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Pentecostalism’s View of the Holy Spirit’s Work in Worship

This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series

"The Holy Spirit's Work in Worship"

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Last week, I noted that the most common expectation today of the Holy Spirit’s work in worship is that he will make God’s presence known in a tangible way, and I promised to discuss where this expectation arose.

This expectation is certainly not new; theologians such as John Owen and Jonathan Edwards addressed the religious “enthusiasts” of their day.1 However, the contemporary iteration is rooted in a Pentecostal theology of the Holy Spirit’s work. In their insightful Concise History of Contemporary Worship, Lovin’ on Jesus, Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth convincingly demonstrate that Pentecostalism, with its “revisioning of a New Testament emphasis upon the active presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit,” is one of five key sources of contemporary worship.2 They suggest that “Pentecostalism’s shaping of contemporary worship has been both through its own internal development and through an influencing of other Protestants in worship piety and practice,” including the following ways its theology has shaped contemporary worship:

  1. mainstreaming the desire to be physical and expressive in worship
  2. highlighting intensity as a liturgical virtue
  3. a certain expectation of experience to the forms of contemporary worship, and
  4. a musical sacramentality [that] raises the importance of the worship set as well as the musicians leading this set.

They explain, “Pentecostalism contributed contemporary worship’s sacramentality, that is, both the expectation that God’s presence could be encountered in worship and the normal means by which this encounter would happen,” creating an “expectation for encountering God, active and present through the Holy Spirit.”3 Daniel Albrecht agrees: “The presence of the Holy Spirit then is fundamental to a Pentecostal perspective of worship. The conviction that the Spirit is present in worship is one of the deepest beliefs in a Pentecostal liturgical vision. The expectancy of the Spirit’s presence is often palpable in the liturgy. . . . Their liturgical rites and sensibilities encourage becoming consciously present to God—even as God’s presence is expected to become very real in worship.”4

This experience of the Holy Spirit’s active presence is often directly tied to music, specifically to the “flow” of the emotional expressiveness of the worship music. Hicks suggests, “Part of leading a worship service’s flow . . . involves keeping the awareness of God’s real, abiding presence before his worshipers. As all of the elements of worship pass by, the one constant—the True Flow—is the presence of the Holy Spirit himself.” This kind of flow, according to Hicks, “lies in understanding and guiding your worship service’s emotional journey.”5 “Grouping songs in such a way that they flow together,” worship leader Carl Tuttle explains, “is essential to a good worship experience.”6 The goal and expectation of any worship service, according to Barry Griffing, “is to bring the congregational worshipers into a corporate awareness of God’s manifest presence.”7 James Steven notes, “By investing heavily in particular signs of the Spirit’s presence, such as ecstatic physical patterns of behavior, church members define the Spirit by the empirical measurement of particular phenomena, which if absent imply that the Spirit has not ‘turned up.’”8

Thus, worship in which the Holy Spirit is directly active is often necessarily connected with spontaneity and “freedom” of form. Worship that is structured and regulated is the opposite of “Spirit-led” worship in this view. As Lim and Ruth note, most contemporary worship, impacted as it is by this understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work in worship, considers “extemporaneity as a mark of worship that is true and of the Holy Spirit, that is, worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:24). This view of extemporaneity” they note, “has been held widely within Free Church ways of worship.”9 What Albrecht observes of Pentecostal worship has become the standard expectation for most of evangelicalism:

In the midst of radical receptivity, an encounter with the Holy Spirit may occur. Pentecostals envision such encounters as integral to the worship experience. While an overwhelming or overpowering experience of/in the Spirit is neither rare nor routine for a particular Pentecostal worshiper, the experiential dimension of worship is fundamental. The liturgical vision sees God as present in the service; consequently, Pentecostals reason that a direct experience of God is a normal expectation.10

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. See Ryan J. Martin, “‘Violent Motions of Carnal Affections’: Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, and Distinguishing the Work of the Spirit from Enthusiasm,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 15 (2010): 99–116. []
  2. Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth, Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 17–18. The other four are youth ministry, baby boomers, Jesus People, and church growth missiology. []
  3. Ibid., 18. []
  4. Daniel E. Albrecht, “Worshiping and the Spirit: Transmuting Liturgy Pentecostally,” in The Spirit in Worship—Worship in the Spirit, ed. Teresa Berger and Bryan D. Spinks (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 239. []
  5. Hicks, The Worship Pastor, 184. []
  6. Carl Tuttle, “Song Selection & New Song Introduction,” in Worship Leaders Training Manual (Anaheim, CA: Worship Resource Center/Vineyard Ministries International, 1987), 141. []
  7. Barry Griffing, “Releasing Charismatic Worship,” in Restoring Praise & Worship to the Church (Shippensburg, PA: Revival Press, 1989), 92. []
  8. James Steven, “The Spirit in Contemporary Charismatic Worship,” in The Spirit in Worship—Worship in the Spirit, ed. Teresa Berger and Bryan D. Spinks (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 258. []
  9. Lim and Ruth, Lovin’ on Jesus, 38. []
  10. Albrecht, “Worshiping and the Spirit: Transmuting Liturgy Pentecostally,” 240. []