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.