Friday, March 24, 2006

Worship in the Spirit

From chapter 6 of Worship in the Spirit – charismatic worship in the Church of England, by James H S Steven, published by Paternoster Press 2002
[Studies in Evangelical History and Thought series]

The Wimber ideology, reinforced by the "Toronto Blessing’ gave a specifically theological rationale for the public display of ecstatic behaviour; it was the evidence of God’s activity among the assembly. Thus bodies that fell to the ground in the ‘prayer ministry’ were signs of the power of God at work, as we were assured, for example, in the ‘prayer ministry’ at St.D by the priest’s public explanation, and by the action of the sacramental anointing of those who had fallen to the floor. This was also reflected in the way participants named the phenomenon as being ‘slain in the Spirit’ (‘falling under the Power ‘ is another expression used in charismatic literature). As I have discussed, ‘prayer ministers’ were encouraged to pray with their eyes open as they watched for somatic signs of God’s Spirit at work in their respondents. Songs celebrated a visibly active God, such as the petition in the following Vineyard song refrain:

Show Your power, O Lord our God;
Show Your power, O Lord our God,
Our God!

This attention to the visible activity of God was also illustrated in shift of congregational gaze away from leadership at the front of the public ‘prayer ministry’ area which in all cases observed was situated within what could be termed ‘congregational space’ (when ‘prayer ministry’ occurred in front of congregational seating, the areas used were physically and symbolically distinct from the leadership space occupied by music groups and service leaders and by all appearances were an extension of congregational space).

This shift is analogous to the contrast between the social arrangements of the live ‘gig’ and the discotheque. Unlike the stage of a live performance, in a disco it is the dance-floor that becomes the focus for gaze. As Thornton comments, ‘In the absence of visually commanding performers the gaze of the audience has turned back upon itself. Watching and being seen are key pleasures of discotheques.’ Similarly, in contrast to the ‘time of worship’ where congregational gaze focused upon the music groups, in ‘prayer ministry’ the congregational gaze turned in upon itself and focused upon the ‘prayer ministry’ area. Despite the occasional encouragement from leaders not to concentrate on ecstatic phenomena, it was clear that there were a significant number of individuals within the congregation who, like me, were simply watching what was going on.
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