Friday, February 20, 2015

Truly Spirit-Enlivened Worship

Simon Chan’s focus in Liturgy 30, no. 1 (2015) is on how the Holy Spirit works in worship. The entry in this blog on February 6 explored part of his depiction of the Spirit’s gifts.

Given those gifts – joy, unity in Christ, and church as the location of God’s on-going story – the Holy Spirit has particular workings in worship as part of the Trinity.

Here is what Chan has to say in practical terms about the Spirit’s role.

The liturgy is by definition the work of the people of God, but it is also the work of the Spirit who is personally present in the church. The liturgy is therefore a cooperative practice that forms the ecclesial community spiritually. In Orthodoxy this phenomenon is designated by the term synergy. Synergy runs through the whole economy of salvation, from the incarnation to the Parousia. At the incarnation, the Spirit synergizes with Mary to enflesh the Word: The Spirit overshadows Mary; Mary assents (“Be it done according to your will”). The Parousia is certain: “Behold I am coming soon!” (Rev 22:12); yet the Spirit and the Bride do not cease to pray “Come!” “Amen, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:17, 20). 
 The liturgy is the synergy that gathers up all the synergies of the Spirit and the church. In both content and structure, the liturgy reveals this synergy by juxtaposing a series of paradoxes, as Gordon Lathrop has shown [in his book, Holy Things].  These paradoxes reflect the eschatological tension of the church age created by the indwelling Spirit . . .

The Spirit’s indwelling work, then, is to enliven the assembly, giving us the power for “full, active, and conscious participation” as the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” described the goal of liturgical renewal. 

The Spirit's active presence does not turn us into passive observers who act only as the Spirit acts on us; rather, the work of the Spirit makes us active participants. But to say that it is truly human action does not mean that it originates in or is effected by us. The mystery of the Spirit's work is that, as the indwelling presence, the Spirit works in us such that the Spirit's work becomes truly our work. This requires active participation on our part as much as the Spirit is active. . . .   
 The mistake of many liturgical churches today is to create a separate “charismatic service,” which in effect cuts off the Spirit's charismatic activity from the liturgy. Or, we prescribe for the Spirit what kind of charisms are to be operative by eliminating the more overtly “supernaturalistic” operations for fear of disrupting the orderliness of the liturgy. If Pentecostal-charismatic worship has its faults and weaknesses (and there are many), it redeems itself precisely when it is made an essential part of the liturgy. Much of charismatic worship is problematic because it is modeled after the world of entertainment, where leaders on the stage essentially perform for and motivate the congregation. In this model, the needs of the people are the foremost consideration. 
 If charismatic worship is to be set free from its anthropocentrism, it must be baptized into the liturgy and be reborn as one dimension of the liturgy where the whole people of God—clergy and laity—reenact and indwell the paschal mystery—where, in other words, the focus is not primarily on human needs but the glory of the triune God. 
 At the same time, liturgical worship becomes more fully trinitarian when it is more fully open to the charismatic dimension. Our trinitarian confession demands that we cannot continue to put asunder what God has joined together.
[ NOTE: References to Dr. Chan’s quotes are 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.

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