So, if you're new to the website: You are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.
Whoops, I got ahead of myself.
There is a lot to say on the subject of inviting the Holy Spirit into a church service. I will do my best to keep my thoughts succinct and to the point. In order to lay a bit of a foundation for this conversation, though, it would be helpful for you to check out the video below.
If you want to get to the point, you can jump to the 5:14 mark and watch for a couple of minutes. If you'd like to start at the beginning or skip the whole thing, that works too.
If you've been attending church semi-regularly over the last couple of years, you may have noticed a change in the verbiage used by those who lead music (often called "worship leaders") when they pray. Due to songs like the one above and the popularization of bands like Jesus Culture, Hillsong, Bethel, and the like, some of those up front are now telling the Spirit that He is invited to join the believers in the service.
It's an interesting phenomenon. It's also a phenomenon that should stop.
Here are my main concerns about Christians inviting the Holy Spirit into a church service.
It's not biblical.
In Scripture, no person ever prays to the Holy Spirit. Bible readers find many examples of people praying, along with imperatives and instructions concerning prayer; however, never is there found any evidence that praying to the Spirit is good and right.
Jesus got specific when He taught on prayer. He instructed that His disciples pray to the Father (Matthew 6:7-9, 7:11) and to pray in His name (John 16:23-28). Never did Jesus teach that people should pray to the Holy Spirit.
Good Trinitarian theology may lead someone to respond with a statement like, "But the Holy Spirit is God and we should speak to Him because He hears us."
Although that is good Trinitarian theology, it is not complete Trinitarian theology. What does the Bible say?
Though it is true that the Holy Spirit is God -- He is eternal, He hears us, He is a Person -- it is also true that He maintains a specific role within the Godhead. The Savior said that the Spirit's role is to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul explains how the Holy Spirit is the One who teaches believers the word of God, yet he never says that they should pray to Him. In 1 Peter 1:21 it says that the Spirit moved men along as they wrote Scripture, yet those Scripture-writers never instructed that people pray to the Spirit.
Instead of speaking to Him, Christians are told to walk in step with Him (Galatians 5:25) and to not quench Him (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
Therefore, based on that short study, it would be biblically unwarranted for a person leading a congregation to ask the Spirit anything in their behalf. This is not to say that it's sinful to pray to Him -- it's just not biblical.
Still, one could make the argument from silence: Just because Scripture doesn't say we should, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't. This form of logic is never a good foundation for any practice that a person implements in his/her life; nevertheless, here are a couple of more concerns about inviting the Spirit into a church service.
It's not logical.
Good theology is derived from the Bible, and the Bible says that once a person believes in the gospel he/she is sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30). The Spirit indwells that the believer (1 Corinthians 6:19) and the Spirit has been poured out upon all true Christians (Romans 5:5, Titus 3:4-6).
Therefore, inviting the Holy Spirit into a place where He already exists is illogical.
Think about it. On a Sunday morning, churches across the globe are filled with people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (the church is God's body, His people). This means when the people come together, the Holy Spirit is filling the building through the people He indwells.
What does this imply? At a minimum, it's just bad theology.
This leads to the important theological difference between indwelling and filling. After all, if every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit, why does Paul say that they should "be filled"?
This instruction was given not to imply that Christians may become un-indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but to assert that individual Christians need to re-subject themselves to His authority. Being filled with the Spirit (as opposed to alcohol) means to be under His control. As He works in the Christian to bring about godliness, the believer is called to yield to Him.
Now taking the mind back to the phrase in question, it's helpful to dwell on the word invite. Often, church leaders will "invite" the Spirit into a church service, as opposed to asking or summoning. Here's what the dictionary says of the word's definition: "To request the presence or participation of."
Someone can only request the presence or participation of another if he/she is in a position of authority or ownership. The invitee is always in subjection to the invitation-giver. After all, if the invitation hasn't been extended, the invitee would not have had opportunity to participate.
When man is the one inviting God to do something, he is putting himself in a position of authority and action. God is in subjection and passive. Not good.
In the New American Standard Bible, there are 25 instances that the Greek word kaleo (or a variation thereof) is translated into invite (or a variation thereof). All 25 occurrences are in the context of a person in a position of ownership or authority inviting those who would otherwise be left out.
When considering God's people and His Spirit, this phraseology just doesn't make sense. People are God's people because of His Spirit. The church exists because of the Spirit's work within them. He does not need to be invited. He is already there. Inviting the Spirit just doesn't make sense.
And even still, if all of that doesn't convince you, consider this.
When I was a new believer I visited the local Christian bookstore in my hometown. I don't remember what I was buying that day but I told the lady at the counter what church I attended. She told me what church she attended. I then asked her what that church was all about and I'll never forget her response.
"We're [a little more] Spirit-filled," she said. I can't remember if she actually said "a little more" or if my memory added that in just to soften the blow.
I instinctively thought to myself, "And my church isn't?!"
But this tends to be the m.o. for charismatic churches: They place too much attention on the person of the Holy Spirit. I say "too much," because they go beyond His biblical role and they glorify His Personhood in a way that Scripture doesn't instruct. His job is to glorify the Son, remember?
The inviting of the Spirit into a church is unequivocally associated with the charismatic movement. At the heart of their plea is often a desire for a mystical experience, one that will send waves of people into another spiritual dimension of worship. They're asking for Pentecost + some.
Did you notice in the video above (if you started at 5:14) that the woman starts babbling incoherently? Did you notice all of the people raising hands (hopefully they're holy) and moving as though they've been overcome by a force? Did you notice that the one song goes on for 12 minutes? Okay, that's just a pet peeve.
When the Spirit is invited into the church service of a charismatic congregation, the expectation is that there would be a supernatural experience. The desire isn't for that of a life of progressive sanctification or for good conversations that morning full of wisdom or for humble attitudes -- all of which are truly supernatural. Instead, the desire is for an emotionally moving and jittery sensation often described as worship (that's a misnomer).
Inviting the Spirit needs to stop. More Bible reading needs to start. That's where we'll hear Him speak to us.