The Three Principles
When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. John 15:26-27 NIV
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 1 Cor 14:26 NIV
Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. 1 Cor 14:39-40 NIV
Fundamentals often come in sets of three:
- time (past, present, and future),
- matter (solid, liquid, and gas),
- music (melody, harmony, and rhythm),
- the spiritual life (faith, hope, and love),
- Pentecostal worship (worship, word, and altar), and
- worship renewal (theology, doxology, and spirituality).
The fundamental ways of the Spirit of God in worship are also three-fold:
- The Holy Spirit is Christ-centered.
- He seeks to edify the whole church, and
- He moves in fitting and orderly ways.
These three dynamics are the absolutes. Every worship service will have these characteristics in a wonderful, three-fold dynamism. The methods we use will vary from event to event. The music will change and the order will be adapted to the shifting emphases of the Spirit, but these three forces will always be in effect. Worship services should always be centered on Jesus. The people must always enter into the voluntary disciplines of public worship—that is, to worship with a sensitivity to the whole congregation. Finally, the Holy Spirit always moves in a fitting and orderly manner. Let’s take a closer look at each of these dynamics.
This dynamic is the key to the other two. A “fitting and orderly” service that isn’t about Jesus is not a worship service. An event that helps the members of the congregation without lifting up Jesus as the Savior, Healer, Baptizer, Deliverer, Redeemer, and Soon-coming King is just a self-help seminar, not a worship service. It is so easy to get someone or something else at the center. It may be the music or the musicians, the worship tradition or the worship leaders, or even the desires of the congregation or those of the community, but each church is in constant danger of having another center other than the Lord Himself.
- If tradition is at the center instead of Jesus, a church can become a museum.
- If the singers and instrumentalists are at the center, the church becomes a performing arts center.
- If the preacher is at the center the church becomes a cult of personality.
The Holy Spirit has no interest in supporting any of these institutions. His goal is to reveal Jesus to us and shape our hearts to receive from Him.
It follows that, if the desires of Jesus are not foremost in our minds, the desires of someone else are. Worship that isn’t Christ-centered becomes market-driven. We fall into the enemy’s trap. Satan wants to divide us in a thousand different ways: culture, race, generation, social status, musical tastes, lifestyle, and even fashion sense, just to name a few. When we “target” a group of people—“we want those people here,” we are inevitably excluding others—“we don’t want those people.” Paul told the Ephesian church that Jesus had come to tear down the walls of hostility between the cultures. When we deliberately place Him at the center of our worship, He does exactly that.
We must beware of church growth plans that strengthen and decorate walls that Jesus wants to tear down.
Jesus unites worshipers across any line Satan or man himself can draw. He is the only one who can bring the races, cultures, economic classes, and generations together. So, the first goal of the Holy Spirit in public worship is to keep Jesus in the center.
The Strengthening of the Church
Private worship and public worship are two complementary, but different things. While both involve “spirit and truth” and the ministry of the Holy Spirit we are discussing in this column, public worship includes the discipline of being “in the congregation.” Things are different when we are gathered together with the saints of God. We need to agree together, encourage one another, pray for each other, and bear one another’s burdens. We need to share our joys and sorrows together as a community of faith. The second goal of the Holy Spirit in public worship is to build this community of faith on Jesus—the household of faith on Christ the Cornerstone, to use a biblical image. This means that worship leaders must get into the flow of the Holy Spirit both as they plan the service and as they lead it.
God is the master of time.
He has no problem letting the worship leader know in advance what he wants to do in a particular service. The preacher needs to get a word from the Lord and the worship music leader does as well. Then, in the service, worshipers must exercise personal discipline as they worship so that they do no distract from the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the whole body. In the secret place, we are free to do whatever we feel led to do in worship, but in the congregation, we need to consider our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
While the Lord is dealing with each individual worshiper, He is also moving the congregation forward in faith. Only when we march forth together are we really a mighty army. When this critical difference between private and public worship is seen by all, the church can avoid internal conflicts as we get our marching orders from the Captain of the Hosts.
A Fitting and Orderly Way
The third dynamic of the Spirit of God is one that reflects God’s very nature. God is the author of order and beauty, and of form and function in perfect synthesis. If there is chaos in our worship, we have authored it, not the Lord. If our worship service is a series of random songs, prayers, speeches, and events, it reflects our nature, not God’s nature. In the Corinthian instruction, Paul gives an astounding array of things we might do in worship. He commends the people on their full hearts, hearts filled, no doubt, by daily worship in the secret place. And he tells them to share what they have, but to do so only as the Spirit leads.
The “fitting and orderly” way can be sensed by worship leaders ahead of time in worship planning and it should be sensed by all the worshipers in the service itself. Pentecostal worship has a grass-roots quality to it. As Pastor James said in his letter to the churches at the Jerusalem conference, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us….” We when get it right everyone knows it. When we get it wrong, most know it as well. Once after an altar service where someone had used the gifts of the Spirit in an improper way, my teen-aged daughter asked me, “Dad, why do we allow people to do that?” I told her that the freedom to get it right included the danger of someone getting it wrong, but that it was worth it.
So, we are free to worship as the Spirit leads.
We are not free to worship any way we choose. He always has three goals in dynamic action: He wants to exalt the Lord Jesus, edify the church and move decently and in order. Methods may change, music may come in or out of fashion, and technology may assist us in exciting new ways, but these three things are the essentials, the elements of worship, like matter, time, music, spirituality, and even God Himself—three who are really one.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Steve Phifer