Evangelical Christianity is driven by faith not works, and by a relationship with God, not a set of rules – it is less a religion than an attitude of the heart. For this reason, worship can take many forms, from a dressy and formal church service to a gathering in a home with a bible and a song sheet. There are no holy buildings.
I have been to large London churches to sing God’s praises with hundreds of others. I have also been to smaller, more private gatherings in one of the many countries where Christians are endangered. Both are gatherings in the name of Jesus and, as he explains in Matthew, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.”
In fact, worship is a word used in the bible to cover all of life. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship,” writes the apostle Paul.
Worship of God is played out in all spheres of life therefore, through showing honesty in business, generosity in friendship, concern for justice, provision for the poor and support for godly moral teachings or laws, to name a few. The essence of Christian worship is that it is driven by joy and gratitude at the salvation Jesus achieved with his death and resurrection.
When evangelicals meet for communal worship, however, it is God’s own words that drive the agenda. The Anglican prayer book, written more than three hundred years ago, is a good example of this. Verses, passages or teachings from scripture are spoken from the front of the gathering and the assembled believers respond in unison through the liturgy. The point of this is not to go through centuries-old motions for tradition’s sake but to communicate with God as a family of believers.
Evangelical services will often begin with a verse before the congregation responds with a song of praise, then continue with more scripture to lead the congregation to repent in commune. A verse or passage may prompt or open a time of communal prayer and a sermon will seek to encourage an engaged and personal response to scripture (beyond the church doors) before the congregation responds with further praise.
Forms will vary according to preference and culture, but all forms will seek to respond to God’s words in praise, repentance, prayer, the words of a creed or even in greeting one another with the peace of Christ.
The communion, Jesus’ act of memorial for his disciples, illustrates the sustaining function of God’s words in both picture and action by pointing to the final sacrifice made for sin.
Evangelicals use all sorts of church buildings but their focus is firstly on the word of God, rather than communion, music or ritual, and this affects the design of a church. Evangelical churches may have a table with the bread and wine, but they have no altar, as an altar is for sacrifice and there is no further need for sacrifice as Jesus was killed “once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”.
Instead, pulpit and lectern are more likely to feature as the congregation’s attention is channelled towards scripture and the risen person of Jesus.