Continued from part 3
Reference to charismatic worship may bring up images of the Pentecostal movement which appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century in California, and by the end of the century had become a Christian force to be reckoned with around the world. Charismatic worship places strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit and the special gifts he bestows upon God’s redeemed people. Whether such worship originates in a Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, or other evangelical setting, it is usually highly energized, open to spontaneity, and presented as being receptive to the direct leadership of the Spirit.
“Charismata” means grace gifts. The word is found in such references as Rom 12:6 and 1 Cor 12:4,9,28,30-31. Charismata have been defined as “favors, endowments, graces, offices, all bestowed by God’s grace without claims of merit whatsoever on man’s part.” In its twentieth century expression, charismatic worship often promotes the gift of tongues as the only sign that a believer has been baptized in the Spirit. But this does not stand up to careful scriptural examination, and not all charismatic worship includes this emphasis. Viewed more broadly, charismatic worship tends to be lively, and often intentionally emotional. In its most radical expression, emphasis is on the more sensational gifts of the Spirit — power gifts like healing and miracles.
The evangelical church everywhere has been touched in some measure by the trend toward charismatic worship. To some, it makes the quieter, ordered worship of earlier generations seem pale and unattractive. Modern Christians who are bombarded regularly by the sensate, and who daily are treated to radio and TV programming that is almost assaultive, are bound to be susceptible to a greater emphasis on religious practices that are more emotionally charged .
Indeed, charismatic worship has support from the New Testament. The picture of the New Testament church from its earliest days is that of a community under the direction of the Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles introduces us to the outpouring of the Spirit that created the Christian church. The earliest Christians worshiped in informal and spontaneous settings. Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12-14 give us a picture of an emphasis on the “giftedness” of the early church.
But these are not the only pictures of worship modes we have from the New Testament. Peter and John went up to the temple to pray. The prayers they prayed in community would be liturgically prescribed. Jesus attended synagogue worship from childhood onward where the major emphasis was upon the reading and explaining of the Scriptures, and the offering of prayers. In his missionary journeys, the Apostle Paul went first to the ordered life in the synagogues to present his message.
Charismatic worship needs the balance of both Word-centered and liturgical worship. Lacking these, certain perils turn up. For example, worship may become too dependent on charismatic personalities for its direction. Or ”worship leaders” may degenerate to being merely “promoters of strong feelings,” a vastly different assignment. The event then comes to be regulated more by the skills and verve of the leader than by the Spirit of God. Charismatic worship may get too caught up in sensation and end up downplaying the Scriptures as preached and taught. It is sometimes charged that practices of charismatic excesses may develop devotees that are very religious but not always well formed in Christian knowledge and character.
FINDING THE BALANCE
When one mode of worship is emphasized to the near exclusion of the other two, biblical balance is bound to be lacking. Word-centered worship can lead to a cold orthodoxy, expounding the truth with care but lacking the warmth of the Spirit of God. Liturgical worship can become esthetically pleasing but also devoid of the transforming life of the Spirit. It may perhaps depend too much on its props. Charismatic worship can be emotion-packed while bereft of the character-forming influence of the Scriptures carefully expounded and energized. Yet all three must be embraced because they give balance to one another.
In a worship-balanced church, all three modes will in some measure be present. Real corporate worship must show from the outset that pastor and people are operating under the authority of the Word of God. That is word-centered. And, because many believers of varying tastes and inclinations are together in one service, an order must be established by the leaders to bring all together. That’s liturgical. And, the blessing and presence of the Holy Spirit must be expected and welcomed. That is charismatic. One thing is sure: churches that give central attention to the preached word, that establish a wholesome order for worship, and that actively invite the superintendency of the Spirit in it all are most likely to approximate Christ’s true church. Such churches will avoid dead ends, find the balance, and survive the worship confusion of present times.