture than that. There are multiple ways to use Scripture in the service, including as transitions to hymns. But one of the best ways of showing the centrality of God’s written revelation is by the regular, systematic, public reading of God’s Word.

There are many ways that one could incorporate public Scripture readings. I would like to mention two strategies, both of which I have seen. I will start with my home church’s strategy. The service begins with a Psalm (which usually has a common thread with the sermon text). Later we have an Old Testament reading (currently going consecutively through the post-exilic prophets). There is also a New Testament reading, which is either a parallel passage or has a similar theme. Finally, there is the text for the sermon.

Another church uses the following approach. They have two services, one in the morning and one immediately after a fellowship lunch. In the morning service, they are reading consecutively through the books of the Law and the Gospels. In the afternoon, they are reading consecutively from the Old Testament Prophets and the Epistles. Each Scripture reading includes a brief “sermonette” that explains and applies the text with a few points, so that God’s people are hearing God’s Word read and expounded four times in addition to the two Lord’s Day expository sermons (which are around 40-50 minutes each)!

In both these instances, God’s people are hearing God’s Word, week to week in a consistent, intentional, systematic manner.

If your church is accustomed only to the reading of the text of Scripture, it might not be the wisest approach to jump to three or four Scripture readings. It might be best to teach on the importance of Scripture and our intake of it as a foundation to incorporate more Scripture in the worship service. Perhaps some congregations would be receptive to a large change, but others might be better served by a gradual introduction of one additional Scripture reading at a time. The length of passages is another important factor to consider. It would likely discourage many people if you decided to implement a change in the service by reading the whole of Psalm 119 (176 verses) next week, whereas the fourteen verses of Psalm 19 might be a different story.

Of course, there is no Biblical command of exactly how many different readings there should be or how long they should be. But the thing to keep in view is that people need God’s Word to live and to grow.

To that end, consider not only the introduction of more Scripture into the worship service, but consider the preparation for those Scripture readings. The selection of the passages themselves may be difficult work, at least initially. The brief expositions will take a bit of study. If you take this approach, these expositions should be done by the pastor or another man recognized by the church as having the gift of teaching. They need to be well-prepared and probably brief. Scripture readings themselves could be done by faithful church members or the pastor.

In all instances, it is helpful for the reader to have the passage in advance to read it, pray through it, and practice vocalizing the passage. The reader should take great pains to ensure that the reading is not flat and dull. We should take great care not to bore people with God’s Word, but to read it with proper inflection, emphasis, and emotion.

However pastors apply the command “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture,” may we find more and more churches where God’s sheep are hearing God’s voice and becoming better followers of him as a result. Sola Scriptura was essential to the Protestant Reformation, and the people of God need regular exposure to God’s Word to continue to reform according to the Scriptures and be changed more and more to reflect the character of the Christ who saves.


More Resources to Celebrate Reformation Day!

· A Review of Reformation Resources(Books, Music, Websites (including links to Reformation Day Celebration resources, such as a free activity/coloring sheet), Movies)

· Prayer, Meditation, and Trials in Psalm 119: Luther's Instructions for Studying Theology as a Biblical Hermeneutical Method (by Dr. Rob Plummer of SBTS, published here with permission)

o Part 1: Introduction

o Part 2: Luther's Basis for His Prescription

o Part 3: Prayer

o Part 4: Meditation

o Part 5: Trials

o Part 6: Conclusion

· Book Review: The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steve Lawson

· "The Call to Witness"a sermon by Calvin on evangelism, election, and suffering for the Gospel

"The Danger of Getting Bored with the Gospel" (my contribution to last year's Reformation Day Symposium)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MACP 2008 Audio

Inter-City Baptist Church and Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan, host an annual preaching conference. I hope I can go someday. It is crammed full of helpful sessions. I have ordered .mp3 CDs of some past conferences and found excellent resources. They have made the latest one available online for free. Here are the links.

MACP 2008 Culture, Contextualization, and the Church

General Sessions


Ladies' Sessions

Click here to download a copy of the MACP 2008 conference brochure. For any questions or for more information email


More links for Mid-America Conference on Preaching

  • MACP 2008 “Culture, Contextualization, and the Church”
  • MACP 2007 “Learning from the Past; Pressing toward the Future”
  • MACP 2006 “Worthy of Double Honor: Feeding and Leading God's Flock”
  • MACP 2005 “Guarding the Gospel”
  • MACP 2004 “Church Growth that Glorifies God”
  • MACP 2003 “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Isaiah 55:1-13 Sermons: God's Invitation - Why We Should Listen and Respond

October 19, 2008 - Calvary Reformed Baptist Church, Exeter, NH (church website) - Two messages on Why We Should Listen to God's Invitation and Respond to Him:

sermon on Isaiah 55:1-7 (audio) (manuscript)

sermon on Isaiah 55:8-13 (audio) (manuscript)

Chattanooga 9Marks Workshop audio

from the Concord Baptist Church website:

Building Healthy Churches

Below is the audio from the 9Marks workshop held at Concord on October 17-18, 2008. At this workshop, many church issues were examined through the light of Scripture to help us answer this question: "What does a healthy church look like?"
Right click and select "save as" to download.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Is this "I-doll-atry"?

It would appear to be, and I'm pretty convinced that others are right that the word I adapted in the title (idolatry) is the way the Bible addresses what our culture calls addictions.  See here.