Philip P. Eapen
Copyright © by Philip P. Eapen, 2005, 2023.
First Edition 2005
Revised Edition 2023
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IN THIS ERA of neo-Charismatic1 movements, “praise and worship” sessions, not to mention the leaders of such sessions, have taken on a role of special importance. “Praise and worship” sessions, people think, can make or mar a church service. Today’s churches need spirit-filled, dynamic men and women who can lead God’s people to meaningful moments of worship, consecration, encouragement and edification.
How many times have you attended a Pentecostal or Charismatic church and felt that the worship service was not up to the mark? You certainly have company. Despite the pomp and splendour employed to make the time of worship significant, despite the money and talent deployed in the area of musical accompaniment, services crash-land due to the ineptness or lack of preparation of so-called “worship leader(s).” Participants who have access to the best of worship songs in the world are none too willing to forgive worship leaders who neither understand the basic principles of Christian worship nor the dynamics of a post-modern worship service.
Vinson Synan, a scholar on Pentecostalism, says in his book The Holiness Pentecostal Tradition that popular discontent with liturgical forms of worship contributed to the growth of Pentecostalism in the twentieth century. Pentecostals generally look down on churches that follow a liturgy. “Their prayers are all written down—straight from the cold storage. We are led by the Spirit,” they claim. Yet, there are many Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians, who are disillusioned by the free structures of their services.
Churches that do not follow a liturgy are very often at the mercy of the whims and fancies of worship leader(s) or someone in charge of the service. Most pastors become nervous when a member hijacks the service with a long testimony or a prayer or an out-of-tune worship session. It is to avoid such haphazard events that ancient churches sought refuge in written liturgies.
In spite of the Pentecostal dislike for written liturgies, I believe it is worthwhile for them to examine several liturgies to appreciate their content, structure, and progression. A lot of care goes into the construction of a liturgy.
Moreover, worship services in “liturgical churches” are regarded as a form of testimony or proclamation to the world. These liturgies are also confessions of faith (doctrines) that serve an educational purpose. Any member of a Protestant mainline church is familiar with the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, which neatly summarises the Christian faith. These liturgies make use of the Psalms and other Bible portions extensively. It is, of course, true that liturgical services lack the flexibility of a non-liturgical service. Besides, lay participation in liturgical services is limited.
People complain about liturgical services and move on to Pentecostal churches only to discover that they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire! Why is this so? Most Pentecostal/Charimatic services do not deliver on their promises of greater flexibility, use of charismatic gifts, and lay participation.
Pentecostal churches in India stick to “unwritten liturgies.” These can form rigid structures in the minds of people. Pastors too get tied up by these structures. Thus, most Pentecostal churches do not in reality enjoy the full extent of flexibility that a non-liturgical service can offer. The little flexibility that is at all permitted is during the “praise and worship” session. And the proper use of it depends on the “worship leader.”
What about charismatic gifting? Pentecostal churches in general do not seem to have much interest in spiritual gifts other than praying in “other tongues” and prophecy. Lay participation, too, is limited to a few opportunities for public prayer and testimony. The clergy-laity divide in Episcopalian churches is present in Pentecostal churches as well.
Am I trying to promote written liturgies? I wouldn’t mind being accused of doing so, but my aim is to encourage pastors and worship leaders to take a hard look at their “free” worship services. I hope my readers will understand that in rejecting liturgical worship services, Pentecostals have thrown the baby out with the bath water. We rejected written liturgies in the name of flexibility and of freedom in the Spirit, and in the process we turned our back on even the good elements.
Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, due to their lack of understanding and careful preparation, miss out on the essentials of a worship service—the public reading of the Scriptures, intercessory prayer, and fellowship meals, to name a few. Given the rising number of pastors who refuse theological training, and of busy churches that hardly have time for Bible teaching, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians are vulnerable to false doctrines based on hearsay, faulty interpretations, and mystic experiences. Worship leaders blurt out blunders without any regard for newcomers or detractors in the congregation. Their brothers and sisters in Christ will forgive them. But, others may not.
Few theological seminaries in India offer a course to train worship leaders. There are quite a few quality websites offering online articles and help; and there are seminaries in the West and in Australia that offer such specialized courses. Western music leaders and singers visit India to conduct “worship seminars.” Very often, their methods are not suitable for Asian contexts. Even so, our worship leaders are too eager to mimic these teachers down to their odd clichés.
Week after week, thousands in our country are caught between unrefined Pentecostal worship services and those of the traditions they had left behind. If they are dissatisfied with Pentecostal worship services, they have no other place to go to. Worse still, many are not aware of that there are shortcomings in the services.
In such a scenario, I feel the need to pen some guidelines for those who lead God’s people in worship week after week. This is not just for pastors or worship leaders. Neither is it just for Pentecostals and Charismatics. My prayer is that the greater Body of Jesus Christ will benefit from this humble effort.
The following chapter, “The Essence of Christian Worship,” presents biblical teaching on Christian worship. Without grasping what God demands from us in worship and without learning what worship is all about, there is no point in trying to lead a worship service.
Note: I have used male third-person pronouns in the generic sense to refer to both men and women.
Proceed to Chapter 2: The Essence of Christian Worship
Table of Contents
‘The term “Third Wave” appeared in the 1980s and 1990s and refers to Christians who embrace the type of spiritual phenomena and charismatic gifts often associated with the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, but who do not identify themselves as part of traditional Pentecostal denominations (the so-called “First Wave”) or with the Charismatic Renewal in the Roman Catholic Church and in mainline Protestant churches (the so-called “Second Wave”). Individuals within the Third Wave affirm the validity of charismatic gifts such as healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and deliverance from demons. In general, however, they do not accept the traditional Pentecostal emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a distinct experience separate from conversion, nor do they emphasize speaking in tongues as the “initial evidence” that someone has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (as do traditional Pentecostals). Coined in 1983 by C. Peter Wagner (1930–) of Fuller Theological Seminary to highlight these trends among evangelicals and other Christians within mainstream churches, the term Third Wave has come to include independent, indigenous, and postdenominational groups that also fit the above description. (When used in this broader sense, the term “neo-Charismatic” is frequently substituted in place of Third Wave.) These groups now represent a larger proportion of the worldwide Pentecostal-Charismatic movement than the first two waves combined.’ — Williams, Joseph. (2011). Third Wave. 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc1379. Source↩︎
Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers; he also runs a small ‘tent-making’ business. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.
Date: May 8, 2023