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A visitor to our church wanted to meet with me to discuss our worship service. There are few things that I am more excited to talk about than our corporate worship service. We put a lot of work into writing it each week, providing a preview of it to our membership so that we can all prepare to gather on Sunday morning. So, I was enthusiastic about meeting with this visitor.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, he asked his question: Why do Presbyterians ignore the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, in their worship services? He helped me understand what he meant by giving me a bit of his own history of corporate worship. He was used to a more “ecstatic,” as he described it, freewheeling service of worship. The Spirit, in his view, was the “worship leader.” Our service of worship followed a set liturgy, what he called “scripted.”

What I appreciated very much about what this man said was his insistence on the work of the Holy Spirit in and for the people of God in the corporate worship of God. He and I were of one mind on that. Yet, where the manifestation of the Spirit for him is marked by disorder, confusion, and chaos in corporate worship, for me, following Paul's teaching, the work of the Spirit is manifest in order, structure, and peace in corporate worship (1 Cor. 14:32–40).

In the very opening words of Scripture, we are introduced to the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters where the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep (Gen. 1:1–2). Then God created, provided form, and filled the void and spoke light into existence. God was creating, bringing form to the formless.

When the Spirit fell on God’s people at Pentecost, Luke tells us they were all hearing them speak in their own language (Acts 2:6). There was no confusion of message but, by the Spirit’s work, clarity in the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see something similar in Acts 10 and the Spirit’s work among the gentiles.

And what is the purpose and call of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His people? To apply the redemption Jesus won for us, to sanctify us, and to “function as a floodlight trained on Christ so that it is Christ, not the Spirit, whom we see” (J.I. Packer).

God the Spirit is now about the work of carving into believers the image of God the Son.

I was able to find out in my conversation with our visitor that his corporate worship experience was characterized by what he described as the Spirit’s presence among the people manifested in “spiritual dancing and movement,” “holy laughter,” and “speaking in tongues.” This, to him, was Spirit-led, Spirit-moved worship. The evidence of the Spirit’s work and His presence was seen in the dancing, laughing, and tongues-speaking. It was chaotic and turbulent, which was, in his telling, evidence of the Spirit’s work and presence.

His experience when worshiping with us could not have been more different. It was well-ordered and liturgical. There were hymns, responsive readings, recitation of creeds and confessions of the church, expositional preaching that followed an outline, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and a benediction. There was no opportunity to “give testimony” and no “movement of the Spirit.”

I suggested to my new friend that our worship service was profoundly Spirit-led, and part of the evidence was its orderliness. In every facet of our service, the orderliness served the greater purpose of pointing to Jesus, compelling our hearts to continue to offer Him our worship. This was evidence of the Spirit’s leading our service of worship.

We circled back to discuss the service of worship he believed to be more “Spirit-led.” I asked him, in that service, whom did he believe was the focus of the service? He said the Holy Spirit.

I responded by saying no, the worship service he described did not focus on the Holy Spirit (nor did it focus on Jesus). The focus of the worship service he described to me were those who were being “moved” by the Spirit: the dancers, the tongues-speakers, and the laughers. The focus was the worshipers, not the One being worshiped. The worshipers demanded the attention of those in attendance because of their ecstatic movement and noise. The service was chaotic, disordered, and noisy, not because of the Spirit’s work and presence but because of the “performance” of the worshipers.

The Apostle Paul addressed a similar problem in the church in Corinth. You can see it specifically in 1 Corinthians 11–14. Chaos and disorder were marking the service of worship in Corinth. One of the many reasons disorder and chaos were marking the worship service in the church in Corinth was the character of one-upsmanship that typified the way the worshipers there were using the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12).

More broadly, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11–14, addressing orderly worship in many facets, that “all things should be done decently and in order” (14:40). This is one mark of the Spirit’s work in corporate worship.

God the Spirit is now about the work of carving into believers the image of God the Son and doing so through the Spirit’s sanctifying work. This is His work of ordered peace in, through, and on behalf of God’s people. Where this is made most manifest is in the corporate worship of God’s people; the Spirit’s application of God’s ordinary means of grace. It is then and there that we are doing what we’ve been created to do: praise, confess, repent, and submit to God’s Word and sacraments, all of it decently and in order, offering it all to Jesus.

God the Spirit points us to Jesus, and we fix our eyes on Him and worship.

The Rule of the Peace of Christ

Our Daily Bread

Keep Reading The Household

From the July 2021 Issue
Jul 2021 Issue