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Spiritual Gifts and Worship - Christine Jerrett

GraceWorks aims to provide opportunities for artists and theologians to work together to create art that bears the imprint of the Holy Spirit and allows worshippers to engage the scriptures in new ways so as to ‘voice creation’s praise’, deepen faith and renew worship. The project hopes to participate in the Spirit’s renewal of culture through the interaction of theology and art.

GraceWorks aims to provide opportunities for artists and theologians to work together to create art that bears the imprint of the Holy Spirit and allows worshippers to engage the scriptures in new ways so as to ‘voice creation’s praise’, deepen faith and renew worship. The project hopes to participate in the Spirit’s renewal of culture through the interaction of theology and art. People from the congregation with various gifts and interests—biblical reflectors/theologians, worship leaders, visual artists, musicians, poets, computer technologists/artists—are gathered to work together in “pod groups.” Through the study of scriptures, prayer and spiritual discernment, the pods create works of art that illuminate acts of worship in creative ways. Other congregations have been offered opportunities to participate in a similar process for themselves. A festival of the arts will provide opportunities to celebrate what is being discovered and to offer learning experiences to others. Christine Jerrett has written an article "Spiritual Gifts and Worship" for Fellowship Magazine.

Spiritual Gifts and Worship by Christine Jerrett                             September, 2003

            For the past four years the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has awarded grants for projects designed to foster long-term worship renewal in congregations.  The Institute encourages each project to move beyond questions of style and strategy to include theological reflection on the meaning and purpose of public worship.

            Often, when congregations want to make changes in their worship services, they begin by asking utilitarian questions such as ‘How?' and ‘What?'  How can we attract more people to our services?  What can we do differently that will better meet the needs of those who come to worship? These are spiritually devastating questions.

            In our consumeristic culture the needs to which people give voice are often superficial, distorted and insatiable.  Meeting those needs may not be good for them.  It may not help in forming them as followers of Jesus Christ and empowering them for ministry; it may not build up the Christian community.  Catering to those needs carries the promise of attracting the crowds.  However, worship shaped from that agenda risks losing its primary purpose-the praise and adoration of God.  It also drives people further into the consumerism and narcissism that hinders their discipleship of Jesus Christ.

            Since the God we worship is personal and the actors in worship are persons, a more appropriate starting point for reflection about worship is the question ‘Who?'  Who is this God who calls us to worship?  Who are we in response to such a God?

            Asking those questions in relation to the role of spiritual gifts in worship can guide us as we seek to shape worship that draws all people into the praise of God. 
            Who is this God who calls us to worship?  The God whom we worship acts in history to work out the salvation of the world.  He has come in Jesus to establish the Kingdom of God and to defeat the powers and principalities that distort human life.  The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to the church so that the church can witness to Christ's victory over the powers of evil (Acts 2:1-11).  The Spirit is the power that enables the church to go public with its good news to attract a crowd, to have something to say worth hearing. (William Willimon, Interpretation Commentary, p. 33)
            Who are we in relation to such a God?  The church is the creation of the Holy Spirit to be the visible continuation of Jesus' presence and victory in the world.  We are the ‘new creation' in which the world already experiences here something of the future kingdom where Christ will reign in glory.  Spiritual gifts are given to God's people so that they can live within and witness to Christ's victory in the midst of the powers and principalities.  “The gifts equip persons to live humanly in the midst of the Fall.  The exercise of these gifts constitutes the essential tactics of resistance to the power of death.” (William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians, p. 145)

            We witness to Christ's victory in all aspects of the church's life but we do so supremely in our liturgy.  As we praise God, confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ and celebrate his victory, we declare to the powers and principalities that they are not the world's legitimate lords even though the world, for now, lies under their shadow.  The first gift of the Spirit to the church was the gift of proclamation, the power to declare the wonders of God accomplished in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  The spiritual gifts Paul lists to the church in Corinth in his directives for corporate worship (prophesying, the interpretation of tongues, word of wisdom and word of knowledge) are aspects of this gift of proclamation.

            Once we have considered carefully who God is and who we are in relation to God, then we can begin asking the ‘What?' and ‘How?' kinds of questions.  What kind of worship do we need in order to live more fully into what Christ has done and into who we are in him?  What do we need to do in worship to respond more faithfully to the Spirit's death-defying, life-giving work among us?  What is the best way we can gather the gifts the Spirit has placed among us so as to declare Christ's victory?  What will more profoundly immerse the congregation in splendour of God and his sovereign rule?  How can we express the glory and praise of God so compellingly and beautifully that other people will be drawn into it with joy?

            The answers will be as many and varied as the work of the Spirit among us.  One thing we know for sure-God has far more eclectic tastes than we do!  We are in the midst of a profound, far-reaching culture shift that is changing the way people learn, express themselves, and relate to one another and to the world.  Add to that the reality that people are living longer and are able to remain active in congregational life longer.  “An average congregation may have five different generations of people representing at least five differing worldviews attempting to worship together.” (Paul Detterman, “Detterman's Top Ten List:  Challenges Facing Worship Leaders Today”, in Reformed Worship 69, p. 3) This creates a dynamic that congregations may not previously have had to deal with. Even our awareness of what constitutes faithful worship changes as our horizons become more global and we become more aware of the gifts the Spirit has placed among Christians from other cultures.  If we take seriously the need to gather the gifts that the Spirit has placed among God's people, those who are responsible for shaping a congregation's worship services will have to exercise spiritual discernment in order to keep the congregation firmly focussed on God.   They will need to be firmly grounded in prayer and in the study of scripture. As they plan carefully and as they wisely sort through the variety of resources that are available, they will need to be familiar with the church's tradition and understand why some practices have stood the test of time and why some have not.  They will need to be willing to explore, risk and work under the Holy Spirit's guidance.

Since the first inbreaking of the Spirit (Acts 2) was profoundly unsettling, we can expect that we shall find it so as well.  Worship must clearly and intentionally be first of all focussed on God; however, one of the primary fruits of such worship will be transformation – both of individuals and of societies.  This entails more than merely tinkering with the design and style of our worship services.  It involves our being willing to be seized and transfigured by the Holy Spirit and formed in the image of Christ.  When the people of God allow that to happen, then the congregation itself becomes the answer to the questions posed at the beginning.  What will attract more people to our worship services?  A people of God, alive with the energies of the Holy Spirit, joyfully living in and witnessing to the liberating victory of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.  The worship of such people can happen in many different forms since the Holy Spirit is endlessly creative, but its power will compel others to ask, “What does this mean?” and “What must we do to be saved?”  Then our worship will give glory to God.

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