The Holy Spirit in Worship

What is worship? Isn’t it the working out of our theology, the thorough submitting of all our lives to a comprehensive understanding of who He is and what He has done? Yes. Well and good. Worship is glorifying God. Worship is pleasing God. Worship is thoroughly enjoying Him forever. But what is it when we come together and speak and sing and act out rituals and call that worship? I would argue that it’s the same – theology acted out – in microcosm.

When I was at the Gordon Conwell Seminary campus in Charlotte, I had the privilege of spending a few moments with an artist who was preparing a fresco in the chapel that was then under construction. No, he wasn’t up side down, and it didn’t take him three years, but he was in the business of mixing paint with plaster and creating a painting that was going to last as long as the wall itself. I had this idea that a fresco painter worked roughly the same way as a sketch artist: He just paints until everything looks right. Quite the opposite. Fresco painting takes a **long time**, and can’t be removed from the wall without destroying it. So the artist first creates a miniature copy of the painting, which is reviewed by the person who commissioned the piece. Then the artist reduces the picture to the outlines of the images, which he magnifies to full scale, and draws directly on the unpainted wall. Only after the entire cartoon has been placed on the wall does the artist begin filling in the fresco with the pigmented plaster.

In my mind, the worship of your life is roughly equivalent to the artist’s finished fresco. However, a fresco that came directly to the plaster without the formative steps would be nothing but a sloppy mess. So a life without intentional, corporate worship. If you like, the miniature prototype can be a person’s theology. But corporate worship is the process of tracing out the shape of what a Christian life, submitted to God must be like.

This tracing out is, among other things, performative, conformative, and informative. We act out the fullness of the Gospel; the worship experience enacts norms for us which we, by participating in them, take into ourselves; and during the service, we use words and signs which define our theology, and even afterward, reflecting on our experience in worship gives us fuller understanding. However, in all of these, we must understand that worship is just not something that we do (even the “performative” part). Worship is also fundamentally a participation, by God’s grace, into the pre-existing relationship within the trinity.

James B. Torrence has a short book called *Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace* in which he gives a very interesting definition of worship. He says, “Christian worship is… our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father.” His main concern is to combat what he calls fundamentally a Unitarian form of worship. That is, while orthodox Christians don’t typically deny the existence and identity of the Son and the Spirit, when we worship, we behave and often think as though we had an unmediated relationship with the Father, and that worship is therefore a thing that we do in order to facilitate our relationship with Him.

I’m afraid I don’t have the time to work out what a fully Trinitarian worship must look like, so instead I would like to focus in on one part of Dr. Torrence’s formulation: our participation through the Spirit. In one of the later classes this semester, Dr Parrett summarized a quote by Gordon Fee, a Pentecostal theologian at Regent College, that much of the Evangelical church, in our worship at least, has been reduced to a binity rather than a trinity: We worship the Father by means of what the Son has done, and there is no clear understanding of the Spirit’s part in the process.

This doesn’t work, because there is no means of entry. Just as the Holy Sprit’s intervention is necessary to effect faith in Christ, and again to assure the reader of the authority of scripture, the Holy Spirit’s active involvement is necessary to make our worship a real participation in the Son’s worship of the Father, rather than an empty, presumptive ritual.

With this in mind, I would like to briefly outline over the next few days how it is that the Spirit facilitates each of these three aspects of worship.

Do be warned though: This was originally written as a seminary paper, so you’ll see me descend a bit into the depths of academic-speak. It’s not because I want to talk that way, it’s because that’s what happens when you’re trying to be precise and trying to finish on a deadline!

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