Pardon me while I think out loud. Sometimes it helps me to write my thoughts down in order to sort them out.
I’ve been thinking about worship a bit lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the passage in John 4 where Jesus is having a conversation with a Samaritan woman alongside Jacob’s well. It goes like this:
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 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 is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24, ESV)
Worship in spirit and in truth. The way I heard this taught growing up is that Jesus is prescribing the modes of worship. True worshipers will worship in their spirit, that is, with their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s more than just going through the motions. It’s not just your body and your mouth doing the acts of worship; your spirit is actively involved as well.
And to worship in truth means that we worship in a prescribed way, not altering or straying away from the Scripturally-sanctioned methods of worship. Therefore, true worship is a capella; false worship involves musical instruments. To worship in truth is to involve only that which is found in the New Testament writings and nothing else (except for the use of song leaders, hymnals, microphones, a church building, etc. – those are all okay for some reason).
But the woman’s question has nothing to do with the mode of worship. She was asking about the location of worship. Where should we worship – on the mountain or in Jerusalem? Jesus answered – neither. But the location of worship is in spirit and in truth. I don’t think Jesus is addressing whether or not it’s okay to clap during a worship song…
God is Spirit – so worship in “the Spirit” (as the 2011 NIV translates it). Worship also in truth. If God is Spirit, then who or what is Truth? Jesus himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). God is Spirit – so worship in Spirit. Jesus is the Truth – so worship in Truth. The physical location of the worship doesn’t matter. But the spiritual location makes all the difference.
Look at Jesus’ prayer toward the end of John:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, NIV).
“May they also be in us” – in God and in Jesus, in Spirit and in Truth. “I in them and You in Me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.” What’s the purpose of being in God and in Jesus? Unity. What was the problem with the Samaritans worshiping in one location and the Jews worshiping in another? Division. Strip away the locations, the formalities, the self-imposed rules and regulations and what are you left with? Tear down the church signs, break the denominational ties, and unite with other believers in Spirit and in Truth.