People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

Why How We Worship Matters

Pentecostal worship in the American context has historically emphasized spontaneity, freedom, and attentiveness to the Spirit’s leading.For all of that, there is a stunning level of continuity and family resemblance in classical Pentecostal liturgies. Over the years, the rise of the non-denominational movement, the ambivalence about denominational boundaries held by charismatics and third wave continuationists, and the influx of contemporary music and more expressive praise throughout evangelicalism has also allowed some of that congregationalist spirit to enter into Pentecostal worship. Now there’s a congregational liberty and emphasis on how “my” church does worship in many sectors of American Christianity, including Pentecostal churches.

There’s a lot of good that comes from this common hymnography and hymnology–and Pentecostals have had a hand in making it happen (Hillsong’s music, for example). But one of the things that is being lost in this is that the conversation we have about framing worship can very often focus on preference, taste, and things that more reflect our consumer culture than the passing on of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Liturgical scholar Lawrence Hoffman wrote in Beyond the Text about the nature of liturgy and its relationship to the life and identity of people. He published the following in 1987 (p. 69):

It might be said, then, that whatever worshipers presume to say to God, they are at the same time directing a message to themselves. The very act of worship takes on the function of identifying for the worshiper what it is that he or she stands for, what real life is like, what his or her aspirations are. The liturgical medium becomes the message.

As Calvin connects knowledge of God with knowledge of self in his Institutes, Hoffman suggests that awareness of our worship is awareness of our ecclesial identity. Why prophesy in worship? Why speak in tongues? Why heal? Why preach? Why receive the sacraments? These things tell us who we are. So how we do them matters.

There is a difference in identity between a congregation that prays for healing “up front” or “at the altar” and a congregation that has a team for healing prayer available in the back of the sanctuary. I won’t indict either practice, but healing is more plainly part of the identity of the former congregation than the latter. It says something about what they understand to be part and parcel of being the people of God.  How we worship matters. So, Pentecostal brothers and sisters, let us be self-critical and thoughtful of our liturgies and practices. Let’s not cater to what seems to offer the best consumer experience, but press into who we are, and who the Spirit of God wants to make us in the image of Christ.


Promise and Power

It’s in vogue in Pentecostalism to fight back against the presumptions of Word of Faith, prosperity, and other tendentious heresies and heterodoxies in our midst by pushing back on the overreach of faith, spiritual power, or a believer’s authority in Christ. The Scriptural wars are focused on circumscribing the power of the faithful to just the right amount. But the fact is that in Luke 24:49, Jesus promises “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothedwithpower from on high.” Just before his ascension in Acts 1:8, he also promises, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Add this to the accounts throughout the Gospel and Acts that point to the kind of power capable of moving mountains, raising the dead, healing diseases, and being communicated by sitting in a shadow or touching a cloth. And, no matter the hermeneutic or demythologizing one allows, we still have to wrestle with Jesus’ declaration that we his followers will do greater works that He did in ministry.

I believe in Pentecostal power because I believe in the promises of God. I believe in Pentecostal power because it is impossible for God to lie, and the Triune God made an oath to the people of Jesus to empower us–to prophesy, to heal, to reconcile, to restore, to judge, and to be the inbreaking of a new reality. And for every baptized member of the Body of Christ–the saved, the sanctified, the filled with the Holy Ghost (because everyone baptized is just that by God’s own declaration)–that promise appoints and commissions us to walk in that power, and it’s a power that’s greater than what prosperity gospel or even the Word of Faith dare to imagine.

One of the Doctors of the Church (because it’s high time Pentecostals start recognizing our teachers when we have them) providentially spoke to this issue as I was writing and it bears mention. Here’s the word from Cheryl Bridges Johns:

I believe in the power of redemptive grace. A power so strong it breathes life into dusty ashes. A power so beautiful it causes barren wastelands to bloom. A power so loving it fills deep crevices of pain with rivers of joy.

So, let’s not be ashamed of the power of Pentecost. Let’s not be wary of overreach. Let’s declare the power of the gracious God who broods over Creation with love and direction to wake the dead.

Resting in the Spirit

Today, I finished a weeks-long reading and reflection of The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, which has been on my to-read list since around 2013. I’ve greatly benefitted from the delay, since seminary and the 3 years following graduation gave me the opportunity to find a sense of home and peace about my theology and spirituality as a catholic Pentecostal who is ordained in the Anglican Church.  What I’ve found in these desert fathers, with their wisdom and the content of their prayers, is that Asuza didn’t come to the experience of God’s intimacy before Aleppo. Parham, Tomlinson, and McPherson had much to learn from Babbai, Isaac of Nineveh, and John the Elder.

But equally striking was the way their counsel on prayer affirmed this Pentecostal spirituality. The idea of waiting on God, on being fully focused on him in prayer, on letting the Holy Spirit guide your petitions, and the ecstatic joy of being known and loved by God while in prayer are present, and highly valued in the writings of our ancient brothers in the Syriac tradition. “What time is more holy and more appropriate for sanctification and for the receiving of divine gifts than the time of prayer, when a person is speaking with God?” -Mar Isaac of Nineveh (Discourse XXII on prayer). The very process of the Pentecostal movements origins are prophetically anticipated by the call to prayer in the desert.

But what captured my attention even further was the way that what Pentecostals have often referred to as being “slain in the Spirit” and less commonly, “resting in the Spirit” makes its appearance in the spirituality of the desert fathers. “But beyond the boundary, there exists wonder, not prayer. From that point onwards, the mind ceases from prayer; there is the capacity to see, but the mind is not praying at all.” -Mar Isaac of Nineveh (Discourse XXII on prayer). Isaac refers to what the ancient fathers called “spiritual prayer” (which he believes to be a misnomer) and “contemplation”–when the tongue, the mind, and the physical actions of the one who is praying cease because of entering the presence of the holiness of God. When the Christian ceases to do, but can only be with God. And, accurately, Isaac attributes this to the fullness of God’s grace.

The seed of this is a perpetual commitment to hearing the Scriptures and prayer before God. “Struggling in prayer” is a frequent call in the Syriac fathers–not as a striving of action, but wrestling against our fleshly desires to justify ourselves by action. Resting upon the justification declared over us by Christ in our baptism empowers all prayer. As we continue in that rest, we may come to experience the foretaste of the heavenly rest: resting in the Spirit–where, even for a few moments, we know the joy of justification without our doubts, without our personal efforts for holiness, and without the tempting condemnation of the devil.


Reading Scripture and the Hope of the Poor

As a Pentecostal, I grew up in a home that emphasized and practiced daily Bible reading–both individually and as a family. I was taught to read and study the Scriptures in a personal “quiet time with God.” Additionally, my mother read to us aloud from the Bible and taught us hymns, some small bits of catechism, and helped us memorize significant and sometimes extensive portions of Scripture. It was life-shaping and it has been effective in my life, as the Holy Spirit prompts remembrance and understanding from that past in my present day-to-day life. Christians are indeed people shaped by the Scriptures that bear witness to Jesus, the Word of God.

But I’ve overheard in various circles–Pentecostal, reformed, Anglican, Lutheran, and others–that the key to discipleship is daily Bible reading. Now, I understand where this comes from. I even understand that Willow Creek’s internal discipleship study some twenty-odd years ago reinforces the importance of the Scriptures in the Christian life. But I want to challenge the idea that it’s private daily Bible reading which is to be credited for deep roots in following Jesus.

First off, to borrow from something adapted from the Rev’d Dr. Amy Schifrin, STS, “Christianity is a deeply personal, but not private, faith.” It’s never been “me and Jesus”. It’s always been a Body, a nation, a community of saints and sinners gathered by the Holy Spirit and united in the blood of Jesus. We experience individual transformation in the midst of that, but we do so together. We cannot be disciples alone, and we are not intended to experience the grace of Christ alone. Even Saul’s conversion cannot happen apart from the Body. Jesus changed everything for this persecutor of the Church, but he sends Ananias to baptize and lay hands on Him–creating a community into which Saul is received.

Second, it’s never been reading. The Scriptures, all through the history of Israel were read aloud in order to be heard by God’s people. That continued in the synagogues, and the Church adopted the same practice in teaching the Old Testament, as well as reading the “memoirs of the apostles” and the apostolic epistles. The Apostle Paul goes so far as to say that faith comes by hearing in Romans 10. For the benefit of faith and the increase of grace, the Church gathers to hear the Word of God proclaimed by the Scriptures being read aloud, preached, and visible displayed in the Sacraments.

I know there’s going to be pushback, but I want you to consider–for 1500 years, before the invention of the printing press, there was little access to the Scriptures for the common Christian. Are we to suggest that the great saints and our forefathers and foremothers in the faith were weak, or malformed as followers of Jesus? Even if we allow that the medieval era had a great deal of this, the fact is that the Gospel spread throughout the world with people who were hearing Scriptures corporately, and deep discipleship came from that formation. The rich were the ones with access to Scriptures, even after the printing press was invented. And while that has shifted over the years, literacy and economics of owning a Bible continue to challenge.

So let’s return to the roots. As the Church, let’s gather together–in homes, in churches, in public–to hear the Scriptures together. Rich or poor, men and women, of every ethnicity, let’s attend to the proclamation of Jesus and hear Him revealed to us in the Scriptures. Let’s not be alone. Let’s not stifle the hope of the poor by telling them to get a Bible and keep it to reading alone. Let’s enter the community of people under the Scriptures, fro all to hear, and be changed as the Spirit stirs our remembrance of who we are as God’s beloved and sets our feet onto the way of Jesus.


The Spirit of Christmas is the Spirit of Pentecost

When we say “Spirit” in relationship to Pentecost, there’s a one-track hive mind for that. Of course we’re referring to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Triune Godhead. We’re speaking of the God who pours Herself out on the people of God, loosening their tongues in proclamation, their hearts in love, and their hands in generosity to one another and turning “the Other” into “another.” The Pentecostal Spirit brings forth the Church and reveals the Son of God in her midst.

By contrast, “the Spirit of Christmas” has a delightful ambiguity. Some people mean the core of the celebration: the incarnation of the Son of God. Then there’s those referring to some sense of spirit of generosity, charity, goodwill towards men, yada, yada, yada…and then there’s the lovely tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas (somewhat forgotten in the 21st century), or the three ghosts from A Christmas Carol. The point is, range of meaning here is wild and about as chaotic as your grandmother’s house at Christmas dinner.

But if you pay attention to the appointed readings (and I don’t know a church of any tradition that doesn’t have a liturgical commitment to the Nativity Gospels and the Isaiah predictions of the Son of God’s birth), the Holy Spirit is very much involved in Christmas. We hear the her voice all over the place, inspiring Joseph’s vision and commissioning angelic witnesses. We see the birth of the Son of God, whose conception was accomplished in Mary by the hovering Spirit of God. We see Mary pondering these things that happen in her heart, a gift of the Holy Spirit who causes God’s people to remember His mighty deeds. And, to this day, we see the Spirit of God bringing all these things to our remembrance–to reveal Jesus, to set us to proclaiming, loving, and sharing generously to one another (And making “the Other” into “another”). The Spirit of Pentecost is the Spirit of Christmas, grounded in the flesh and blood of the Christ child.


[Worship Practice] 17th Sunday after Pentecost

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Fr. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Fr. Dennett
  • Music: Fr. Dennett leading a team of 6 (3 vocals, 1 acoustic guitar, 1 electric guitar, 1 drummer)
  • Scripture: Ben (Romans 13:8-14 and Psalm 25), Dcn. Laura (Matthew 21:28-32),

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding
  • Hosanna
  • Be Unto Your Name
  • All Who are Thirsty


  • Come as You Are


  • Here in Your Presence


  • The Lamb Has Overcome

Collect for the Day

Merciful Lord, grant to your faithful people pardon and peace; that by your grace we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I opened (after the guitar’s accidental open chord gathered everyone’s attention) welcoming everyone and inviting us in to a time to receive from God’s free and abundant grace. We continued with the usual liturgy (Opening Acclamation, Summary of the Law, Confession of Sin and Absolution, and Comfortable Words) before moving into Songs of Praise.

One of the themes that emerged quickly in our worship was the reality of grace and God’s intentions to pardon–and the power of that pardon. Our worship was the expression of the Psalmist’s heart in Psalm 130, “If you, LORD, kept record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” In the midst of that awareness of our weakness, however, what I observed in myself and in the congregation was a confidence in God’s mercy and grace. This was the Lord whose nature is always to have mercy, and we knew it. We have been received by a God whose love and power and grace are extended on our behalf.

After the Songs of Praise, two or three spoke prayers of adoration and praise of God, summarizing what the Holy Spirit was doing in the midst of our worship. We concluded that time with the Collect for the Day. I invited the kids to come to the front to be prayed for. During the school year, they have “Church School” during the Ministry of the Word, and rejoin us at the Eucharist. After last week, where kids were nearly 1/3 of the congregation (and they were a sizable group), it was a bit interesting to have two children come forward (the others were already downstairs, awaiting their teachers).

This is one of two opportunities that priests at Church of the Savior have to bless children. Both the example of my first priest, Fr. Mike, and the explicit exhortation of a mission leader, Fr. Lawrence, challenged me to recognize that one of the highest privileges one has as a presbyter in God’s Church is to pronounce God’s blessing on children. That’s become all too real to me, and I would commend that to you presbyters out there–receive the children Jesus has called to himself and bless them in his Name.

Our seminarian, Ben, read the lesson and led us in praying Psalm 25. Coming from the time of humble adoration as we did, the call to walk in the light from Romans 13 was apt. It was further driven home by the Gospel reading by Deacon Laura, with the parable of the two sons–one who initially rebelled, but repented, and one who gave lip service to his father, but rebelled.

Fr. Dennett’s sermon from Romans 13 began with a telling of Augustine’s conversion (with the big reveal of it being Augustine not coming until later). It was a passionate and fiery sermon, expressing God’s Law and Gospel–that we know and must know and must not forget that we are helpless to achieve the righteousness of God, and that the grace of God has given us this incredible liberty to be the children of God–that we’ve been saved from the penalty and of sin, are being saved from the practices of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin (an explanation credited to Deacon Laura). Hallelujah.

As we continued worship (Creed, Offering, and Eucharist), the Spirit’s leadership bringing us to humble adoration, led us to be recipients of God’s free grace, to be changed by our encounter with God–knowing full well that as we stand in the presence of God, casting off the works of darkness and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, that it is HE who has overcome, and will overcome all that stands against him in our lives–sin, sickness, the devil and death itself. And we can walk in the peace of God among us, remaining with us through God’s blessing, as in the daytime, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Come, Lord Jesus.


[Worship Practice] 13th Sunday after Pentecost

One of the practices I have observed in a number of pastors is taking the time to intentionally reflect on the worship experience each Sunday. While I will not do so for every service, it seems to me that corporate worship is where the rubber meets the road for catholic Pentecostalism. So, for services then I officiate, I will endeavor to reflect and report. My hope here is to better understand what the Holy Spirit is doing. I hope others will benefit as well.

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Fr. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Fr. Dennett
  • Music: Ben leading a team of 4 (3 vocals, 1 acoustic guitar, 1 electric guitar, 1 drummer)
  • Scripture: Martha (Romans 12:1-8), Dcn. Andrea (Matthew 16:13-20), Dcn. Laura leading J and D (gospel reenactment).

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Hosanna (Praise is Rising)
  • 10,000 Reasons
  • Behold our God
  • Be Thou My Vision


  • In Christ Alone


  • Here in Your Presence
  • Revelation Song


  • On Christ the Solid Rock

Collect for the Day

O Lord, we pray that your grace may always both precede and follow after us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I welcomed people into the service time with a more expanded introduction than usual. I’ve been sensing that it would be beneficial for me as an officiant to encourage people to expect to encounter God, and to know that God is at work in our midst. We followed our usual liturgy with the Opening Acclamation, Summary of the Law, Confession of Sin and Absolution, and Comfortable Words before moving into Songs of Praise.

Encounter became the word for the day. As we moved through our singing, we were proclaiming a God who is present, saving, powerful, and holy. As we waited on the Lord in the silence, the Holy Spirit was ministering to people. No prophetic words or tongues were brought forward–just the gift of silence. Just God in the still small voice.

The Scripture readings continued to express that encounter. The epistle reading highlighted the renewal of our minds by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel story of Peter’s confession was read and acted out by two of the children of the parish. This has been a regular activity for our Gospel readings this summer. While it seems on the surface to be a “cute” way to break the surface up for kids who otherwise have a children’s lesson and activities during the school year, this is actually an essential part of discipleship and knowing Scripture. We see stories of Jesus played out before us, and know how we can tell the stories for others. Reenactment invites us to imagine, to meditate, and to let the stories becomes our own. We all imagined being in Peter’s shoes there: to declare to Jesus “You are the Christ” –and now we can. The sermon, drawing from the Romans passage, further invited us to encounter the Jesus proclaimed by Peter and to be transformed by Him. We were challenged to pursue God’s Word and to have confidence that our encounter with the Word will lead to renewal by the Spirit. “Renewal” follows “new birth.”

The question that came to mind for me, listening to the sermon: What does it look like to make a practice of modeling your life on the example of the age to come instead of the present age?

The answer to that question really was answered by what followed: the Creed, hearing a testimony of the power of God in response to prayer, singing “In Christ Alone”, celebrating and receiving the Lord’s Supper, and finally declaring that “all other ground is sinking sand” with “On Christ the Solid Rock.” One of my greatest joys as a priest is celebrating the Eucharist–leading God’s people in encountering Christ in the feast that He hosts, that He is present in, feeding us. I also get to be an eyewitness to the intimacy of Christ’s encounter with these individual disciples–and to bless those who don’t receive. Following Communion, I was weighed with the awareness of this encounter, so after everyone had received and we finished singing “Revelation Song”, I prayed for us–for more encounter of God’s presence, the revelation of His holiness–and then we prayed the Post-Communion Prayer together.

On the whole, I was moved by where God is taking us. Discipleship is rooted in encounter with God, and as we go forward to disciple others, we know who we are inviting people to follow together with us, to be renewed by the Spirit together with us, so that our whole selves–practices, thoughts, and all–are modeling the age to come, and not the present age.