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If the Bible Is Foundational to Worship…Why Aren’t We Using It?

If the Bible Is Foundational to Worship…Why Aren’t We Using It?

As I have opportunity to worship in churches around the state, I have noticed a disturbing trend. We call ourselves “People of the Word,” and indeed lift up the importance of God’s Word, yet so often, our services are void of public readings of the Bible in worship. My friend and counterpart from the Kansa-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, David Manner, offers some excellent commentary on this:

Why are churches that so zealously defend the Bible rarely reading its text in public services of worship?  Does its limited use convey a lack of trust in the very Word professed to be foundational to faith, doctrines and practices?  And by limiting its text to a single reading prior to the pastoral exhortation are leaders implying that a higher level of credibility is found in the exhortation than in the Word itself?  Can’t it stand on its own or must we always attempt to prop it up with our own words and actions?

Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Worship wrote, “We are nourished in worship by Jesus Christ, who is the living Word disclosed to us in the Scriptures, the written Word of God.  In spite of all the emphasis we evangelicals have placed on the importance of the Bible, there seems to be a crisis of the Word among us.” [1]

Bible-readerCongregations continue to struggle in their understanding of spirit and truth worship by maximizing music and depending on it alone to negotiate the worship impasse.  At the same time those congregations minimize the very foundational text from which those songs must spring forth.

John Frame offers two truths that highlight the value of God’s Word in our worship:  “First, where God’s Word is, God is.  We should never take God’s Word for granted.  To hear the Word of God is to meet with God himself.  Second, where God is, the Word is.  We should not seek to have an experience with God which bypasses or transcends His Word.” [2]

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed.  This revelation causes worshippers to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 2:12-15; I Thess 1:5).  The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others.  This dialogue develops a community that congregations have been desperately trying to create through their worship actions.

Scripture must be foundational to our songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions and even announcements.  It must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own.  And when the biblical text organically yields our sermons and songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language, we will leave in here worship with the text in our hearts and on our lips for continuous worship out there.


[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 113.

[2] John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996), 90.

About The Author

David Manner

Dr. David W. Manner serves as the Executive Director for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. Before joining the convention staff in 2000, David served for twenty years in music/worship ministry with congregations in Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Oklahoma Baptist University; a Master of Church Music degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and a Doctor of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.


  1. Mike Mitchell

    This reminded me of the writings of Franklin Littel (‘The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism’, NY:Macmillan Co., 1964), who noted that by relaxing the teaching of doctrine in exchange for methods that draw a crowd, the churches become filled with ‘baptized pagans.’ I hold to his solution, “to put content into conversion – to train new members in the distinctive ideas, attitudes, actions and discipline of the movement.” Otherwise, he notes, “for lack of information to the contrary, many church members enjoy the impression that whatever they are accustomed to believe, say or do is somehow Christian since they are, after all, ‘Christians’.”

  2. Rick Fancher

    Right on the money. How rare is it in our services to see a substantial reading of scripture to call us to worship to focus us during worship or to send us out to the world as we go from our gathering.

    Could this be a significant part of the reason that the church is weak and ineffectual. I believe that the undiluted exposure to the scripture both in our gathered worship and in our personal worship is the only way to cure our cold, deadened hearts. This is evident in scripture where many times God moves through exposure to His Word.

    I pray that many pastors and “worship” leaders will heed the call.

  3. Bob Clark

    We recently began to include more scripture in the service after coming under the same conviction. The Pastor routinely opens the service with scripture, I use scripture during the song set, either using a choir member or someone in the congregation that has been given the scripture ahead of time so it is read well. It is as important prayer during the service, which is another neglected part of worship. We have prayer at different times in the service, whether its spontaneous during the leading of songs, or an alter call for those who are suffering, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer ..” I believe it is the witness of the trinity to those who may be seeking that God deserves more than just 3 songs and 3 points. Liturgy can be relevant and done seamlessly if prayed through and planned well.

  4. Brent Hobbs

    I’m glad to see some attention being brought to this issue. Southern Baptists often have a superior attitude toward other denominations that we wouldn’t see as Word-centered as ourselves—but if you were to look at our worship services, often the liturgical, sometimes even liberal churches actually read the Bible more than we do.

    Is God honored when we say we trust his word but then ignore it for our own formulations of expressing it (in the form of song and sermons, both good—but not enough).

    At our church, with a traditional, yet informal worship style, we have both an Old Testament and a New Testament reading every week. Some weeks we have an open reading time when anyone who wants to may stand a read a passage of their choosing. Weeks that we do this we’ll usually have between 5-8 different people read passages. Sometimes the church will read a passage together from the screen. Most of the time we have individuals read while the congregation listens.

  5. Neal Eller

    How right you are, David and Kenny! As worship leaders, we model for the body of Christ, examples or our view of worship. We model what we value; therefore, survey your worship experience to discover what you are teaching the body about worship. I believe this bleeds over into their personal and their attitude of worship. How much time, priority and intention do you place on each element of worship?

    If you think about it, where did you learn to worship privately? Who taught you? What did they teach you or rather, what did they model for you? I contend that the majority of believers simply take the experience of corporate worship and apply it to their personal worship. If this be true, no wonder there is a lack of daily Bible Study, no wonder there is a lack of recognition of sin in one’s life, no wonder there is a lack of confession and repentance, no wonder there is a lack of Kingdom praying, and no wonder there is no personal worship in the life of the believer!

    Finally, in addition to the lack of reading God’s Word, the way God’s Word is read can only be described as blasphemy. Maybe later, I can write a post for you describing steps I took while facilitating the worship planning team at Campbell Divinity School in preventing this from happening.

  6. Beth Hunnicutt

    Thanks, Kenny. God’s Word must be the centerpiece around which all the other components of worship are arranged. It is arrogant for us to ever place greater value on our words than the Truth of God’s Word.


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