It is a rare gift when a systematic theologian writes liturgical theology. Simon Chan is one such scholar. His essay in Liturgy 30, no. 1 (2015) on the theme of “Trinity and Liturgy” focuses on the Holy Spirit’s role in worship. The Spirit’s work is to remedy worship that too often seems flat and perfunctory. Chan cautions against making simple assumptions about the Spirit working to enliven worship. Instead, he says, the church should pay attention to the Spirit’s work as it exists within the Trinity.
True worship is the enactment of and participation in the trinitarian economy of salvation. It is the ‘‘upward’’ movement of the church in response to the ‘‘downward’’ movement of the Trinity.Chan emphasizes the Spirit’s place in the Trinity rather than the Spirit’s role as if it stood alone. Locating the Holy Spirit within the Trinity offers a corrective to seeing the Spirit in roles that diminish its true function. The church has long spoken of worship as coming to the First Person of the Trinity through the Second Person in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, then, has the job of energizing and enabling the people of God.
Chan argues that it is just as inappropriate to leave the Spirit unmentioned and hidden as it is to conceive of the Spirit’s work as primarily aimed at creating enthusiasm.
This issue is crucial in our time. Many churches attempt to “be creative” in order to shape worship that is “effective” for attracting more worshippers, assuming that people are absent because worship is uninspiring. They aim for emotional energy in worship even in defiance of a general suspicion of such concerns.
But Chan asserts that the Spirit’s true role in worship goes far beyond this task of serving as an animator while not denying the Spirit’s gift of enabling. He calls for the church to re-think the Spirit’s work in worship, to embrace, in effect, the fullness of the Trinity.
If there is a wrong kind of enthusiasm there is also a right kind. All too often the baby is thrown away with the bathwater. But under the impact of the Pentecostal-charismatic renewal over the last hundred years, a less antagonistic assessment of enthusiasm has emerged in ecclesiastical establishments.
If the Spirit’s rightful place is recognized in the church, then would this not require a fresh evaluation of the place of the Spirit in the liturgy? This would be in line with Prosper of Aquitaine’s dictum: the rule of prayer establishes the rule of faith (ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi). The church is a charismatic body, but the charismatic dimension of the Spirit’s work remains to be properly integrated into the liturgy as currently practiced in most churches.
This is evidenced by the fact that many traditional liturgical churches that experience the charismatic renewal hold separate charismatic services outside the Sunday liturgy.
Besides the practical reason, there is a theological reason for reexamining the role of the Spirit in the liturgy. Balthasar has noted that the Spirit is not just the mutual love between the Father and the Son (who, as such, remains hidden and anonymous), but is also the fruit of their mutual love and, as such, is the free third person who transcends the mutuality: “Thus the Spirit appears (first) as the common fruit of the Father and the Son, which (secondly) can become autonomous in relation to them (the result is ‘sent’), and, further (thirdly), as the gift of God to the world, once again permits the whole sovereign freedom of God to be known in the manner in which it holds sway in creation, in the covenant, and in the Church.”
If Balthasar is correct, perhaps there is something more to be said about the role of the Spirit in the liturgy than just being the surreptitious energizer and revealer of Christ and the Father.In order to better see how the Holy Spirit operates within the regular worship of a congregation, Chan describes three special “motifs” of the Spirit’s place.
1. THE SPIRIT CREATES JOY
The Spirit is the Spirit of the resurrection who brings a sense of overwhelming joy to the first witness, Mary Magdalene. . . . The church is essentially joy because it is essentially eschatological, indwelled by the Spirit of the age to come.2. THE SPIRIT CONTINUES THE TRINITY’S MISSION IN THE CHURCH
The story of Jesus Christ does not end with the Ascension but continues into Pentecost and the church . . . [suggesting] that the story of the Spirit is meant to be a continuation of the story of Jesus Christ. . . . Through the indwelling Spirit, the church participates in the trinitarian communion and continues the trinitarian mission.3. THE SPIRIT IS PRESENT
[T]he Pentecost event is unprecedented in salvation history. It is not merely an extra infusion of grace, but the coming of the Spirit’s own person.
Dr. Chan's essay contains much more nuance than it is possible to express here. But I hope to have included enough of a taste of the Spirit’s potential to help you think about how the Spirit is at work in the midst of the congregation you serve.
[ NOTE: References to Dr. Chan’s quotes are all available in the essay. ]
Simon Chan is the Ernst Lau Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Theological College, Singapore, Malaysia, who has written extensively on worship, especially Liturgical Theology: The Church as a Worshipping Community (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006).
Simon Chan, “The Holy Spirit as the Fulfillment of the Liturgy,” Liturgy 30, no. 1 (2015): 33-41.