The Spirit and Our Worship

There is the action of the Holy Spirit, apart from which the true human action of worship, the proper response of man to God’s action, would be impossible.  His is the divine action within our human action of believing and responding, of hearing the Word of God, of understanding the things of God (1Cor. 2:10-16), of confessing Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), of knowing God as Father (Rom. 8:15 f.).

—C. E. B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958):391

Come to the Table 6

The efficacy of the Lord’s Supper does not, finally, rest on our faith or our sincerity or the depth of our resolve. The energy that sustains this meal and makes it a holy meal is that which is provided through the ministry of the Spirit.

—Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, 118

The Forgotten Participant

Each element in the gospel drama can be viewed through a Trinitarian lens. Take the festival of Christmas as one example. Despite significant references to the Holy Spirit in several appointed readings for the Christmas season, the Holy Spirit is the forgotten participant in the Christmas drama. We see this omission not only in the Christmas card selection at Hallmark but also in music for the season. Yet the juxtaposition of “Christmas” and “Holy Spirit” challenges our understanding of each. First, it anchors our understanding of the Spirit’s work in the person of Jesus Christ: the Holy Spirit is not just any spirit we feel; it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Second, it makes our understanding of Christmas more dynamic and personal: the Spirit that came upon Mary is the same Spirit that anointed Jesus to preach good news to the poor and raised him from the dead, and that has now been poured into our hearts. The Spirit makes us participants in the Christmas drama.

A fully Trinitarian approach to Christmas will work to highlight and probe these themes.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Trinitarian DNA of Christian Worship: Perennial Themes in Recent Theological Literature”, 13

Defining Worship 34

Any definition of Christian worship must be formulated within the framework of the Trinitarian nature of the faith.

Our worship must be God-centered. This should be obvious, but we often lose sight of it and focus our attention on people. If worship loses its God-centeredness, it ceases to be holy convocation and may become something akin to a common assembly, a rally, a theatrical performance, or an awards ceremony. This is not true worship. People should come away from a worship service with a fresh awareness of the majesty of God, with a desire to glorify God, and with renewed commitment to serve God.

Second, worship must be in Christ, the Son of God, who came into the world and brought salvation to us. Because He is the full revelation of the Godhead and the one way of access to the Father, He must be the focal point of worship. If He is not and we try to worship God without reference to the divine Son of God, then we have failed to follow God’s revelation through to its culmination in the plan of redemption. Believers should come away from a worship service with a renewed assurance of the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, of forgiveness through his blood, of acceptance into his eternal kingdom. And with a fresh commitment to give him the preeminence (Col. 1:18).

Third, because the Holy Spirit is the one who enables all spiritual service, all genuine worship must be by the Spirit. Without falling into the error of denying the physical part of worship, we must recognize that worship is to be spiritual—inspired by by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, genuine and life-giving because it flows from the Spirit. And as this happens, the Spirit will not draw attention to Himself but will point to Christ, will not lead into error but into righteousness, and will not produce responses that are foreign or out of harmony with the Word of God but will empower the Word to produce fruit in the lives of the worshippers.  When worshippers come away from a service that is truly spiritual, they will come away with zeal to love and serve the Lord. It will not be contrived or forced, and it will not be momentary enthusiasm; rather, the Spirit will continue to work in them to produce godliness.

—Allen P. Ross, Recalling The Hope Of Glory: Biblical Worship From The Garden To The New Creation, 66-67

God’s Grace for Our Worship

It is very tempting to conceive of a worship leader as the spiritual engine that drives the worship train, or the highly-charged sideline coach who needs to keep her team fired up.

This puts all the focus on our agency, a vision that doesn’t square with the New Testament. In the New Testament, our agency as worshipers and leaders is intimately linked with what Jesus is doing as we worship and with what the Holy Spirit is doing as we worship. Remember these comforting words: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26).

In the past few years there has been a lot of attention drawn to the emotional engagement of up-front worship leaders. We hear and read things like “you cannot lead others in worship unless you are a worshiper,” or “how can you expect to lead people into the throne room of God if you haven’t been there yourself?”

I can see the appeal of these statements – the way they prophetically address those of us who simply go through the motions or those of us who stoically dismiss emotional engagement as unimportant. But they can also discourage and demoralize us in their exaggerated incompleteness. Your congregation’s worship is not ultimately mediated by your level of or capacity for emotional engagements but by the perfect mediating work of Jesus, effected through the Holy Spirit. Praise God! This can free you – and all of us – to engage emotionally, but without a sense of burden that it all depends on us.

—John Witvliet, Reformed Worship 116:45-46

Form and Freedom

Now public worship is a vital part of the life of the local church. It is even essential to its identity. Yet in the interest of “spontaneity” worship services often lack both content and form. . . . Most churches could afford to give more time and trouble to the preparation of their worship. It is a mistake to imagine either that freedom and form exclude one another, or that the Holy Spirit is the friend of freedom in such a way as to be the enemy of form.

—John Stott,The Gospel and the End of Time, 124