Pentecostal Worship: Introduction

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The issue of Liturgy dealing with “Pentecostal Worship,” guest-edited by L. Edward Phillips and Tanya Riches looks at many aspects of this Holy Spirit-led faith expression. Here is the Introduction to that issue from the guest editors to whet your appetite for further reading. –– Melinda Quivik

Over the previous century, the various streams of liturgical reform in the Western churches may be characterized as quests for a more profoundly real encounter with God in worship. Reformers of the Catholic stream of reform found this reality in Christian participation in the transcendent Body of Christ. Mainline Protestants in North America sought this reality through the transcendent power of aesthetic form and art. [1] The theme of this issue of Liturgy is Pentecostal worship, which has looked to direct experience of God's divine power as the core reality of worship. This experience is not mere awareness of the presence of God as in some other patterns of liturgical reform. For Pentecostals, worship is a full-body, participatory engagement with God. The common hallmarks of Pentecostalism, such as speaking in tongues, spiritual healing, and miraculous signs, manifest God's presence as an embodied, participatory, ecstatic encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The Pentecostal–charismatic movement is highly diverse, representing over 500 million global adherents. [2] The history of many Pentecostals traces back to the 1901 prayer experiments of Charles Parham and the 1906 Azusa Street Revival led by William Seymour in Los Angeles. [3] Yet, as early as 1909, a report in The American Journal of Theology documented similar, virtually simultaneous movements in Australia, India, Korea, and various locations in Europe. [4] By the 1960s, Pentecostal forms of worship and prayer had spilled into mainline Protestant congregations through the charismatic renewal movement and into Catholic congregations through the Catholic Pentecostal movement. The University of Notre Dame began hosting yearly meetings for Catholic Pentecostals in 1967, and by 1974 over 25,000 attended the gathering. [5] Today many congregations around the globe and across the denominational spectrum employ worship music from the Vineyard churches and Churches of God in Christ that originate in the United States, and from Hillsong, which has spread from its home in Australia. This issue of Liturgy examines the Pentecostal/Charismatic worship and music as a global phenomenon. Many Christian recording artists and new hymn writers show influences of the movement.

The first three essays include some discussion of the privileged role of music in Pentecostal–charismatic worship. Mark Porter analyzes what he terms the “cosmopolitanism” of Pentecostal worship, a quality of worship that transcends nationality and ethnicity, allowing Pentecostals intuitively to feel at home in worship settings regardless of geographic location. This distinctive Pentecostal character is rather parallel to the experience of Catholics who intuitively recognize the order of the mass across national boundaries.

Mark Cartledge gives an account of charismatic worship in three Anglican congregations. In the tension between “liturgical order” and “charismatic freedom,” Cartledge sees emerging orders that incorporate into recognizable Pentecostal structures pieces of the Anglican liturgy, encouraging expressive freedom.

Gerardo Marti explores a distinctive characteristic of Pentecostal worship involving both personal discipline and a worshiping community: the practice of surrendering to the power of the Holy Spirit, rehearsed through established and familiar styles of music and prayer that actively promote an experience of “letting go” in the presence of God.

The next three essays focus specifically on music. Nathan Myrick describes both the physics and the human experience of musical entrainment, accepting the fact that the experience of Pentecostal worship music is not different in kind from the experience of a rock concert. He proposes a positive theological evaluation of this physically effective dynamic in musical performance.

Birgitta J. Johnson provides a case study of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California, that demonstrates how the American Black gospel musical tradition has become a bridge across the divides of language, culture, ethnicity, or denomination. She argues that such missional use of music in Pentecostal congregations demonstrates openness toward cultural difference that is constitutive of Pentecostal identity.

Describing this Pentecost impulse from another direction, Jean Kidula writes about the strong influence of several prominent African songwriters and performers popular within North American congregations and ministries. Her essay is further evidence of the generous cultural exchange that Pentecostal congregations have adopted worldwide.

Finally, Tanya Riches explores Pentecostalism within an Indigenous Aboriginal congregation in Australia and issues some caution regarding the transnational homogenization of Pentecostal worship. Using the categories of the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, she argues for the contextual value of culture for authentic congregational identity.

These voices illustrate the rich diversity of content and method found among contemporary scholars of global Pentecostalism, signaling the growing presence of Pentecostals in the guild of liturgical studies.

We conclude with an example from Ed Phillips’s experience teaching Public Worship in an American mainline Protestant school of theology. Recognizing that many forms of worship and prayer can be practiced in the classroom, he notes, however, that: “I cannot imagine saying to my students, ‘Ok, let’s all speak in tongues to get a feel for that.’ Or ‘Let’s try out being slain in the spirit.’” Such ritual actions may be faked or lampooned, but they resist simulation. This is because those of us who have experienced such practices know they are profoundly real.


1. See for example Willard L. Sperry, Reality in Worship (New York: Macmillan, 1925).

2. Monique Ingalls, “Introduction: Interconnection, Interface and Identification in Pentecostal- Charismatic Music and Worship,” in The Spirit of Praise: Music and Worship in Global Pentecostal- Charismatic Christianity, ed. Monique M. Ingalls and Amos Yong (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 2015), 1.

3. Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2001), 6.

4. Frederick G. Henke, “The Gift of Tongues and Related Phenomena at the Present Day,” The American Journal of Theology 13, no. 2 (1909): 196–9.

5. Thomas J. Csordas, Language, Charisma and Creativity: The Ritual Life of a Religious Movement (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1997), xiv.


All the essays dealing with aspects of Pentecostal worship in Liturgy 33, no. 3 are available by personal subscription and through many libraries.

L. Edward Phillips is associate professor of worship and liturgical theology at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, and a former Editor-in-Chief of Liturgy.

Tanya Riches lectures at Hillsong College, Sydney, Australia, and is a researcher at the Centre for Disability Studies, University of Sydney, and is co-editor of The Hillsong Movement Examined (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Liturgy 33, no. 3 (2018): 1-3

David Turnbloom