By: Rev. Rob Patrick, Moderator

One of the beautiful aspects of our heritage as Associate Reformed Presbyterians is the emphasis our Seceder forebears in Scotland placed upon the free offer of the gospel in their preaching ministries. When Ebenezer Erskine met with three other ministers at Gairneybridge on December 6, 1733, to form the Associate Presbytery, among their motivating concerns was zeal for the purity of the doctrine of grace, and the biblical warrant to extend the offer of salvation in the preaching of the gospel. We have a rich historical emphasis upon calling sinners to believe the gospel in the preaching ministry of our church!

To this day, when ARPs gather to worship God, we should be zealous for the clear, faithful proclamation of the gospel offered in the exposition and preaching of God’s word. In my own public ministry to the Boyce Memorial congregation, after preaching God’s word and calling for repentance and faith, I often pray in our services that the LORD would be pleased to make it a day of salvation for any who hear the message who have not already come to faith in Jesus Christ. If we believe that God uses the means of grace in the accomplishment of His will for the salvation of the elect, then we should be diligent in our ministry of the means of grace!

In addition to zeal for gospel proclamation, our Reformed heritage also should serve to guard us against allowing our worship services to degenerate into nothing more than evangelistic events. The age of Revivalism in the religious history of our nation has left a tendency to view public worship primarily, or sometimes entirely, as an occasion to evangelize the lost. This can easily result in a reorientation of worship from serving the LORD by offering Him what He requires in His word, to a campaign pragmatically aimed at moving the emotions of unbelievers who may be present in the midst of our services. In our cultural moment, a focus on the interests and affections of people often serves as the guiding principle for what is done in much that is called “worship.”

Evangelistic events may well have a place in the life of the church. But there is great danger when worship is commandeered as the occasion for strategic targeting of unbelievers, rather than focused on approaching the throne of God with worship empowered by His Spirit and directed by His truth. When music is written and performed to affect a mood or emotional response, rather than sung to declare the glory of God in a biblical manner, it would seem that the worshipper has become the focus in the worship service, not the LORD Himself. When preaching is shaped by the use of technology or by principles of psychology rather than by the text of God’s word, or when it is intentionally shallow in its address of biblical truth to hearers, it would seem that the wisdom and strategies of man have supplanted reliance upon God’s Spirit to address hearts with the power of His word.

If the priority of biblical worship is lost, it seems almost inevitable that the priority of evangelism will also be diminished. Evangelistic effort may be reduced to inviting others to an event. At that event, evangelism is understood as something done by a team or a speaker, with the believer’s role being simply to bring others to the “experience.” Biblical evangelism requires much more than invitations to hear someone else talk about Jesus! When the Apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonians of his ministry among them, he wrote that, “…we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” If we long to make Christ known, our hearts and homes should be open to our non-believing friends. We should be diligent in praying for them, and for the LORD to give us opportunities to speak clearly and freely with them of the saving work of Jesus. Our lives and conduct should adorn the gospel we would make known to those who have not come to Jesus in faith. We should be as eager to invite them into our lives, and into significant discussion of God’s truth, as we are to invite them to church!

Then, when we do invite them to church, what is it we desire? What is the most effective way for the gathered church to bear witness to the holiness, truth, and saving love of our God? Are loud, high-energy musical presentations, impressive light and video displays, and carefully crafted stage set-ups the means of grace the LORD has ordained, by which hearts are gripped with the truth of the gospel? Or, is biblical worship, marked by fervent prayer, passionate and intensely biblical preaching, and a congregation’s joyful singing what God has ordained for the blessing of His people and all who are present when, by the Holy Spirit’s power, we are brought before His throne of grace in serving Him with worship? Is not a biblical service of worship, focused upon His glory, the most “winsome” thing a non-believer might “experience?”

What I intend to urge in this article is the right priority of worship and evangelism in the life of the church, with a warning against the unbiblical and unhelpful conflating of the two. Conflation can lead to the trivialization of both! When worship is viewed primarily as an evangelistic event, worship itself is trivialized.  At the same time, evangelism may also be trivialized, when it is reduced to simply bringing our unsaved friends to an event, in hopes that something will happen.

I wish to be clear; I am thoroughly convinced of the importance of the free offer of the gospel in the preaching of our worship services. I make it a point regularly to extend a call to repentance and faith in my own preaching ministry! There is no greater opportunity for anyone to hear and believe the good news than in a service of worship that is biblically ordered, where the Holy Spirit is at work among the LORD’s people in the ministry of the means of grace. We should invite our unconverted friends to be in our midst as we engage in faithful, joyful worship of the Lord! I know people who testify that they came to faith in worship services and prayer meetings of ARP congregations!

But, let us rely upon the work of God in the midst of biblically regulated worship for this great purpose of the saving of sinners. Let us not re-invent or redirect worship as a mere evangelistic event. By the same token, let us take our call to evangelism seriously! Rather than depending on evangelistic events as our primary hope for the salvation of family and friends, let us take a robust approach to gospel ministry. We must pray diligently for those we know who are apart from Christ! We should pursue faithful gospel conversations, demonstrating loving concern for the lives of our friends, classmates, teammates, coworkers, and even family members for whom we pray. Let us seek opportunities to invite them to look into God’s word with us. In these ways, we make diligent use of the means of grace as we seek faithfully to proclaim Christ.

Again, I am not suggesting we must choose either to engage in worship or to evangelize.  I am presenting what I believe is the biblical priority of each of these! The questions with which I’ll end this article, and ask of myself, and would ask of you, are: Do you recognize the priority of worship and evangelism? Is the priority of each of these seen in your life? Do you desire greater faithfulness in both your worship of the LORD and your declaration of the glory of His grace to others? Surely this pleases Him!