One of my favorite songs that have been written in the past few years is "Build Your Kingdom Here" by Rend Collective. The song is upbeat and has a great message but one of the things that really makes the song special for me is the strange percussion instrument that the band used. Soon after the song came out, I decided to teach it to my congregation and thought it would be fun to get one of the instruments. The guys from Rend Collective call it a jingling johnny, and I looked high and low to find one. When I finally did, it was called a stumpf fiddle and the website wanted nearly $300 for it.
Now 300 bucks will buy a lot of things and I really didn't think that purchasing a weird percussion doohickey was a good use of that much of my money. So I did what any sensible person would do. I built one. A trip to my local big box hardware store and a quick stop at the craft store and I was all set. It took about 2 hours to assemble and in the end I had a reasonable facsimile that was well under a third of the price. My kids called it the jingle stick and the name stuck for us. They loved it so much that I even had to make miniature versions for them.
When we debuted the song we used the jingle stick and it was an instant sensation. People really liked its quirky appearance and sound - though our drummers were less enthusiastic because it's hard on your hands when you play it. The instrument made such an impression that people voice their disappointment when we do "Build Your Kingdom Here" without it.
What initially attracted me to the jingle stick was that it was quirky and different, but, because I built my own, my view now is a little different. I took a bunch of things that shouldn't go together - a post-hole digger handle, stove pans, springs, bells, and other odds and ends - and created a musical instrument. It looks funny, makes strange noises, and baffles a lot of people, even musicians. I love it because it reminds me of the church.
God in his infinite grace and wisdom has brought together people from all walks of life, every tribe, and every language and made us into one body. As a group, we look a little weird, we're noisy, and we often leave people scratching their heads. We are his instrument. In his hands, we make amazing music.
Last time we examined some ideas about the Holy Spirit and worship – mostly misconceptions that do not help us understand his presence or work in worship. If the work of the Holy Spirit in worship is not solely or even primarily found in charismatic phenomena, how then can we understand his role? Three concepts are helpful in casting light on this area: binding, directing, and empowering.
Binding may seem an odd choice of words. After all, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). Paul talks about being a slave or bondservant of Christ (Phil 1:1) and while the notion is related, it’s not what I mean by the term. The binding I’m talking about is the deep connection that the Spirit gives us to the inner life of the Godhead and, consequently, to each other. Christ has made a way for us to be reconciled to God, but it is in the Spirit that reconciliation is made a reality.
The Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to the church and the two are so intertwined that we can say that where the Spirit is the church is also, and where the church is, there is the Spirit. He is our constant companion and guide. In him we are drawn to worship God and are lifted up into the presence of the Almighty. The Spirit forms the bond of love between us and God in much the same way that he does between the Father and the Son in Augustine’s vision of the Trinity. The cord of love that binds us to God is the Spirit. As the Spirit binds us to the Trinity, he also binds us to each other. When we submit to the leadership of the Spirit, we also submit to one another in love. This is true for both individuals within a given congregation and between congregations. Just as each believer is bound by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, so the local expressions of that body are bound together in the Spirit.
I should be careful to note that though the Spirit is God’s gift to the church, he is not possessed by it. The Spirit is, and remains, completely God. We can no more command the Spirit than we can command Christ or the Father. He is continually with us, but in the partnership that exists between the Holy Spirit and the church, the Spirit is the senior member.
The close connection binding God and his people dictates both the form and content of worship. We are not trying to reach up and to grab the attention of a disinterested God. Instead, our worship revels in the presence of a God who loves us so much that he has brought us into an extremely intimate relationship with himself at great cost to himself. Like old friends, we reminisce with God over his mighty acts in history. As grateful recipients, we proclaim the praise of our benefactor. As adopted children of God, we listen to the voice of our Father and celebrate at the table of Jesus, our big brother. All of this is done because the Spirit binds us to God, and God to us.
Unlike binding, directing is much more straightforward - the Spirit directs our worship. The New Testament repeatedly references the state of being “in the Spirit.” Most often the phrase implies a submission to the leading of the Spirit. A few of the actions we see being taken in the Spirit include rejoicing (Luke 10:21), praying (Eph. 6:18), and making ministry decisions (Acts 19:21). The first two easily fit into our typical notions of worship. Less obvious is the Spirit’s leadership in these areas.
We rejoice in the good things that we experience and give glory to God, but why? After all, good outcomes can be attributed to our own doings just as easily as they are to Divine intervention/direction, and that’s even before we take into account chance and luck. Some might say that our propensity to give God glory in such circumstances is the product of our own belief that God works in history and directs events as he sees fit. While that is certainly true, we rejoice in our struggles just as much as in our victories (1 Thes. 1:6, James 1:2-4). I find it difficult to accept that a mere mental assent to God’s overlordship can produce joy in difficult circumstances – perhaps it can create endurance, but not joy. Rather, it is the presence and work of the Spirit that leads us to rejoice in all of life’s twists and turns. We rejoice in the worst that life has to offer because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence in our lives. He connects us in Christ with God the Father and creates in us the desire to rejoice. Regardless of what we encounter, he will never leave or forsake us. The assurance provided by the indwelling Spirit that we will never be abandoned, cast off, or marooned is the sole source of our joy in the midst of overwhelming heartache. Even in good times, when it is so easy to find other causes of joy, the Spirit remains our fountainhead of rejoicing.
Prayer offers us an area where we more readily acknowledge the leadership of the Spirit. We commonly talk about God laying someone or something on our hearts as we are praying. We have all experienced times when we felt led to pray, as if God were calling us to speak to him. These are both examples of the directing work of the Spirit, but there is another sense in which we can pray in the Spirit. There are times when we do not know what to pray, but we are led to pray nonetheless. In these moments the Spirit, “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 2:26). I have experienced this kind of prayer most often in moments of intense emotion – an overflow of either sorrow, anger, or joy – where I have been led to pray but did not have any words to say. Again it is the Spirit who leads us to pray but in this case he intercedes on our behalf making the inmost thoughts of our heart known.
Rejoicing and prayer are just two examples of how the Holy Spirit directs us, but the pattern is instructive. The Spirit does not draw attention to himself, but draws our attention to Christ, and through Christ to the Father. In fact, his work is often so subtle that we regularly miss that he is the one leading us to such a response. The same is true for the other things that the Scripture tells us are done “in the Spirit.” The Spirit’s work is not flashy or self-aggrandizing but it is effective and powerful.
All Christians agree that Jesus is the model par excellence for the life that is pleasing to God. But the life that Jesus led and his ministry were not done in his own power alone but by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the same way that the Spirit empowered Christ, he empowers us as well. This is most easily seen in the gifts of the Spirit.
The Spirit endows each believer with particular gifts intended to build up and encourage the church. The individual gifts listed in Scripture are varied and include abilities like prophesy, wisdom, knowledge, healing, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues as well as offices like apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. It may seem odd that both abilities and offices are listed as gifts of the Spirit. After all, aren’t prophets those with the gift of prophesy? Well, yes and no. We need to keep in mind that the purpose of the gifts is to build up the church. Just because someone has the gift of wisdom does not mean they are gifted to be a teacher. Likewise, not all who are gifted to be pastors are bestowed with prophesy. Rather, all are empowered by the Spirit to serve the church in their respective roles.
From the earliest days, Christians have had a bad habit of focusing on the gifts themselves instead of the purpose of the gifts. The Apostle Paul felt the need address this shortcoming in 1 Corinthians. His answer was that three things would last: faith, hope, and love – and that love is the greatest of all. His point was that these three things are also gifts of the Spirit, and while not as flashy and impressive as tongues and prophesy, these three are the higher gifts in that they are given to all believers and allow the proper exercise of all the others. Moreover, love is given the place of honor because it alone serves as the ethical basis for employing the other gifts.
The Spirit empowers believers to be the church through the gifts of the Spirit and thereby bring glory to God. This is the essence of the church as worship. Redeemed individuals are brought together by the Spirit and empowered to worship by exercising the gifts they have been given to build up the church by spreading the Gospel and strengthening the faith of other believers. These tasks are not ends unto themselves but are the means through which God brings glory to himself.
As we interact with God, the standard trinitarian pattern of action reverses – we worship the Father through the Son in the Spirit. All of the motions of worship that are addressed to God follow this pattern. When we pray, we pray in the Spirit. When we sing, we sing in the Spirit. When we give or serve, it is in the Spirit. The Spirit binds us to God, directs our action toward the Father in Christ, and empowers us as we worship. The action of the Holy Spirit is so integral to what we do in worship that without his involvement our actions cease to be worship at all, becoming instead a frenzied attempt at grabbing the attention of a God with whom we have no real connection. If Christ is the door by which we enter into the eternal life of the Trinity, it is the Spirit who enlivens us and draws us to that door. He does this not by making himself the object of our focus, but by setting our attention on Christ. The Spirit, as ever, remains the shy member of the Trinity.
This is the second in a series of articles that looks at the impact the Trinity has on Christian worship. The material has been adapted from my doctoral thesis.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated that he dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color or their skin but by the content of their character.” Character is an interesting thing. One has it before any action is taken, but another cannot see it until it is displayed by action. Character is something intrinsic to the person. An individual’s character defines him. He is his character. It is the same with worship. It is easy to think of worship as something the church does; after all, worship is a verb. But there is another sense in which the church brings glory to God by its existence. The church is worship.
How can this be? Simply put, it is why humanity was created. Genesis 1:27 states that “God created man in his own image. . . male and female he created them.” God did not create an individual but a pair, a community of people. Even in the following chapter in Genesis where Adam is created first, the story highlights the fact that the individual was meant to live in community with his own kind (Gen 2:18). While creation in the image of God does confer all individuals with worth and natural rights, the image of God applies equally to the creation of the community and its most basic unit, the family. From the beginning, this original community included God, but the presence of sin has broken this fellowship. It is only through the work of Christ that true community, a community that embodies the image of God in relationship with God, can be reestablished. This restored community is the church.
The hallmark of the Christian community should be the same as that of the Divine community: love. God has many attributes, but love is only one that applies to God in himself. All of the other qualities we think of – goodness, holiness, mercy, etc. – are in relation to created beings but love his how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other. Likewise, love is meant to saturate the church. At the first, this love relationship is expressed between the church and the triune God because, as the adoptive children of God, Christians share in Christ’s filial relationship with the Father thus participating in the life of the Trinity. The reality of the life of the Trinity as the model for the Christian life means that the relationships expressed within the Trinity are as important as God’s character and his commands. We are to love others – both inside and outside the church. The trinitarian relationships of the church can be expressed in the same language as the relationships with the Godhead. Inside the church, we find three primary categories: unity and diversity, authority and submission, and mutual indwelling. Relationships outside the church can be expressed in terms of mission.
Unity and Diversity
Within the Trinity, there exists a unity of being/essence and a diversity of persons, as well as a unity of purpose within the whole and a diversity of action in the particular. In the same way, the church is one body made up of many local assemblies, or on the smaller scale, it is a local gathering comprised of many individuals and ministries. Christians do not share a single essence as the Trinity does, but rather a kinship, all being made sons of God and coheirs with Christ. All of the redeemed, being clothed in Christ, stand equal before God (Gal 3:28). Even so all Christians are not the same and reflect a wonderful diversity. As with the Trinity, so with humanity, there exists no conflict between the equality of all and diversity.
The key here is diversity as opposed to division. In the Spirit, believers are united in Christ but there exists a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, purposes, and gifts (1Cor 12:12-14). We are to honor and respect the differences among believers so long as those aspects are not contrary to God’s character or law. As sinful creatures, it is easy to distort the variety that God has ordained for good. On one hand, there is a tendency toward uniformity, which by necessity erases all distinctions, and on the other, is the desire to turn distinctions between individuals and groups into barriers of fellowship. The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 which leads directly into the famous love passage. The point is that the diversity of the body of Christ is a good thing when expressed in love, for it is love that leads to unity and from unity love leads to expressions of diversity. With the Trinity, contemplating the three leads back to the one which in turn leads back to the three – and so with the unity and diversity of the church.
Authority and Submission
Just as the unity and diversity of the triune God is a model for humanity, the same is true regarding issues of authority and submission. Within the Trinity, the Father is the source of authority. It is he who sends the Son and the Spirit. For some people, relating to God as Father is difficult because of their experiences with their own fathers. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to look at the situation. The Father is the source of all fatherhood. In the same way that the image of God was scarred by sin, all human experiences of fatherhood have been likewise damaged. We must see beyond human experience to glimpse at the truth. The Father is the perfect father, and the Son is the perfect son. Their relationship is the paradigm for all relationships where authority and submission come into play.
The Father sends the Son, and the Son readily obeys. The Son also asks things of the Father, which the Father does, but it should be noted that the things the Son asks for are in concert with the Father’s will in sending the Son. The unseen animus here is love. It is out of love for the Son and a desire to glorify him that the Father sends the Son who obeys out of love for and a desire to glorify the Father because love exercises rightful authority and love also submits to rightful authority. Because these types of relationships exist within the Godhead, they also exist among his creatures. When we live in harmony with each other in rightly ordered relationships we brings glory to God.
At first glance, the idea of perichoresis among human beings seems absurd. The closest thing to it I can imagine is dissociative identity disorder in which a person exhibits multiple personalities. Without question, this is not what God intended for humanity and cannot be an expression of the image of God. The issue changes, in my opinion, as we reflect on the Divine image among groups, specifically the family and the church. Within these groups it is not uncommon for one person to act on behalf of the whole, bearing the consent and goodwill of the larger body, and using resources gathered by the community. In such cases, the actions of the one are recognized as actions of the whole. As Christians, we experience unity in Christ through the work of the Spirit who dwells within each believer. So it is not that we indwell each other, but the Spirit who abides in all believers who makes us into the image of God.
This union in Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit creates a new community where we are connected and dependent on each other to supply our needs. This interconnection and interdependence allows for the many to participate in the actions of one, or to put it another way, for the one to act in place of the many and the many to act for the one. Where one weeps, all weep. Where one rejoices, all rejoice together. This indwelling happens in various ways: through prayer, giving, and service. True, the type of indwelling that exists with the Father, Son, and Spirit does not exist within the created order, but what does exist within the church is a reflection of that perichoretic relationship.
Lastly, we see the church as worship by virtue of its efforts to fulfill its mission. Participating in the mission of the Trinity is not a mere imitation of the trinitarian paradigm – it is a participation in the life of the Godhead itself. At no point is the mission simply that of the believer. Rather the believer, through union with the Son by the Spirit, participates in the Son’s mission from the Father. There is a tendency, to think of the mission of the church as simply the evangelization of the nations. Though evangelism is certainly a part of the church’s mission, the reality is much broader. We are meant to be an eschatological community that provides a foretaste of the full restoration of creation and images the triune God to the wider world.
In its unity and diversity, authority and submission, mutual indwelling, and mission the church enters into the life of the Trinity. Furthermore, the church brings glory to God by reflecting the image of the Trinity in the community we were created to be. This worship is done primarily through relationships within the community of believers in Christ with the empowerment of the Spirit. It has nothing to do songs or sermons, buildings or budgets. It has everything to do with how we live our lives in communion with the triune God and with each other. These are the worshipers the Father seeks.
Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005).
 This statement and some of what follows can equally be applied to the individual believer. I have refrained from making the case for the individual in the interest of keeping things simple and highlighting how the community of believers follows the pattern of the Trinity.
 It is not my intent to make light of anyone’s painful experiences, but we all must attempt to understand God as he has revealed himself, and not lean too heavily on our prior experience or preconceived notions.