A Charismatic Theology Of Worship

Themes: Biblical, Denomination, Scholar, Theology

A charismatic theology emphasizes a vital relationship with the Holy Spirit and the recovery of spiritual gifts, which are both experienced in worship.

Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:18–20)

The charismatic movement is known primarily for its emphasis on the Holy Spirit and the restoration of the gifts (charisma) of the Spirit (that is, healing, prophecy, miracles, tongues, and so on.). However, one of the most important contributions of this movement to the church at large may be in the area of worship.

Although there may be debate as to exactly what it means to be a charismatic, there is very little debate about the primary evidence of being one: vigorous heartfelt worship. Paul indicates in Ephesians 5 that being filled with the Holy Spirit will be followed with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs on our lips and melodious thanksgiving in our hearts. Since the role of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Son (John 16:14), it is logical that a vital relationship with the Holy Spirit will result in a deepened desire to bring honor to Jesus through worship.

For many, the scene that comes to mind when “charismatic” is mentioned is that of an enthusiastic Christian with a transfigured face and lifted hands. Charismatics have given the church Scripture songs and choruses, guitars and drums, clapping and dancing, worship teams and banners, song sheets and overheads, worship seminars and conferences, as well as enthusiastic faith and infectious joy.

Why this stereotype has emerged is difficult to explain theologically, for there is considerable theological diversity among charismatics. Because the movement has sprung up in many different denominations, it has been affected by various historic traditions. A Catholic charismatic, for instance, would probably not share the same theology as a Baptist charismatic in every point. Both would say, however, that what they have in common is an experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit that has energized their walk with God and their worship of him.

This experience is similar to that of the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Even though they had previously learned much about him and had heard that he was alive, their eyes were opened and they really “saw” him. Their theology changed very little, but what they believed became living and real to them!

To understand better this phenomenon of charismatic worship, we will consider five principles of this style of worship and their theological foundations. First, the intervening presence of the Holy Spirit activates the priestly functions of worshipers. Second, worship involves the whole person—spirit, soul and body. Third, the act of worship is a progression into the manifest presence of God. Fourth, worship creates an atmosphere where God’s power is revealed. And fifth, worship is more than singing—it is serving.

The Activation of the Priesthood

You … are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5)

The energizing of the Holy Spirit could be described biblically as the anointing of a priest for priestly functions. According to 1 Peter 2:9, God’s people are meant to be a royal priesthood declaring praises of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. In verse 5 of the same chapter, Peter explains that as we are being built together, we are becoming a holy priesthood to offer acceptable sacrifices. We are a priesthood made for praise (v. 9); we are becoming such a priesthood (v. 5). In other words, we are becoming what God has made us to be: a worshiping community. Those who are priests by position are becoming priests who really act like priests.

Old Covenant priests were born to be priests, but they did not carry out their priestly duties until they were anointed as priests (Exod. 29; Num. 8). Likewise, all Christians are part of a royal family of priests as a result of new birth. When we are filled with the Spirit, our priestly functions are activated and we find ourselves offering New Covenant sacrifices which include vocal praise (Heb. 13:15).

The understanding of the church as a priesthood is certainly not unique to the charismatic movement. That was an emphasis fundamental to the Reformation. But these present day Spirit-filled worshipers are bringing a new understanding of what it means to be a priest. What is traditionally understood when we say that we are priests is that we no longer need another mediator besides Christ. As true as that is and as revolutionary as that may have sounded in Martin Luther’s day, it is only a partial understanding of what it means to be a priest. Priests not only draw near to God, they minister to God. Priests offer sacrifices.

Jack Hayford, speaking of the priestly function of believers, says: “Five hundred years ago the issue was relationship—restoring personal access to God. Today, it is worship—revealing the potential of our praises before God” (Jack Hayford, Worship His Majesty [Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987], 88).

So for the charismatic, the Holy Spirit is the activator who takes us out of neutral and prompts the various expressions of worship. Worship, then, can be understood as the grateful sacrifices offered by activated priests discovering their ministry unto God.

Spirit, Soul and Body

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul … and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

One implication of this “activation” is that worship involves action. Charismatic worship is demonstrative. It is something you do. It is not passive. Charismatic worship includes hearty singing, lifting of hands, bowing, clapping, dancing, and shouting.

For the Spirit-filled worshiper, the Great Commandment—to love God with all of our spirit, soul, and body—is the reason behind all the activity. Worship is love for God expressed. Therefore, if we love God with all of our being—spirit, soul, and body—it follows that we will worship him with our whole being—spirit, soul, and body. Most traditions acknowledge the mental and spiritual aspects of worship. The charismatic makes sure we don’t forget the physical and emotional elements of worship.

The charismatic Bible teacher and missionary Derek Prince, commenting on Romans 12:1, asks why God specified that the presenting of our bodies to God is worship. Why didn’t he say to present our hearts or minds? Prince answers that for the Hebrews, the body was the container of the soul and spirit. The physical expression of worship, then, is not inferior to the spiritual expression of worship. It is the vehicle of spiritual worship. The physical act of lifting hands, for instance, is a token of the spiritual disposition of adoration and surrender. Dancing is the demonstration of great joy and gladness.

Closely related to the physical aspect of worship is the role of the emotions in worship. Being filled with the Spirit is more than a new understanding for the charismatic—it is an experience. Likewise, charismatic worship is not primarily an ordered mental process, but rather a spontaneous, spiritual encounter where emotions are not out of place. Charismatics are not ashamed of the emotional component of worship.

Placing greater value on the physical and emotional dimensions in worship greatly affects the musical style of charismatic worship. Most noticeable is the greater emphasis on rhythm in worship music. More than melody or harmony, rhythm corresponds to the physical side of human personality. A charismatic worship band is generally built around a rhythm section (piano or guitars, bass and drums) rather than around an organ. The organ doesn’t easily accompany hand-clapping praise music.

The physical and emotional dimensions of charismatic worship heighten the spiritual dimension of worship. A practice unique to the charismatic movement is singing in the Spirit. Based on 1 Corinthians 14:15, this practice involves singing spontaneous words and melodies around a fixed chord or slowly moving chord progression. Sometimes referred to as free worship or open worship, this song form has affected regular congregational singing among charismatics. Replacing the longstanding style of four part vocal harmony, a free form approach to harmony and vocal lines has emerged among charismatics. This spontaneous quality of worship, along with a renewed desire for personal experience in worship, has created a burgeoning new library of contemporary, testimonial and simple-to-learn choruses. Thus, the vigorous nature of charismatic worship is rooted in Jesus’ command to love God with one’s whole being.

Entering His Presence

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs … Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. (Psalm 100:2, 4)

Another key to understanding charismatic worship is the presence of God. It doesn’t take many visits to charismatic worship services to hear about “entering the presence of God.” That phrase, those of us who have been taught that God is everywhere at all times, initially does not make sense. We cite Psalm 139:7: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” or Matthew 28:20: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” These Scriptures indicate that God is equally present everywhere and always.

A charismatic understanding of God’s presence distinguishes between his omnipresence (he is everywhere at all times) and his manifest presence (God is especially present at certain times and places). When David said that he could go nowhere to escape God’s presence, he was referring to God’s omnipresence. When he pleaded with God to not withdraw his presence (Ps. 51:11), he was talking about God’s manifest presence. Jacob encountered the manifest presence at Bethel: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Gen. 28:16).

Taking this idea a step further, a charismatic believes that the acts of giving thanks and singing are gateways into God’s manifest presence (Ps. 100:2, 4). Some authors distinguish between various dimensions of his manifest presence—outer court, holy place, and holiest of all (See Terry Law, The Power of Praise and Worship [Tulsa: Victory House, 1985], 245).

Thus music is not incidental but fundamental to encountering God in a charismatic worship service. As a result, the worship leader (no longer just a “song leader”) becomes a vital part of the church. His or her ability to lead worship affects the congregation’s experience of God’s manifest presence. New skills are sometimes required to know how to choose songs and connect them so as to create a progression into God’s presence.

Praise and Power

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. (2 Chron. 20:22)

Closely related to the experience of entering God’s presence with singing is the correlation between singing and experiencing God’s power. Psalm 22:3 forms the basis of a commonly held conviction among charismatics that God sits enthroned on the praise of his people. Or, to extend the thought, our praise creates a throne from which God exercises his power and might. Using the typology of the priesthood, this demonstration of power is comparable to the fire with which God answered acceptable Old Covenant sacrifices (Lev. 9:24; Gen. 15:17; 2 Chron. 7:1; see also Heb. 12:28–29).

Faith for miracles, healing, and deliverance from evil spirits seems to come more easily following vigorous worship. American evangelist T. L. Osborne regularly played the popular charismatic worship tape “All Hail King Jesus” for thirty minutes through loud speakers before his crusades in Africa and testified that miracles happened even before the preaching because of the atmosphere of power the worship music created. Jack Hayford, pastor and songwriter from California, prescribed regular singing to a woman in his church who was unable to have children. Based on Isaiah 54:1, the counsel was put into action and a year later the woman was a mother of a baby girl. Elisha called for a harpist before he prophesied (2 Kings 3:15). King Saul was relieved of the oppression of evil spirits when David played on his harp (1 Sam. 16:23). In the New Testament, Paul and Silas sang and prayed in prison when God answered with an earthquake (Acts 16:25–26).

Faith and worship are integrally connected. Abraham “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God” (Rom. 4:20–21). The relationship between faith and worship was articulated by an early church saying: Lex orandi lex credenti—we believe as we have worshiped. A Nigerian pastor commented on American Christianity with this comparison: “In America, you believe; in Nigeria, we worship.”

Beyond the Song

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Heb. 13:15–16, italics added for emphasis).

Finally, to complete our view of charismatic worship, we must move beyond the worship event to the life of worship. Charismatic worship is more than music and singing. It is vigorously living lives of sacrifice to God and service to others. Paul defined worship as presenting ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). The author of Hebrews commended God’s people to vocal praise as well as good works (Heb. 13:15–16). Acceptable worship requires both.

This larger view of worship explains why the charismatic movement is noted for active involvement in ministries to the poor, the abused, the addicted, the brokenhearted, as well as in international missions. These ministries are in themselves acts of worship. Wholehearted worship in the Christian assembly, wherein we give gifts of praise to God, is a rehearsal for the life of worship which follows, wherein we give of ourselves to the needs of the world around us. If we are enthusiastic with the song, we most likely will be enthusiastic in our service.

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