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Worship in Oneness Pentecostalism, Part 2

But Oneness worship itself, after its first decade, also fell into the pattern of formalizing Pentecostal worship, although the doctrinal distinctives of the movement left a peculiarly Oneness mark on these routinized worship forms. Contemporary Oneness worship follows the normal pattern of Pentecostal life. The Oneness believer structures his life—most specifically, his social and religious life—around the regular worship services of his congregation. The believer dedicates a substantial portion of time during the week to regular and special services: active members of the congregation attend all regular services, whereas the less committed develop their own pattern of attendance. Oneness congregations usually offer five basic weekly activities: Sunday school, Sunday morning worship service, Sunday evening evangelistic service, a midweek Bible training session, and a midweek prayer meeting. (In many cases, Oneness churches combine the Bible study and prayer meeting into a single midweek service usually held on Wednesday night.)11

Like all Pentecostal worship, Oneness services provide an opportunity for the believer to personally and actively participate in the church's life through corporate music, prayer, testimony, and affirmation of the preached Word. The supernatural is viewed as latent in every service, ready to interrupt the normal order with a "divine invasion." There exists a "constant intersection" between the natural and supernatural in the Pentecostal service along with a "constant susceptibility" of the natural being swallowed up by the supernatural.12 For the Pentecostal, especially the Oneness believer, the divine is more than just an object of worship, it is also the subject of action within community worship.

To be sure, the non-Pentecostal feels that the divine acts and speaks in a special way through the preached Word of the ordained minister, and perhaps even in a general way in the hearing, confession, prayer, and sung praise of the congregation. The Pentecostal, however, feels that the divine speaks throughout the entire service in a special way throughat different times, in different manners, and by different personsthe entire congregation. The result is the Pentecostal congregation's feeling that heaven is open not only in the preacher's proclamation but in the assembly's participation.13

Oneness Pentecostal worship is corporate in its performance and results. All elements of Oneness worship as well as the formalized order of worship within which these elements appear are ultimately community expressions. Community participation in these elements and this order evokes the moment of "divine epiphany"—the explosive "real presence" of Christ within the congregation which converts the uninitiated and renews the believer. Pentecostal services offer several elements absent from other evangelical expressions: concert prayers and songs, spontaneous testimonies, demonstrative acts of worship14 (including hand- clapping, shouting, and dancing), public exercise of spiritual gifts, and the extended "after service."

Oneness Pentecostals engage in public prayer and hymn singing with pronounced enthusiasm. Both prayer and singing are community experiences which create an atmosphere for later evangelistic appeals. During the prayer service, each congregation member prays aloud, vocalizing requests and praises. Such concert prayers often border on ecstasy, evoking extended periods of spontaneous worship. Such extended prayer services, although potential at any point in the service, usually occur only during the after service following the altar appeal when the congregation unites in prayer for the salvation of the unconverted. Similarly, Oneness Pentecostal song services elicit the full participation of the congregation. Loud, animated music, usually provided by an amateur church orchestra, accompanies a variety of hymns and choruses. These songs tend to be repetitive and the choruses are sung numerous times. More often than not, the lyrics of these songs focus on the joy of conversion, a comparison of present salvation with past sinfulness, and the efficacy of the presence of Christ to save—thus, arousing the congregation to worship and expectancy of a manifestation of God's saving action. Occasionally, songs concerning specific doctrinal distinctives or the superiority of the Oneness claim are sung. While these songs are in the minority, their frequent use is significant. Like prayer, Oneness singing often borders on ecstasy and may be accompanied by clapping, raised hands, and even more demonstrative physical actions such as shouting, dancing, or running. A skilled song-leader will allow the congregation to spontaneously respond for a while or to a certain limit and then carefully reassert his leadership role.15

Pentecostal worship also encourages personal testimonies—public sharing of individual experiences as praises to God and for the edification of the entire congregation. Although sometimes spontaneously interrupting the given order of worship, testimonies are usually limited to a designated portion of the service. These voluntary expressions of praise often center upon personal spiritual dilemmas, answered prayers, healings, or conversion. Testimonies tend to follow a three-step pattern: an initial word of praise to God, a recounting of various blessings for which the speaker is thankful (most often cast in a "before/after" mold emphasizing the troubles of sinfulness and the blessings of salvation), and a fairly standardized conclusion (usually requesting continued prayers from the congregation).16 Oneness testimonies also reveal perceptions of opposition and hostility from the secular world and historic Christendom. Against this "hostility," these speakers often vindicate the Oneness message as "the truth" or "full truth" in contrast to the limited, insufficient understanding of the "false" Christian groups. As a whole, the testimony service provides a stage for public confession and catharsis in which the most personal problems are shared. This results, more often than not, in real, observable encouragement from the congregation and points to the availability of similar saving action for the unconverted.

Pentecostal services often progress through a series of moments of ecstatic worship and subsequent "cooling down" as the pastor or devotional leader reasserts control. These ecstatic moments, which normally build to the crescendo of the "divine epiphany" in the after service, produce demonstrative physical manifestations in the congregation such as dancing, shouting, exuberant singing, falling into trances, and prostration. Such manifestations, whether contrived, conditioned, or truly spontaneous, are uniformly interpreted as human response to the "real presence" of God in the worship. This overwhelmed state in which normal inhibitions and behavior patterns are suspended often borders on chaos if not carefully managed by a leader skilled in directing such corporate displays of emotion. Interestingly, the desire to prolong the intensity of this ecstasy is evident in the Pentecostal description of heaven as a place of uninterrupted worship, unending ecstasy in the presence of God. The degree of participation in these times of ecstatic worship directly measures the individual's position within the community. Degrees of surrender, hesitancy, and unease emerge within the congregation during these extremes of worship. Such ecstatic worship "heats up" congregational pressure on the unconverted to respond to God's available presence and salvation. Not surprisingly, the more extreme physical manifestations occur during the after service.

From the earliest revivals, Pentecostal worship has encouraged free, regular exercise of spiritual gifts in the congregation. These gifts—delineated in I Corinthians 12-14 as direct, specific acts of the living Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit in the church body—operate as spiritual tokens or signs which arrest the attention of the unbeliever and vindicate Pentecostal worship as the arena of divine action. This is especially true of the more visible and striking gifts: healing, tongues and interpretation, and prophecy. Through these spiritual operations, an atmosphere of the miraculous arises which invests the message and worship with an aura of divine presence and authority.17

The public use of the gifts has undergone a clear evolution in the movement's maturing years. These gifts, rather than a formal sermon, provided the most direct "word" from God during the earliest revivals. Although the sermon came to usurp this role in the early denominational years, ample room for such manifestations remained within the growing framework of the service. Over time, the order of the service has become so fixed that operation of the gifts is normally restricted to times of corporate prayer and singing and during the demonstrative worship of the after service. This is especially true in "performance- oriented" churches in which a spontaneous interjection of spiritual gifts disrupts, rather than accents, the program of worship.18

Classical Pentecostals understand glossolalia, tongue- speaking, as an inspiration of the Spirit empowering the believer to supernaturally speak in a language he does not know. Viewed as the tangible evidence of Spirit baptism, glossolalia occupies the central place in Pentecostal thought and corporate worship. Pentecostals explain tongue-speaking—in the language of dispensational premillennialism—as God's unique gift for the church age. (All other spiritual manifestations, including the other gifts listed in I Corinthians 12, were already experienced in Old Testament times.) When this notion is wedded to the Pentecostal scenario of end time restoration of primitive Christianity, tongues are celebrated as God's special gift for the latter-day church. Rejection of glossolalia is, therefore, rejection of the express will of God in the present world.19

Tongue-speaking plays three distinct roles in Pentecostal worship and life. Although in each case the tongues experience takes the same form, the purpose and results differ. First, tongue-speaking is seen as an evidence of Spirit baptism, the divine confirmation of the initial infilling of the believer. Second, tongues are used in private prayer for personal edification. Tongues as a "prayer language" involves a transcendent level of communion between the human and divine and results in the enrichment of the individual believer. Third, speaking in tongues, along with the complementary gift of interpretation of tongues, provides a prophetic message for the congregation, a message from God which edifies the believers and convicts the unbelievers. These messages usually involve a proclamation about the church's future, a promise of God concerning the church's present, or an admonition concerning sin or improper behavior within the community.20 In each case, tongue-speaking functions as the key spiritual gift through which God speaks to his people and they respond to his presence. Glossolalia validates, not only the believer's initial Spirit baptism, but also the on-going authority of spiritual worship.

The gift of prophecy parallels the third function of glossolalia. Whereas the "message" of tongues is expounded to the congregation through the gift of interpretation, prophecy provides a more direct communication from God. When prompted by the Spirit, the prophet speaks in sentences and phrases in the vernacular—often in biblically sounding language—which communicate a divine exhortation usually cast in eschatological overtones. In present forms of Pentecostal worship, such utterances serve to support, rather than supplant, the formal sermon. Through the gifts of utterance—tongues, interpretation, and prophecy—the proclaimed message of God's readiness to save is confirmed in the worshipping community.21

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11Compare this weekly schedule with the typical schedule of black Pentecostal churches discussed in Paris, Black Pentecostalism, pp. 49-53.

12Bruner, Theology of the Holy Spirit, pp. 132- 36.

13Ibid., p. 137.

14See Ranaghan, "Rites of Initiation," p. 250 for a similar evaluation of the distinctives of Pentecostal worship.

15See Bruner, Theology of the Holy Spirit, pp. 133-34; Masserano, "A Study of the Worship Forms," p. 72; Paris, Black Pentecostalism, pp. 71-79; and Rooth, "Social Structure," pp. 83-85.

16Paris, Black Pentecostalism, pp. 58-61. See also Bruner, Theology of the Holy Spirit, p. 135 and Rooth, "Social Structure," pp. 85-86.

17Bruner, Theology of the Holy Spirit, pp. 139-40 and Masserano, "A Study of the Worship Forms," p. 73.

18Ranaghan, "Rites of Initiation," pp. 251-54.

19Bruner, Theology of the Holy Spirit, p. 143.

20Bruner, Theology of the Holy Spirit, pp. 142-48 and Ranaghan, "Rites of Initiation," pp. 255-56.

21Bruner, Theology of the Holy Spirit, pp. 142-43 and Ranaghan, "Rites of Initiation," pp. 254-55.

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