Worship in Spirit & Truth

When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus whether Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem was the right place to worship God, he responded,


Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24). 

Liturgy: Work of the People


Proper worship (Greek: latreia; G2999) is always liturgical, meaning a public "work of the people" (G3009; leitourgia). This word appears six times in the New Testament, especially when Paul of Tarsus wrote, "You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God" (2 Cor. 9:11-12; emp. added). Therefore, to "worship in spirit and in truth" means not only to publicly confess Jesus as Messiah, but also to publicly minister for him. To be sure, Jesus himself said, "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven" (Matt. 10:32-33). Furthermore, the author of Hebrews wrote:


Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (10:23-25).

Simply put, there is no such thing as faith known only to God, nor is there worship concealed alone in one's spirit. Just as our family, marital, or business relationships are public, so our belief in God must be. Liturgy is a public service of worship celebrated by, and welcome to, everyone who comes. Moreover, worship is a positive thing. To "worship in spirit and in truth" is to understand that God is not the sum total of the Law of Moses, nor limited to religious observance. It is both sacramental and prayerful, realizing that God's ways higher than our ways and his thoughts than our thoughts  (cf. Isa. 55:8-9). Truthfully, the Father presents his ways in the divine sacraments (Greek: mustēria; G3466, "mysteries") of baptism and communion; he reveals his thoughts in the public reading and teaching of scripture (cf. 1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). This is why worship must be liturgical, allowing God to show himself by his sovereign will in an ordered public ministry of scripture and sacrament. Paul taught, "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. . . . but all things should be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:26, 40). In this context, order refers to structured worship based on the worship and glorification of God alone (Latin: soli Deo gloria). The "Common Doxology" by the Anglican hymnist Thomas Ken (1637–1711) is a great example of ordered worship: "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen."

Ancient v. Contemporary Worship

Ironically, worship is the single most divisive topic in the Christian church today. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, many church leaders staged hostile takeovers of congregations with hymnals they deemed "traditional." In their marketing, they openly called hymns "boring" and "outdated," while replacing them with emotionally manipulative songs derived from secular—often licentious—music styles. In other words, contemporary worship focuses on the individual feelings and responses of mere spectators rather than the glorification of God alone. Many people who attend these types of churches faithlessly claim they only "get something out of it" with contemporary worship. This is not say every praise song today is unholy or irreverent, but they must be in the spirit of worshiping God alone and not in the emotions of people.


Make no mistake: The leaders of contemporary worship attack other churchgoers in bad faith and with malice. For example, Rick Warren (b. 1954) equates the rejection of his "Purpose Driven" methods with a denial of Jesus himself: "Am I willing to put up with pain so the people [that] Jesus Christ died for can come to know him? Absolutely . . . that's the price. . . . Every church has to make the decision [to be contemporary and Purpose Driven]. . . . Is it going to live for itself, or is it going to live for the world that Jesus died for?" (emp. added). A quote attributed to the Particular Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon (18341892) warns: "A time will come when, instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats" (cf. Matt. 25:32-33). Yes, the gatekeepers of contemporary worship, with their celebrity "pastors" posing as young adults, their self-help "sermons," smoke machines, and flashy graphics are these clowns. In fact, sociologists and theologians alike refer to the actual belief system of contemporary worship as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." Basically, it means that God is too far away to actually know him, so religion must be only for healing, never for correction, for the purpose of being "good people." However, the Moralistic Therapeutic Deist concedes that God is not necessary for healing or being good, but merely a motivating factor based on one's feelings, which are subject to change. The true Christian prays,


Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this holy communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name. Amen.  

Conversely, the first-century church was liturgical and ordered. Luke of Antioch even listed its order of worship: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). Therefore, liturgical order must include four components in which Christians worship "in spirit and in truth": 1) Teaching that is theologically correct, not twisted or diluted for mass consumption; 2) Authentic relationships between churchgoers based on learning and discipleship; 3) Communion, which was originally a real meal shared by continuously repentant Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-34); and 4) Common prayer, which actually meant the ordered blessings and petitions of Jewish liturgy. This was also what Paul intended when he wrote, "Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). The only way to "pray without ceasing" without constantly repeating one's self-centered requests, without the ridiculous litany of "we just . . .," is to invoke God liturgically, "in the spirit and truth" of common prayer with the universal church. Doctrinally speaking, we call this humble, pious, and sincere action of worship by the term "paleo-orthodoxy." While certain "purpose driven" narcissists and false teachers spiritually abuse parishioners who refuse to change and "get with the program," we know that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). They divide us while Christ unites us. There is no difference between worship "in spirit and in truth" between the first century and the twenty-first century. Jesus does not change, nor does his one true church, which is the metaphysical body of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:1-16). 


Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, for you pour out the Spirit of grace and of supplication on all who desire it: Deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus the Messiah, our Lord. Amen.


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