A congregation member once asked Martin Luther after a service why he had not moved on from the topic of the gospel in his preaching. "Every week you talk about the gospel, why can't we move to something else?" Luther replied, "Because every week you forget it."
What does the gospel focus of Luther have to do with the ordering of worship? It should have everything to do with it. I here wish to defend the idea of having multiple elements of worship, not as an attack on those who don't, but a positive goal for communicating the gospel. Every church has an ordering of worship or a liturgy, the question is what that liturgy is and communicates.
Here are the questions that I have concluded I must ask if I am involved in ordering worship:
1) What would we weekly want to remind our worshipers (and visitors) about the faith?
2) How can we communicate the gospel, even if there was no sermon?
3) How could we engage people with different disabilities (learning or physical) in the truth of the gospel?
4) What is prescribed by Scripture?
Here are some elements that make their way into our weekly liturgies (other than the sermon) at our church that I believe answers these questions and communicates the gospel:
Confession of sin: weekly reading through a confession of sin (perhaps even like this from the BOCP) reminds all worshipers they are in need of a savior from their sins. Visitors are made aware that Christians are also sinners. (1 John 1:9)
Declaration of Forgiveness: Also weekly, a reminder from Romans 5:1 or Romans 8:1 of their forgiven status in Christ. Visitors are weekly told the answer to the problem of sin is in Christ.
Confession of Faith: Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, or part of the Westminster or Heidelberg Catechism is read. Weekly reminder of what we believe about God, the person of Christ and the work of Christ. Visitors are weekly told, Jesus is not a person that is the object of some strangely sensual love music, but GOD. (Romans 10:9)
Reading of Scripture: Always followed by "The Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God." A weekly affirmation of the central role and authority of Scripture in the life of the church. (1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 3:16)
Eucharist/Communion - Christ said "Do this in remembrance of Me." And here we have the gospel in sound, taste, sight, smell and touch. If a member is missing one or more senses, the gospel is available to the other senses. Christ is the bread to sustain us, the wine to enjoy (as I have said earlier). The gospel for those who may not hear the sermon, or see the words of Scripture (1 Cor 11:26). Christ condescends to us here.
There are other elements in the service, but these are those elements which I find are central to communicating the gospel weekly. Any thoughts? Omissions? Good gospel practices from your church?