Rituals and Worship

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Worship is very important in Pentecostalism; it is encouraged and often viewed by participants as an entryway into the presence of the Holy Spirit. Worship is not limited to music.  A Pentecostal devotional life includes prayer, Bible reading, praying in tongues, seeking prophetic words from God, or receiving prophetic words for others.  A Pentecostal's devotional life includes all these practices and possibly more, depending on what kind of spiritual gifts the person has or wishes to develop.

Worship for Pentecostals is a sensory experience filled with music, body movements, sounds, dancing, shouting, praying out loud, and speaking in tongues.  Pentecostal worship services also last longer than they do in most other Christian traditions.  In some churches worship lasts two hours or more, beginning with informal prayer, moving onto open praying in tongues, wailing and shouting prayers, kneeling, moments of quiet, and a corporate prayer for the service itself.  A prolonged time of singing and music may then be followed by healing reports, salvation testimonies, more music, and then a sermon.

The music at Pentecostal services depends on the cultural and social make-up of the congregation. In older, more traditional congregations, worship music is taken from hymnals, with the heavy use of pianos, choirs, and organs.  African American Pentecostal churches will imbue the entire service with music, accentuating the worship time with heavy percussive and rhythmic sounds, punctuating sermons with Hammond B organ sounds, and leading the congregation in quieter times of slow, reflexive moments.  Contemporary, white, middle-class churches, attempting to break away from the traditional service and at the same time trying to capture a sense of the ancient Christian ways, have joined with other evangelicals in crafting the Emergent movement. This movement's goals are to capture the essence of the ancient church while remaining focused on revitalizing the contemporary church.

Newer immigrant churches add their distinctive flourishes to worship in order to maintain cultural contact with their homelands. These may include songs from the homeland, indigenous musical styles, visible reminders of home (flags and other cultural artifacts), and food.

Pentecostals have a complicated relationship with the physical body.  It is the "temple of the Holy Spirit" and therefore should not let any of the taint of the world touch it lest it become corrupted, but it is also a carnal body, already corrupted by original sin.  Part of the problem of Azusa Street was not simply that the worship was too loud, but that men and women worshiped together, and that they often fell down under the power of the Holy Spirit in the most "indelicate positions."  What the body does under the power of the Holy Spirit then can become problematic.  People may sway, sweat, jump, shout, dance, groan, fall down, run around, and engage all of their physical faculties in the midst of Pentecostal worship.  Some Pentecostal groups, however, experience little of this kind of demonstrative worship.

Worship, though, is not limited to a Sunday service.  Worship in the form of daily devotions should mark the life of every Pentecostal.  Devotions are intended to bring the person closer to God, develop a constant state of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and serve as a way to practice varied spiritual gifts in a private setting.  Most, if not all, Pentecostal churches will insist that the members of their congregation set aside daily time to devotions.

The private practice of spiritual gifts, such as praying in tongues for a sustained period of time, is viewed as having an extended period of time "talking" to God in the form of a prayer language. In some Pentecostal groups extended periods of praying in tongues are a way to build up faith for a difficult challenge such as healing or financial distress.  This private prayer language serves as a cue to the speaker since, through practice, he or she becomes cognizant of the rhythm, tone, and speed of the prayer language.  If the prayer language changes in these characteristics, this alerts the speaker of a potential urgency to their prayer.  It also signals that the pray-er has progressed to a different level in terms of this spiritual practice and it thus may embolden him or her to move toward other spiritual gifts, especially prophecy.  

Bible reading serves at least two purposes in a Pentecostal's devotional life.  First, it supports the existing theological framework of beliefs about the primacy of the Bible as the sole authority regarding matters of faith.  It also allows readers to engage their spiritual gifts again in terms of allowing the Holy Spirit to direct their reading, to "point" them in the right direction, and possibly to have a word of wisdom given to them, either for a person or for the congregation.  Whatever the devotion, Pentecostals use them in order to deepen their own theological identity, and at the same time, practice the varied spiritual gifts in a personal way that allows for testing and introspection.
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