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                Is the Holy Spirit Worthy of Worship?

Misunderstandings involving the Holy Spirit are as common as the proverbial “cold.”  While the true nature of Christ has suffered many ills across the centuries, the egregious errors perpetrated against the Holy Spirit appear endless in quantity.  One such error involves the sincere question posed by many regarding the Holy Spirit as an object of Christian worship.  Should the Holy Spirit be addressed in prayer and songs of praise?  In brief answer, it is commonly asserted that no passage of Scripture specifically commands “Worship the Holy Spirit.”

Based upon the lack of a “command text,” many have determined it is improper to view the Holy Spirit as an object of Christian worship.  These same brethren, however, do not hesitate to teach the necessity of the church assembling for worship every first day of the week, despite the fact that no “command text” exists in the New Testament.  Those arguing for the authority of biblical “example” in other matters related to the church are often discovered to be wholly inconsistent in applying the authority of “example” with regard to the object of Christian worship as depicted in the New Testament.

The determination of the worthiness of the Holy Spirit to receive worship is not depended solely upon the existence of a “command text,” but must be evaluated upon the answer to the question: Is the Holy Spirit God?  A divine Person is always worthy of worship.  The Psalmist acknowledged, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 48:1); “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised” (Psalm 18:3).  The apostle John was rebuked by the angel who exhorted, “Worship God” (Revelation 19:10: 22:9).

If it can be shown that the Holy Spirit is God, then the authority is not that He may be worshipped, but the Holy Spirit must be worshipped.  The error of many is entangled in the faulty view that the term “God” is associated only with the divine Person known more generally as the “Father.”  This view, however, is not supported by the testimony of Scripture.  The term “God” is often used to embrace the pre-incarnate Word, the incarnate Jesus, and even the Holy Spirit.

As observed by one theologian, “In the Bible all divine titles and attributes are ascribed equally to the Father, Son, and Spirit. The same divine worship is rendered to them. The one is as much the object of adoration, love, confidence, and devotion as the other. It is not more evident that the Father is God, than that the Son is God; nor is the deity of the Father and Son more clearly revealed than that of the Spirit” (Hodge, 1997, p. 444).

 

The Holy Spirit is Deity

 

The deity of the Holy Spirit is witnessed almost immediately in the opening lines of the Old Testament.  On the first day of creation, the Holy Spirit was present (see Genesis 1:2).  Job records, “By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens” (Job 26:13; cf. 33:4; Psalm 104:30).  The word “garnished” means to adorn, embellish, decorate, or make beautiful.  It was the work of the Holy Spirit to add the finishing touches to the created universe; but no one other than God has the capacity to be involved in creation. 

The Scriptures clearly depict God as consisting of more than one Person; not a distinction inferring the existence of more than one god or a composition of separate entities, but one God composed of three distinct but united Personalities.  The language expressed by God concerning Himself and His activities often includes plural pronouns.  For instance:

1) Before God created man, the heavenly counsel announced, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

2) Following man’s sin in the garden, God declared, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22).

3) Multiple human languages came into existence when God struck the people, saying, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7).

4) On the occasion of Isaiah seeing “the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted,” the Lord spoke, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (Isaiah 6:8).

The plural pronouns must be understood to infer God the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.  These three are shown to possess one name (Matthew 28:19), and that singular name belongs to the essence of God.  Our submission to baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an act of worshipful obedience.  When we are baptized into the name of God, we are reconciled to Him, enjoying a renewed relationship with the Creator.  It has been stated concerning Matthew 28:19, “If the baptismal formula is worship, then we have here worship paid to the Spirit” (Strong, 1907, p. 316).

When Jesus demands that we be baptized into the name of the Holy Spirit, He demands that we offer an act of worship to the Holy Spirit.  If the Holy Spirit is not God, this would be idolatry.  However, Jesus would never command men to perform an act of idolatry; therefore we must understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit define God.  Each of these Persons are members of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9), and the fullness of the Godhead is the one and only God of heaven and earth.

As Joseph was considering putting Mary away because she had become pregnant, an angel told him, “…that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).  Mary had been told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  One is the son of whom he is conceived; therefore, Jesus is the Son of the Holy Spirit.  But as He is called the Son of God, we must conclude that the Holy Spirit is God.

When Ananias and Sapphira devised the plan to sell property and pretend to give all the money to the apostles, Peter said to him, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).  Ananias had told only one lie, but Peter said he lied to the Holy Spirit, even God.  By this exchange of terms, Peter most certainly identifies the Holy Spirit as God.

In Luke 1:67-70, Zacharias prophesied, revealing how the “Lord God of Israel…spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old.”  But Peter said the men of old were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak (II Peter 1:21).  There is no contradiction here.  The Holy Spirit is the Lord God who spoke through the prophets.  Paul also called the Spirit “the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:17-18), therefore, we are to understand that the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are equally identified as “Lord” in the Scriptures.

In Deuteronomy 32:10-12, Moses says it was “Jehovah alone” who led the people of Israel; yet Isaiah 63:9-14 depicts the Holy Spirit as instrumental in leading the people (cf. Haggai 2:5).  Similarly, while Isaiah says they “grieved His Holy Spirit,” the Psalmist says they “grieved Him [the Most High God] in the desert” (Psalm 78:35-40).  To grieve the Holy Spirit is to grieve God, for the Holy Spirit is God.

Isaiah asked, “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him?” (40:13); yet when the apostle Paul quotes this verse by inspiration, he said, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Romans 11:34; cf. I Corinthians 2:16).  The Lord and the Spirit of the Lord are one mind, i.e., one God.

From these few examples, it must be admitted that inspiration does not hesitate to link the Holy Spirit with God.  In fact, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the writers of the Bible were moved to identify God with the three Persons generally known as the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.  The unity of these three from Genesis 1:1 forward is everywhere depicted as the existence of God. 

And if the Holy Spirit is God, it should not be thought strange that He is included in worshipful address on the pages of the New Testament; in fact, such would be expected.

 

New Testament Precedence for Worshipping the Holy Spirit

 

Although not as plenteous in the Scriptures as the worship of Jesus, adequate examples are available depicting the Holy Spirit as a worthy recipient of worship. 

1) Not many days beyond Pentecost, the apostles began suffering persecution at the hands of Jewish authorities.  Following the release of Peter and John from their very first incarceration, the two apostles assembled with their companions, reporting all that had been said to them by the chief priests and elders of Judaism.

Subsequently, a prayer was enjoined by the whole group, praising God as the Creator and Sovereign Executor of earthly affairs.  The prayer concludes with an appeal for boldness to continue speaking the word of the Lord in face of the ongoing threats, “while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:24-30).

The response to this prayer came immediately as “the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31).  The prayer had sought for the Lord to extend His hand, but it was the Holy Spirit who fell upon the group.  As one noted theologian explains, “this act of worship on the part of the disciples terminated on the Holy Spirit” (Shedd, 2003, p. 269).

2) The Epistles of Paul generally open and close with short prayers typically deemed “Benedictions.”  These benedictions include a variety of requests, but commonly appeal simply for grace and peace to come to the reader “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:3).

In the case where the benediction addresses only the Father (cf. Colossians 1:2), it is readily accepted that the request constitutes a short prayer.  However, more often than not, New Testament benedictions include at least two members of the Godhead and occasionally all three.  If viewed as a prayer when spoken only to the Father, is the benediction not also a prayer when addressed to the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as well?

In this light, consider Paul’s closing benediction to the second Corinthian letter: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (13:14).  The insightful comments of Burkitt are fitted well to this passage: “Here are the highest blessings and benefits wished to, and prayed for, in behalf of the Corinthians, which they could possibly be made partakers of; namely, all that love which doth or can flow from the Father; all that grace which was purchased by the Son, and all that fellowship and communion with, and communication from the Holy Spirit, which might render them meet for the service of Christ on earth, and for the full fruition and final enjoyment of him in heaven” (1700-1703).

Augustus Strong construed, “If the apostolic benedictions are prayers, then we have here a prayer to the Spirit” (1907, p. 316).  Another exegete has affirmed, “It is properly a prayer…It is the expression of a desire that the favours here referred to may descend on all for whom they are thus invoked…and if it is a prayer addressed to God, it is no less so than to the Lord Jesus, and to the Holy Spirit. If so, it is right to offer worship to the Lord Jesus and to the Holy Spirit” (Barnes, 1953, p. 274).

Commenting on the previous statement, Wayne Jackson has written, “Albert Barnes observed that this text provides authority for Christians to worship Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as well as the Father. This is a precious truth rarely contemplated by many children of God” (2011, p. 366). 

The prayer of 2 Corinthians 13:14 is interesting on a variety of levels.  Not only does it indicate that the Holy Spirit is worthy of hearing and answering prayer on an equality with the Father and Jesus Christ, but similar to the prayer of 2 Thessalonians 2:16, it is the name of Christ that is petitioned first and not the Father.  Contrary to the opinion of many that the Father is in some manner superior to or more highly positioned than Christ or the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures reveal the Persons of the Godhead as equal one to another – none before or beneath the other, but existing in perfect unity and harmony.

The voluntary condescension of the Word in becoming flesh through the virgin birth brought about a relegated position for Christ as a human, but His continuing nature as deity remains uninterrupted, and He, therefore, as God, is worthy of human adoration.  This explains why Paul stands not opposed to beseeching the name of Christ in prayer, even addressing Jesus first in some of his petitions.

Paul also invokes the Holy Spirit on equality with both Jesus and the Father.  The church of Christ in America as known generally by this writer no longer appreciates the unity of God as did the apostles.  Never has a prayer been uttered from the lips of any fellow worshipper in the assembly of the saints addressing the fullness of God in the manner of Paul.  The church needs to learn valuable truths pertaining to God, or else the day of judgment may prove quite surprising to many who assumed all was well, but who failed to properly know God and worship Him in the fullness of the divine essence.

3) Paul extends an anthem of praise that includes the cooperative activity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the scheme of human redemption (see Ephesians 1:3-14).  The antiquity of the Father’s plan is presented (v. 4).  The redemptive nature of Christ’s blood that affords forgiveness of sins is hailed (v. 7).  The revelatory work of the Holy Spirit is addressed (v. 9), acknowledging dependence upon God as the source of the gospel in preparation, administration, and in revelation.  The adoration of praise issuing from Paul concerns all three Persons of the Godhead; he even mentions the Holy Spirit directly in this context (v. 14).

4) In similar fashion, the apostle Peter also extols the united vocation of God in salvation, writing his letter to those “who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (1 Peter 1:1-2).  His tribute of praise continues by thanking God the Father for mercy (v. 3), mentioning the opportunity to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (v. 3).  He terminates the anthem of honor by acknowledging the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching the gospel to the world (v. 12). 

5). In the opening address of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, John includes a benediction which beseeches “grace and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ…” (1:4-5).

The description “seven Spirits” (cf. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6) is an obvious allusion to the Holy Spirit.  The number “seven” is used throughout the Scriptures to indicate completeness, fullness, or perfection; and used here with reference to the Holy Spirit, it denotes the completeness of His revelatory functions (note: it was the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the mind of God to man; cf. 1 Corinthians 2).  The term is encased in the Trinitarian format – “He who is and who was and who is to come” (i.e. the Father), “the seven Spirits” (i.e. the Holy Spirit), “and from Jesus Christ” (no explanation required). 

It should be observed that the three Persons are connected by means of coordinating conjunctions in John’s benediction.  All three are invoked in prayer for grace and peace.  This prayer by John closely resembles Paul’s closing benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14.  The apostles not only prayed to Jesus and the Father, but they viewed the Holy Spirit as a worthy recipient of prayerful address as well.  And when it is recalled that these men wrote under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the recorded prayers petitioning the Spirit are all the more remarkable for demonstrating the divine acceptance of such prayer.

6) Continuing in John’s letter of Revelation, it is interesting to note the intimate association of the “seven Spirits” with both the Father and Jesus Christ.  In 4:5, familiar descriptions of the presence of God appear, i.e., “flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”  In 5:6 the Lamb appears, “having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God.”  The Lamb, horns and eyes represent unity of essence.  Christ and the Holy Spirit are fellow workers for the salvation of mankind.

The worship which follows is directed toward the Lamb (v. 8), but the “seven Spirits of God,” i.e., the Holy Spirit, is united with the lamb as horns upon His head.  The unity involving the Holy Spirit and Christ in providing inspiration and miraculous power to the apostles is a common thread in the New Testament (John 14:16-18; cf. Mark 13:9-11; Luke 21:14-15; 2 Corinthians 13:3).  The prayers that are ascending before the Lamb (Revelation 5:8) are likewise ascending before the Holy Spirit. 

The song of praise and the reverent worship which follows is also conducted in the presence of the Holy Spirit who is in unity with the Lamb (5:9-11).  Although John indicates the praise emits from the entire creation, not once does He ever intimate that the “seven Spirits” are participating in giving the worship; rather, the trinity of the Godhead remains the object of all worship and adoration.  This clearly evinces the Holy Spirit as a worthy recipient of the worship that ascends from the earth.

7) Psalm 95 reveals an interesting paradigm.  The Psalm opens with an exhortation to “sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with Psalms.”  The psalmist continues the call, saying, “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God” (vv. 6-7).

A stern rebuke follows with God speaking directly to the people, saying, “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work” (vv. 8-9; emp. added).  Notice the first person pronouns.  The same God who was worshipped was, at other times, “tested” and “tried” by the unbelieving nation of Israel.  From this reading, most would conclude that God the Father is the speaker.

However, when the words from Psalm 95:8-9 are quoted in the letter to the Hebrews warning Christians about the danger of apostasy, the speaker is identified as the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7-11).  The same deity who was “tested” and “tried” was worthy of worship with songs of joy and with thanksgivings, but according to the inspired writer of Hebrews, this included at least the Holy Spirit.  No other explanation is plausible.

Once again the text delivers a biblical example of the unity of God.  The speaker who refers to Himself as “Me,” saying the people saw “My work,” i.e., the miraculous power that delivered them from Egypt and sustained them in the wilderness, is identified as the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7).  However, the psalmist also recognized the Lord as forming the dry land and the sea (95:4-5), but this was the work of the Word (John 1:1-3), i.e., Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate existence (Colossians 1:15-16).

The unity of the Godhead is such that the work of each is the work of all, and therefore the worship of each is the worship of all.  Christians do not serve a monad person as deity; but the God of heaven and earth is revealed as existing in a trinity of Persons.  The attempted exclusion of any one or more Persons of the Godhead in worship is to profane the worship entirely.  God, in the fullness of the divine essence, is to be worshipped.

When the children of Israel sang songs of joy and offered thanksgivings to the Lord God, they worshipped the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the Father and the Word.  The explanation of Psalm 95 by Hebrews 3:7-11 leaves no opening for any other conclusion.  The Bible teaches the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship; including both songs and prayers. 

 

The Testimony of the Early Church

 

That the previous evaluation of the biblical record is correct which views the Holy Spirit as worthy of worship is also witnessed by the earliest writings of Christians.  Many volumes have been assembled over the centuries analyzing the extant documents recording the beliefs and practices of Christians in the centuries immediately following the apostolic age of the church.  One of the most highly esteemed works in this field of study was produced by Joseph Bingham who compiled a mountain of evidence establishing the fact that the early church did not hesitate to extend Christian worship to both Christ and the Holy Spirit as equals with the Father. 

The final prayer of Polycarp (c. A.D. 69-155) was preserved in a letter from the church in Smyrna.  As he stood at the stake ready to be burned alive for his faith in Christ, Polycarp prayed, “I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee for all things, together with the eternal and heavenly Jesus Christ, thy beloved Son; with whom unto thee, and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and for ever, world without end. Amen” (1878, p. 577).

In his Second Apology, Justin Martyr, defending against charges that the church “had cast off the worship of God,” answered, “We worship and adore still the God of righteousness, and his Son, as also the Holy Spirit of prophecy” (ibid., pp. 577-8).

In the closing doxology of Clement of Alexandria, he states, “Let us give thanks to the only Father and Son, to the Son and the Father, to the Son, our Teacher and Master, with the Holy Spirit; one in all respects; in whom are all things; by whom are all things; by whom is eternal existence; whose members we are; whose is the glory and the ages; who is the perfect good, the perfect beauty, all-wise, and all-just; to whom be glory, both now and for ever. Amen” (ibid., p. 578).

Bingham described a hymn of Athenogenes (pre–c. 196 A.D.), saying it was “of ancient use in the church, addressed immediately to Christ, and containing this doxology to the whole Trinity, ‘We laud thee Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of God.’”  Bingham added that this hymn represents “a distinct testimony from that of Athenogenes, and as a further instance of the church’s ancient practice in giving Divine honor and worship, not only to the Father, but to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost” (ibid., p. 579).

Testimony of this nature could be multiplied many times over, but the examples cited affirm that the earliest Christians worshipped the Holy Spirit as God. 

Conclusion

Nothing respecting the existence of God is off limits to the manipulations of Satan.  Just as the Jews rejected Christ as God in the flesh, claiming to worship the Father, the same deceit of the devil is apparent today in the attempted disqualification of both Christ and the Holy Spirit as worthy of worship. 

For two millennia Christians have sang songs which praised the Holy Spirit as part of the divine Trinity of God.  The dark shadow of Satan is surely cast in the alteration of words originally written in church hymns.  The popular hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy (Reginald Heber, 1826), contains the words “God in Three persons, blessed Trinity!”  This phrase concludes the first and fourth verses.

The hymnal used in the church of my youth was Sacred Selections for the Church, ed. Ellis J. Crum (1956).  The original words by Heber appeared unchanged in this church hymnal (p. 59).  However, in the hymnal currently engaged, the words have been altered to read, “God over all, and blessed eternally” (Church Gospel Songs and Hymns, p. 74).

The true God of biblical revelation is under constant attack.  Satan’s goal is to seduce the church into abandoning the Divine Trinity of God.  However, the knowledge of God is made equal to the obedience of the gospel of Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).  If we succumb to the notion that only the Father is worthy of worship, it is gravely possible that we will forfeit our eternal salvation (see John 5:18-47).

May the church recognize the worthiness of the Holy Spirit, Christ, and the Father to receive the songs and prayers of the church.  May we bow reverently and humbly before the great God of heaven and earth, offering holy worship and adoration to the blessed Trinity.  And may the grace of Christ, the love of the Father, and the peace of the Holy Spirit be with all. Amen. 

Tracy White

  

References:

 

Barnes, Albert (1953), Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House).

Bingham, Joseph (1878), The Antiquities of the Christian Church, Vol. 1 (London: Reeves and Turner).

Burkitt, William (1700-1703), “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:1”. Expository Notes with Practical
          Observations on the New Testament. (www.studylight.org).

Hodge, Charles (1997), Systematic Theology (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.).

Jackson, Wayne (2011), A New Testament Commentary (Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications).

Shedd, William Greenough Thayer. Dogmatic Theology. Ed. Alan W. Gomes. 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ:
          P & R Pub.).

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