New Testament Worship
As I travel the country, preach in a variety of churches, and interact with a broad array of Christians, I find considerable confusion imbedded in our everyday engagements with worship. This disorientation centers in the ideas being disseminated about the Holy Spirit and the “temple” of the Lord.
From a literary standpoint, most evangelicals would not embrace the apocrypha – that collection of writings placed between the Old and New Testaments, not considered to be inspired. Yet, from a theological perspective, many believers worship in a pragmatic “apocrypha” of sorts when it comes to the Holy Spirit. We embrace a confusing mix of Old Testament pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) with New Testament ideas mixed in.
Much of our corporate worship experience involves singing, which is a wonderful expression of our hearts to the Lord. For this reason, the lyrics require careful evaluation. Most worship songs are not written by theologians, but artists. Often the great concern of the writer is the flow and uniqueness of the lyrics rather than the clarity of the theology. Yet, in many ways these songs shape the theology of church-attending or radio-listening believers in our modern society.
Falling or Filling
It is common to sing songs that pray for the Holy Spirit to “fall” on His people. This is a concept mentioned in the Old Testament when the Spirit would “come upon” or “fall on” a particular leader. (See Numbers 11:25, I Samuel 10:6 & 10; Ezekiel 8:1, 11:5.) It is also referred to a couple of times in Acts when the Spirit first came to groups of people. This was unique to these moments in Acts as an outward sign validating the true work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44; 11:15).
A better New Testament truth emphasizes the Holy Spirit, not as some entity falling from the heavens, but as the very presence of God living in us. He permanently indwells us as the proof of our salvation, teaching us, comforting us, guiding us, controlling us, producing His character in us, and sealing us permanently until Heaven. (See John 14:17; Romans 8:14-16, 23, 26; 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5; Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, 5:18; 1 John 4:13.) Our desire in worship should be that the Holy Spirit would fill us as we surrender our hearts to His control.
When we sing of the Spirit “falling” it seems to be some ethereal idea of hoping that the Holy Spirit will decide to suddenly do something outside us or around us, as if we are expecting some blue gas to appear in the atmosphere. A better prayer is that we will be fully yielded, so that He might be free to work powerfully in us for Christ’s glory. I like the way one professor said it years ago: “The question is not how much of the Holy Spirit I have, but how much of me does the Holy Spirit have.”
Places vs. People
Similarly, we sing songs asking the Holy Spirit to fill the “place” where we have gathered. Again, this is more of an Old Testament idea where the presence of God was represented in an ark or a temple built by men for the worship of God. Today, the Spirit’s work is centered on His indwelling power in the hearts of believers, not in buildings. Even in Acts 4:31, where the established Christians in Jerusalem were gathered in prayer and the “place was shaken”, it was the hearts of the believers that were filled, not the building.
Which House is His House?
Often, I hear someone announce, “Welcome to the house of the Lord,” which is usually a reference to the church building. Again, this is a mushy mix of Old and New Testament thought. The New Testament makes it very clear that our lives, not a building, are the “temple” or house of the Lord. (Of course, the early church did not even have “church buildings” for the first few centuries of existence.) Each of us is an individual temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). The gathered church is also a temple (1 Peter 2:5). Our weekend gatherings are only the “house of the Lord’ when the people show up. Otherwise, the building is just…a building.
Spirit-Filled: Gifts or Godliness?
One other point of common confusion I encounter is the belief that a certain manifestation of spiritual gifts are a sign of being Spirit-filled. Of course we know that God sovereignly bestows spiritual gifts according to His will for the sake of edifying the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Every true believer is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ and enjoys free access to the person and work of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13-14). God does not determine that some people will be Spirit-filled and others will not.
The evidence of being filled with the Spirit is the fruit of a godly life, not gifts. The demonstration of the work of the Spirit is ultimately the fruit of His character, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). This results from living and walking under the control of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25).
Clarity and Power
Clarity in our worship can lead to a greater experience of the power of the Holy Spirit. When we think biblically about our worship, we take a greater responsibility to yield to the control of the Spirit of God. Rather than focusing on a spiritual work outside us or in the building, we give our hearts completely to Him. Since worship is the response of all I am to the revelation of all He is, we must think rightly and deeply about our Lord, His Spirit, and His work. Then our response will be deep, genuine, and transformational for His glory and the advancement of His Gospel.