Here is something to consider: Every Christian tradition is defined by certain doctrines and events that shapes their Christian experience. In other words, we all have something that we turn to in answering the question, “Where does God meet with His people to speak to them?” Or, “What means or method has God chosen to come and speak to his people?” I agree and affirm that the Holy Spirit mediates Christ to us and is God’s agent of sealing us in Christ. But we all agree that there are other means by which God communicates with us. We know He uses the Bible, prayer, Christian fellowship, etc. But what event would we say is the center or the central way in which God comes to speak with His people? Consider the following:
For Roman Catholics the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper is the defining event that their understanding of the Christian life reverberates out from. Here God comes the Church literally through the bread and the wine because it is actually Christ’s flesh and blood.
For the Protestant Reformation tradition, the sermon has been the center of the Christian experience for centuries. When the church is gathered together for corporate worship, God comes to meet with His people and speak to us from the preached Word. It is there we can know we are in the presence of God, hearing from God through the means of preaching.
The current state of the evangelical tradition is a bit more complex due to much overlap with the Reformation tradition and a history of shifting emphasis at times that it makes proposing a theory about the tradition to be a bit harder. I will try anyway and say that the current centerpiece of the Evangelical tradition is the personal devotion. It may be changing and I hope to discuss why that may be soon, but for now it is still the personal devotion, i.e. the time where the Christian gets alone to read the Bible and pray. There, God comes and speaks to us giving us guidance and direction for our lives.
There are obvious important implications to notice here. For example, are the elements of the Supper the distinct way in which God is with us and comes near us? Certainly the Supper is an important and special time for the church. In fact, it is what separates the gathered church from the world. It declares who is a part of the church. When church discipline happens and a person is excommunicated, the greatest evidence to them and those gathered that they are outside the Church of God is that they are not allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper. I believe that the Supper is one of God’s means of grace given to His church and that is to be received as a gift along side, worship, baptism and preaching. However, I do not believe that is to be elevated past that of preaching.
Where the Protestant Reformers were right was returning back to the primacy of the corporate worship as a time for the church to gather together to meet with God. In this time, there was to be the observance of the Lord’s Supper but it was not to be elevated past preaching. Preaching is to be the center of the service because of its nature: a proclamation from God Himself. We can know from preaching that God has granted us a sure and better word than anything else. This doesn’t lower the value of the Lord’s Supper but actually heightens and places it in its proper place, as the crescendo of the service, where we are welcomed to God’s table and renew our covenant with Him again.
What then does this say for the value we put on one’s personal time of Bible reading and prayer? It is similar to that of the honoring the Lord’s Supper rightly. If we properly value corporate worship and preaching, it will then reverberate out into the people of God rightly and train us for life and godliness. If this happens, then we will begin to see that our personal lives and devotions are not to come alongside what happens in the corporate worship service, but to be an extension of the effect of the preaching and worship of God. We will begin to read the Bible and pray during the week to go further up and in to our understanding of what the sermon was teaching and proclaiming. God grant us truths from His word that is meant to fill our heads with knowledge of Him that will stir our affections for Him and then flow out from our hands towards the people we live with and work besides. When this happens, we will this begin to love our times of personal devotions and prayer properly. We can know it is our time with God, only it doesn’t end and begin each morning. It began when we came to Christ, when we were baptized into his name and as a result the rest of his body, the church. So it begins each Lord’s Day and continues into Monday morning and the rest of the week. What does God have to say to you today? Easy: what did He say Sunday? Meditate upon that this morning. The Lord be with you.