January 7, 2018
Citing a trend in evangelical churches that emphasized man’s reason over God’s revelation; human’s perceived needs over God’s definition of man’s need; earthly relevance over spiritual relevance; the temporal over the eternal; and the satisfying of contemporary culture over seeking God’s pleasure, Richard Mayhue, of the Master’s Seminary, wrote:
“The church is increasingly in danger of equating religion with Christianity, and making “going to church” equal with salvation. The church increasingly substitutes human power for God’s power and replaces talk that centers on God directly with mere peripheral talk about Him. The church increasingly confuses emotion with worship in Spirit and Truth and looks toward the cleverness of man’s words rather than to the power of the Gospel. If the evangelical church remains on its present course, we fear that, by popular demand, the next generation may replace true Christianity with an impotent, idolatrous religion as did the ancient churches of Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea.”
The rest of the article delivers a scathing criticism of churches that are pursuing a market-driven approach, pastors behaving like CEO’s, and churches offering their worship as a kind of marketable product, focusing on performance more than participatory worship — things that are prevalent in many churches today…but he didn’t write the article just recently, he wrote the article more than 20 years ago in 1995.
Today the landscape of America is covered by churches that worship in any which way that one can imagine and tend toward practical, moralistic messages designed to encourage and not to offend. This is what some commentators call a “moralistic, therapeutic, deism.” They emphasize the experience and feel of church and practice worship in a way that is inconsistent with the way church has approached worship for generations, spawning the statement, “This isn’t your parent’s church” or “This isn’t your grandparent’s church.”
And, for some, this is a welcome change.
But perhaps instead of just changing things, we ought to be asking why our parents’ church worshiped the way it did…even asking whether Biblically there is a right way and a wrong way to worship. Because if you ask Jesus, he seems to think that there is.
And that’s what I would like to explore over these next few weeks, but let’s begin with Jesus’ statement as to worship in Spirit and Truth.
Now, to set the context, Jesus has been going through Samaria and encounters a woman at the well. And this is an account which we know well. Jesus offers her the water of life which she can only receive from him and as the dialogue continues, she recognizes him as the Messiah. Then, as a result of this visit, she and her whole village come to faith.
But during the conversation, the question of worship in the temple comes up. You see the Samaritans were considered unclean by the Jewish people — half-breeds at best as most of them had been imported to the area at the time of Babylon’s rule.
So, those Samaritans who wished to worship God could not enter Jerusalem to go to the Temple. Instead, they ended up trying to worship on the mountain where Jesus was. You see, in fulfillment of God’s command to Moses, Joshua had built an altar and monument to God (Deuteronomy 27:4), but Joshua’s shrine (as the Samaritans called it) was only meant to be temporary and Jerusalem was meant to be the place of God’s worship for the people (2 Chronicles 6:6).
So, where the people were to worship became a point of contention. Jesus answers her question this way:
“The hour is coming when neither on this mountain (Mount Gerizim) nor in Jerusalem (Mount Zion) will you worship the Father (location is not important). You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”
Let’s stop here and unpackaged that statement, for of this statement, John Calvin wrote that “All good intentions are struck by a lightning bolt.”
Why? The Samaritans worshipped without knowledge…their intentions were Good, they had Moses’ books but not the rest of the Prophets and Writings. So, without the whole, they speculated and incorporated many pagan elements.
The Jews had been given the whole council of God. Both groups were in error in Jesus’ day: The Samaritans had zeal without knowledge and the Jews had knowledge without zeal. But true worship contains both…but it begins with knowledge. And thus Paul writes:
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”…he goes on to say, “of course not!” (Romans 3:1-3)
But Jesus continues his statement:
“But the hour is coming and is now here when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in Truth.”
So, according to Jesus, there is a right way to worship him…notice the emphasis on the word, “must” in the statement…we must worship in spirit and truth. God is not interested in human inventions or locations; he is interested in Spirit and Truth.
But what does it mean to “worship in Spirit and Truth?”
To begin with, we need to ask ourselves the question as to what worship is in the first place.
To go back to Richard Mayhue for a moment, he describes worship as “a reverent pursuit of God’s glory.”
His boss at the Master’s Seminary, John MacArthur, describes worship as “A response built upon the Truth…” What truth? The Truth of God’s character found in God’s word.
The Heidelberg Catechism states that our worship is an expression of our gratitude toward God, expressed in fear and reverence and not by earthly images or inventions of man…but only by the Word of God.
To go to the dictionary for a minute, it defines worship as “an expression of reverence and adoration of a deity.” To be fair, even the English word’s origins communicate the same notion, originally meaning to ascribe “worth” to something or someone.
In the New Testament there are three words that are translated as “worship.”
The word that Jesus uses here is “proskuneo,” which literally means “to kiss toward” — a reflection of showing your adoration and affection by kissing a person or object (the ancient practice of kissing idols which is the backdrop of Isaiah’s language that he was a man of “unclean lips amongst a people of unclean lips.
There is also the word “latreuo,” which means to serve or labor in honor of our God. It is a reflection of our submission to him and is the reason we label what we do as a “worship service.”
Third there is “threskeia,” which typically refers to rites and practices associated with religion or worship, but that James also uses to speak of our doing justice to widows and orphans (James 1:26-27).
So, with this in front of us, we can infer several things about the nature of what worship is:
Note, we can speak of worship in two senses: The first sense we can call “worship in all of life” where we honor God in all we do (wherever we are) in accordance to the Word and with the intent to honor our God and King. We act justly toward others and do not cut corners, lie, gossip, or bully. We act with integrity, forgiveness and we intentionally share our faith in the community and workplace, making decisions based on the principles found in the Word of God.
The second form is what we would call corporate worship — that which takes place where we gather together to honor God — to tell of his worth and to demonstrate that we genuinely submit to his authority by sitting in the schoolroom of God’s word.
So, with an understanding of worship, how then do we do so in Spirit and in Truth?
Jesus goes on to say that we are to worship in Spirit because God is Spirit. In other words, God is not physical and unlike you and me who can only be in one place at one time, God is everywhere and thus worship needs not take place in a single localized spot. Thus, worship in Jerusalem in the Temple or on Mount Gerizim becomes utterly meaningless — we can worship any place that God’s people gather…even across the sea in New Sewickley Township.
There is another aspect of worshiping in Spirit that I think we need to tackle. You see, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And so, if God is Spirit, then we ought to expect that the Imago Dei — the image of God — is primarily found in Spiritual attributes, not so much in our physical ones.
So, it is our thought, our reason, our passions, our zeal, our creativity, and our virtue that reflects God’s image. Thus, if you are to worship God in Spirit, it must not be primarily about what you physically do, but it must be about who you spiritually are.
So, are you engaging your Spirit in worship? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Folks, it is an easy thing to get your bodies here and to fill a pew, that takes very little effort at all. But it is a hard thing to engage in worship as Jesus is telling us. It means we must use our minds to think about what is being said, what we are singing, what is being prayed and what we are doing, to evaluate if they are Biblical and to apply them to our own context. You must engage your will in such a way that the principles that you hear will be applied to your life, not just in church, but throughout your lives. And you are to engage your passions — recognizing that passions are different than emotions. Emotions tend to control us and even to consume us, our passions not only can be controlled but they direct us to action.
Whether it is hungry children in the Dominican or Africa, homeless children at risk on our own city streets, or fetal children at risk still within their mothers’ wombs, our emotions might cause us to weep, but our passions will drive us to act and to challenge the status quo. And which benefits society the most? This is the “do justice” part of God’s command that he gives through Micah.
We must worship with the totality of our being: mind, will, and passions and that takes practice. But as I said last week, your worship is the single-most important thing you do in this life…it is worth practicing it for growth.
That is worship in Spirit. What of worship in Truth? Worship in Truth is simply a worship that is guided by, centered upon, and constrained by the Word of God.
Here is a concept for you…
Because worship is the most important thing that we do and because all we do is governed by God’s word, worship too must be governed by the Word of God.
That means we must only include in our public worship that which is permitted by scripture and we must not include anything in worship unless the scriptures plainly instruct us to do so.
Theologians call this the “Regulative Principle of Worship.” The scriptures regulate our worship in such a way that anything not explicitly commanded for worship does not belong in public corporate worship.
And so, like Nadab and Abihu who were burned to death by God’s judgment for bringing “strange fire” into the Tabernacle, the inventions of men, likewise are strange fire, sacramental sorceries, and a kind of priestomancy that deserves to be burned up in the outer darkness of God’s wrath.
So, things like singing, reading the scriptures, preaching the word, prayer, offerings, sacraments, and vows are clearly commanded in corporate worship.
Things like drama, dance, artwork, images, various Jewish festivals, etc… are not commanded as part of our corporate worship and thus ought not be included. Paul goes as far as to condemn those who would worship or command worship with superstitious practices.
With all that in mind, let me close this way… Jesus made the Temple and its worship obsolete, irrelevant and superstitious. Jesus is the greater temple and is thus the focus and center of our worship. So, when the psalmists speak of “zeal for your house” (Psalm 69:9), this is fulfilled in our zeal for Christ.
The temple would be destroyed in 70 AD, bringing an end to Temple worship, but Jesus says, “the time is coming and is now here…” Now? Yes, Jesus’ very presence makes temple worship idolatrous at best. And thus we come here to worship in Spirit and Truth, it is not about the building, the building is only a convenient place to gather. But where we change the culture is where we engage in worship in all of life — the salt getting out of the salt shaker.