Since yesterday was Pentecost, I feel rather compelled to say something about the Holy Spirit’s lack of prominence (and invocation) in most Lord’s Day liturgies I’ve been part of; I also feel mean and snarky, because I’m so tired of the experience. I don’t mean this in any way against the hard work that people put in, but something’s got to change, I think.
A typical Sunday service at a typical North American evangelical Protestant church, even one peopled by a mostly Chinese congregation:
- ‘Worship Set’ No. 1 (and can we please stop using this term?);
- Sermon (often called a ‘message’ by those afraid of real sermons);
- ‘Worship Set’ No. 2;
- Offertory, set to more music;
- Doxology and Benediction.
Occasionally the Lord’s Supper happens too – but maybe weekly sacramental use would break modern decorum.
What are we doing? First, about five hymns (‘worship songs’, if you really must prefer that term, because I really don’t care about distinguishing between hymns and ‘worship songs’), with nothing to respond to but our individual memories: in practice, this is extremely hit-or-miss unless you choose to refer very closely to Scripture or, alternately, to manipulate yourself emotionally. Second, a lecture – sometimes fun and sometimes boring – with the requisite biblical citations, because what we need for faith is correct propositions backed by illustrations from the speaker’s life, citations from Scripture and a discursus on ancient history. Then, more of the first thing. After that, an awkward deposition of money. Finally, ‘Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow’ and a benediction. Oh, and prayer fills some gaps in this sequence.
The perfect combination of rationalistic, in the sermon, and irrational (or very shallow), in the contextless strings of hymns; in both, also a subjectivism that attributes objective power to nothing but God’s invisible work within the individual. Where’s the Holy Spirit? in the propositions propounded? in our private thoughts? Veni, Creator Spiritus.