It is fairly common in CREC circles to hear folks speaking about the centrality of worship. This requires some explanation because it is easily misunderstood. Because the church exists in time and in history, that which is “central” to our identity and work has to be understood in terms of our mission and task. A vase of flowers can be “central” on the mantelpiece, but that is not the kind of centrality we are talking about. Worship is central in the same way that the engine under the hood is central to the operation of the car. The engine is not an essential decoration, and neither is it a useless weight of heavy metal that prevents the car from moving down the road.
The task given to the Church by Jesus before He ascended into Heaven was the task of discipling the nations, and this was to consist of inaugurating them into that discipleship by means of baptism, and then to teach them obedience to everything that Jesus taught us (Matt. 28:18-20). This means that the assigned mission of the Church consists of two components—birth and growth. The Church is not supposed to take mission on as a side operation; the Church is mission.
There are two basic ways to miss the point here. One is to abandon or minimize the task of worshiping the triune God on the Lord’s Day in order to “get out there” to evangelize and influence the world in the name of Jesus. This is like taking the engine out so that the car can go faster. The other way is to grant how important the engine is, and to keep it in fine operating order, but mounted on cinder blocks in your garage. In the former error, the engine is not central, and it should be. With the latter error, the engine is central, but the wrong kind of central. An engine that runs must be connected to the car, and a car without an engine is useless.
The ancient prophets envisioned the time of new covenant glory as a time when the worship of God was rightly ordered in every place. “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts” (Mal 1:11).
The transformation of the world will be accomplished as a result of planting faithful churches in every place, so that God’s name will be great throughout all the nations. Because His name has been made great there, a number of other things will be accomplished (of a cultural and political nature), but we do not lobby to accomplish those things directly in the first instance. We know that they must come, however, and we teach the people to expect them. The church is potent precisely because it is not an activist club. At the same time, we avoid the error of some who want to plant churches that are indistinguishable from occult mystery religions, practicing odd, impotent rites behind closed doors. No, the Church is a city on a hill.