Culture, pragmatism, and tradition can pull us away from the very core of our identity and the very foundation of our faith: Christ. I recently had the opportunity to visit a Lutheran congregation since my home church’s services were cancelled due to icy conditions. I posted a few thoughts on social media, but felt there was more to process and for me that meant more to write. Contrasting a typical service in the Baptist circles I’m familiar with and the service I was able to visit is useful in helping the former find the very best in the latter and consider ways to ensure that Christ is center.
Christ as Center of Song
One of the beautiful aspects of the service was the continuity of the overarching theme. The Liturgical nature certainly offered major differences from a typical Baptist service. In addition to congregational hymns the pastor and congregation exchanged a call and response of Psalms, Creeds, and songs as our hearts were prepared. Despite that major difference, the bigger difference was that every song seemed to be tuned to the key of Christ. In most of the congregations I’ve had the privilege to worship with the music may very well be disjointed rather than evoking continuity, theologically shallow, or even centered on man. While I wouldn’t say Baptists must emulate Lutheran liturgy in this area, they can improve the focus, approach, and message in song.
Christ as Center of Sermon
Though the sermon was related to Epiphany Sunday, the Magi, and the guiding star, it was most certainly centered on Christ. The sermon is put forth as the key element of Sunday worship in the conservative Baptist tradition I’m a part of and there are many other qualifying factors that are vehemently advocated: exposition, practical application, hermeneutical precision and theological clarity to name a few. However, a sermon might bear those distinguishing marks with excellence and miss the mark of Christ.
Christ as Center of Sacrament
The typical communion schedule in Baptist circles may range from weekly to quarterly. Even when communion is conducted it tends to lose its personal weight as convenience forces a more hurried and corporate mindset. While attending the Lutheran service, the congregation went in groups, knelt, individually had the body of Christ broken and blood of Christ spilled pronounced and presented, and then concluded with a blessing for the group before heading back to the pew. This had the effect of driving the gravity, beauty, and glory of Christ’s atoning work home to me personally. It was the body of Christ broken and the blood of Christ spilled for me. It was not abstract or distant. It was the ultimate practical application.
Christ as Center of Service
The ecclesiology of Baptists allows for quite the diversity of worship services. Some may be reminiscent of a concert while others feature rich hymns. Some may have sermons more like a seminary lecture while others sound more like spiritual life coaches. However, this great spectrum is no excuse for neglecting to make Christ the center. What is the alternative? Will we make the pastor, praise band, theological distinction, or stylistic preference the center? In too many cases we have.
We Baptists could learn a lot from our Lutheran brothers and sisters. Services should not be sermon-centered or even merely Scripture-centered, but Christ-centered. There is a difference. We can do without the gimmicks. We need absolution. We need Christ and him as center!