I served Word of Life International Church in Springfield, VA, USA as Music Pastor. Rev. D. Wendel Cover is my senior pastor. This wonderful church in the Washington, D.C. area has a membership drawn from over one hundred nations of the world–“every, tribe and tongue and nation!” I have been in the fulltime ministry since 1975. My study of worship began 1980 and has become the focus of my ministry. I hold bachelors and masters degrees in music education and a doctorate in worship studies. Three times it has been my privilege to teach seminars on the mission field: (1) Assemblies of God Bible College, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines in 1995, (2) Continental Theological Seminary in Brussels, Belgium in 1995, and (3) Elim Theological Seminar in Timasoara, Romania in 2001.
As Pentecostals we operate in a state of dynamic tension between opposite poles. “Fire” and “form” represents these polarities. Pentecost was born in fire, but the Holy Spirit moves in form, as well. Finding our place on the line between these and other polarities is one of the great challenges of the ministry of worship leadership.
Form is essential to Pentecost. If you say that Pentecostal worship is about freedom, you are correct. But it is a freedom within Scriptural limits and within the spiritual framework of the character of God and the ways of the Spirit. Pentecostal worship is fire focused by a form.
None of us wants an empty form. We long for worship services where people are healed and delivered, sinners are saved, believers are filled with the Spirit, and the Word of God is proclaimed in power. Shouldn’t we, therefore, throw off all forms and let the Spirit have His way? We should certainly let the Spirit have His way, but the Bible reveals God to be a God of order and form. Before the Spirit moved upon the earth in creative power, the earth was “without form and void.” After the move of the Spirit, the earth came into order: day and night were organized, as were the lights in the sky, the sea and the dry land, as well as the life in the sea, on the land, and flying through the skies. Creation tells us of an orderly and powerful Creator-God. He fashioned Adam from the earth, creating the human form. Then He breathed the breath of life into Adam and lit the fire known as the human spirit. Today, as we worship, that human spirit within connects with the Spirit of God and we cry “Abba, Father!” God breathes life into us as we worship.
Wherever you may be reading this, the fire of the Spirit is available to you. It is not American, this fire, or Asian, or African, nor does it belong to any other race or culture of man. The fire of the Holy Spirit is the presence of the Lord. As a star this fire guided the wise men and lit the Bethlehem skies with angels. It radiated from Jesus’ eyes to the eyes of fishermen and they forsook their nets to follow him. This fire scorched the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and chased the money changers from the Temple. The flame may have flickered before Pilate but was bright enough for a beaten, exhausted Jesus to declare His Kingdom to be greater than Pilate’s domain or even that of Caesar.
For a moment on the cross, the fiery eyes closed. But a split-spirit-second later Jesus strode the streets of hell and wrested the keys of death, hell and the grave from Satan. He led captivity captive as he set the prisoners of faith free. In three days, the angel rolled the stone away to reveal an empty tomb. When the women met Jesus, they soon felt the old fire again–He was alive! The two believers on the Emmaus road felt the fire burning in their hearts as Jesus explained the Word to them. The Disciples knew his fire again when they saw Him. But on the day of Pentecost tongues of fire sat upon each of the one hundred and twenty, fires of cleansing and healing, the fires of the presence of Jesus.
This is our New Covenant worship–the fires of Spirit within the forms of truth. And this will be our subject.
Dr. Steve Phifer received a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. He has taught at Valley Forge University and Southeastern Assemblies of God University. For many years he was the Worship Pastor at Word of Life Church in Alexandria, VA.
More of Dr. Phifer’s materials can be found at stevephifer.com.