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Joy Beyond Understanding: Common Ground in Suffering and Worship among Eastern European Christians During the Communist Era

 

Joy beyond understanding manifested in exuberant worship

From the Pentecostal perspective (I am a Pentecostal pastor), the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people is comprehensive, continuous and profound in the same time. As professor Amos Yong said of the Holy Spirit that he “enables missionaries to brave excursion into strange places, emboldens them to share the Good News of Christ in situations in which they might otherwise choose to be silent…provide supernatural insight and knowledge that leads to precise, purposeful and meaningful evangelistic activity…heals those who are physically, psychologically or otherwise afflicted…sustains missionaries and evangelists amidst their challenging circumstances…”[24]

Christian worship is more than a Christian practice, it is a liturgical act practiced in all Christian churches and branches. During the last decade, the phrase “Praise and Worship” became so well known that it looks there is nothing new we can say about this topic.

The worship service is a special place and time of the fellowship of Christian believers with God is “the place where people seek the presence of God and from which other kinds of encounters are experienced…where the glory of the Lord is revealed in power and people are transformed for the sake of Kingdom of God.”[25]

Worship is an complex act of recognizing the spiritual sovereignty of God in the Christian life that can take a variety of meanings and forms “ranging from indicating solely the corporate singing that happens in a service, praise, intercessory prayers, preaching, communion and ministry offered to the sick.”[26]

Christian worship is a part of Christian spirituality and its variety can be observed both in historical churches as well as in the Protestant and Evangelical churches. The priest’s liturgy of the Orthodox and Catholic priests, is an worship act based on old historical tradition, the Evangelical worship includes personal and corporate prayer, songs, hymns and testimonies and all of these blended with a deep conviction of presence of God in midst of Christians. Any kind of church, regardless if it is small or large, made by intellectual or illiterate people, includes in its expression the practice of worship. Prayer and worship are a kind of spiritual twins in Pentecostal congregations. As Amos Yong said “If prayer manifests the affections of human heart in longing for their Creator, then praise and worship unfold the congregational or corporate affections of the church, understood according with the New Testament metaphor as the “Bride of Christ”, for their groom.[27]

The expression of worship of Pentecostal Christian in Romania is by songs, by corporative prayers when they express their gratitude and praise to God, all together at the same time. By songs, as part of worship, Christians express their gratitude and joy toward God for his mercy and blessings. During the worship in Pentecostal communities there are spiritual manifestations by means of gifts which are understood to be “capacities and events through which God encounters individuals and worshipping congregation by means of his Spirit.”[28] According with Jesus teaching, true worship is in Spirit and truth (John 4), it is not about a “religious feeling”, which can be present in worship, but about a mode of desire for God.[29]

The songs which the Pentecostals sing express joy in the Spirit, hope, praise or encouragement for a victorious life; The worship songs are addressed directly to Jesus and to God, they are also songs of glory which relate the transcendent God to the worshipping congregation and celebrate the encounter of such transcendence in an immediate way[30].

During the Communist regime in Romania many songs expressing joy, hope, faith in Jesus, the call to spiritual warfare was forbidden to be sung and have never been published in editions of songs books that followed.

Here it is an example of such banned songs for maybe 20 years because it expressed the joy or the mobilization for spiritual battle:

There is a joy who reigns
Without shade, without cloud
What forever lasts
As last His giver.
What a joy I found in Jesus,
Leaning on his eternal arm
What happiness, what peace I found,
In my journey to Canaan!

There to our dear Lord
There are endless joy,
Which saints will inherit
When they arrive there.

When the fight will end, with Him I will be,
He will comfort me, wiping my tears
I sit at His right hand, giving me a crown
And so with him forever, I will enjoy.

Up in heaven is great joy
When a sinner is brought
Out of darkness and lethargy,
To serve Lord Jesus.

These songs were banned because carry with them hope in eternal life, encouragement, mobilization and joy when somebody gave him or her life to Jesus. Very often when Pentecostal Christians sang this kind of song they expressed a joy beyond understanding, a very deep touch of Holy Spirit, they erupted in tears, they lifted their arms toward heaven, they forget about their needs and oppression and were filled with the supernatural presence and joy of Holy Spirit. This encounter with the supernatural provides hope and joy, “The experience of believers who had explained their encounter with the Spirit in terms of breath, wind or rivers was then encapsulated in songs that used the same imagery, these songs becoming the ongoing vehicle for believers to explain their experiences.[31]

The spirit of believers was overwhelmed with the spiritual presence because “although distinctly different in origin, destiny and magnitude, the human spirit and the Divine Spirit are made for each other, according to a rationality ultimately designed to replicate the relationality of the divine and the human in the person of Jesus Christ”[32]

Together with songs, the prayer as unity of desires toward God, invoking his presence and glorify his majesty, plays an important role in Pentecostal worship. The Romanian Pentecostal prays all together at the same time knowing that God is able to listen them and also realizing that each of them has some personal need to share with God in prayers. During the prayer time sometimes are exercised the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, speaking in tongues, and also some are baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit. All this openness toward spirituality, toward God as almighty Father brings joy beyond understanding in Pentecostal hearts.

Prayer is the expression of personal states of joy and dependency upon the Divine, it is the frame of intercession for others and wonderful opportunity to praise God. According to Paul’s teaching believers pray with mind and with spirit, they sing with the mind and also the spirit (I Cor. 14:15).

Pentecostal Christians, in their spirituality, put emphasis on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which according with their theology denotes “a post-conversion occasion when someone is overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit and evidences that empowerment by speaking in tongues.”[33] The Holy Spirit baptism is a personal spiritual experience which occurred “as moments of koinonia and a fresh committed to the righteousness of God downing in the world across gulfs of prejudice, fear and hurt.”[34] When Christians are aware of the immanent presence of the Holy Spirit, when they experience his spiritual presence and touch, they find an incommensurable joy, a joy beyond understanding brought in their hearts by the Spirit himself.

During the worship time there can be spiritual manifestation of the presence the Holy Spirit by prophecy which is “regarded as a Spirit-inspired message directed to the congregation for the purpose of insight and edification, although occasionally containing predictive elements”[35] it is “a divinely inspired message that is articulated in human words.”[36]

Finally, the personal testimonies which aim to lift God s presence, power and wisdom in midst of congregation, play an important role in the Pentecostal tradition. I can say that the testimonies precede and provoke the worship since its function is to relate to the “cloud of witnesses”, to reveal the unity within the Body of Christ, opening ways for members to worship God in songs or by clapping and also encouraging those listening to be stronger in their faith.[37]

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About the Author: Eugen Jugaru, Ph.D. (Lucain Blaga University, Sibiu, Romania), is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the Pentecostal Theological Institute in Bucharest, Romania. He has pastored a Pentecostal church since 1993 and is the former President of Operation Mobilization Romania.

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