Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Worship In Spirit and Truth?

I’ve heard more than a few sermons on the subject of worshiping God in spirit and truth. I’ve even preached a few of those sermons myself. Using the passage of John 4:23-24, the focus of the sermon always presumed a question of what are the requirements that God expects of the church in worship so that the worship is pleasing to God and thus offered in spirit and truth? The preacher then begins proof-texting various Bible verses to clarify what God presumably requires of Christian worship and how the church is to carry out that requirement. And if you’re from my Christian tradition, the Churches of Christ, that sermon will always include an argument for a cappella singing in worship coupled with an argument against the use of instrumental music in worship.

worshipinspiritandintruth

The passage of John 4:23-24 is part of a larger story about an encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman. However, the type of sermon I described in the preceding paragraph has very little, if anything, to do with Jesus. The focus of that sermon is the church and specifically what the church must presumably do to worship God in spirit and truth. Yet the focus of John chapter 4 and really the entire Gospel of John is Jesus. So do we see the problem with a sermon using a passage from John 4 that is focused on us, the church, and not on Jesus?

Regardless of what our views our on how the church should worship, John chapter 4 isn’t about that and if we don’t realize that then we’re going to miss the more important point. So moving on…

There’s this woman from Samaria whom Jesus meets at a well and asks for a drink of water. That was a surprise to the woman since Jews don’t associate with Samaritans. As the conversation unfolds, Jesus offers the woman “living water” which will forever satisfy her thirst and everyone else’s thirst who drinks of the water Jesus offers. It is the promise of “eternal life” (v. 14). This intrigues the Samaritan woman but then, and rather abruptly, Jesus points out her marriage situation. Whatever the circumstances are for why this woman has been married five times and is now living with a man who is not her husband, the woman now sees Jesus as a prophet (v. 19). Her marriage history coupled with her identity as a Samaritan raises questions about her suitability to receive the promise of eternal life. But it is these questions that prepare us for the twist in the story.

Jesus offers living water and says, “Come, thirst no more!” Now who are we going to believe?

The twist comes when Jesus says in v. 21-24, “…believe me a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Jesus says to the woman, “you will worship…” The personal pronoun is in the second-person plural voice. In other words, here is this Samaritan woman with a questionable marriage history who knows that she and the Samaritans are excluded from the temple worship of God in Jerusalem but now Jesus is telling her that she and the Samaritans will worship God. They who were excluded will now be included. Jesus is the Messiah (vv. 25-26) and this Samaritan woman along with other Samaritans now believe in Jesus (v. 39). The assurance of worshiping God in spirit and truth is an inclusive promise because Jesus is the Messiah who comes as God in the flesh, full of grace and truth.

Let’s not miss the irony here either. In John chapter 3 Jesus encounters a Pharisee named Nicodemus, an insider who excludes people like this Samaritan woman and thinks he’s on the inside because he keeps the Law and its traditions… But unless he believes in Jesus (that eternal life is possible because of what God is doing in Jesus), he’s an outsider. On the other hand, in John chapter 4, she who has been an outsider becomes an insider because she believes.

So worshiping God in spirit and truth is about believing in Jesus. This point is underscored from the wider narrative of the Gospel of John when we keep in mind that God is both Spirit and the Incarnate Word. So while in the past God dwelt among the temple, he now dwells among in the person of Jesus and as the Holy Spirt whom the Father and Son have sent. We worship God in spirit and truth not because of how we sing or pray when assembled for worship among our local church. No… we worship God in Spirit and Truth, or even better, in the Spirit and in the Truth because we believe in Jesus and have received the Holy Spirit.

This inclusive promise is the good news for everyone who has been an outsider. Those who have been treated as an outsider because of their race and ethnicity or because of questions about their own marriage history and moral lifestyle are now included in the promise. Here Jesus is offering living water regardless of the past… regardless of whatever circumstances, sins, doubts, and so forth. Jesus offers living water and says, “Come, thirst no more!” Now who are we going to believe?

Do Christians Need Power?

In one sense, it seems laughable that anyone seeking to become President of the United States would make an appeal to Christian voters by promising Christians power. Of course, that is exactly what Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has apparently done by talking about Christians and saying that if he’s elected, “you’re going to have plenty of power.” But this post isn’t really about Donald Trump or any other Presidential Candidate. It’s about the Christians for whom such a promise of power is desired.

The Power of the Kingdom

When Jesus began his public ministry, the burning question for Israel had to do with the Kingdom of God. As a people who were living under the rule of Roman authority, Israel longed for God to make good on his promise which meant the restoration of his Kingdom. That was Israel’s hope.

As a prophetic voice, teaching with authority and performing all kinds of miraculous signs, Jesus raised the possibility that he was indeed the Messiah who would restore the Kingdom of God. Yet as Jesus defied some of Israel’s traditions, challenging the authority of the religious leaders, those in authority began to see him as a blasphemer and eventually would help conspire to have him crucified under the rule of the Roman Governor Pilate. However, God raised Jesus from death, vindicating him as Israel’s Messiah and so his disciples held out hope that he would restore the kingdom of God.

In Acts chapter one, the disciples asked Jesus when he was going to restore the kingdom. The question is about power but it is something that they still misunderstood. Jesus replies to his disciples saying, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… (vv. 7-8). Jesus was assuring his disciples that they would have power but not the kind of power they have in mind. Receiving the Holy Spirit to live as witnesses of Jesus is not the power of militant or political coercion; it is rooted in the same power of the cross. The Kingdom of God appears as the disciples live as witness of Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Messiah, embodying his way of life as their way of life.

Pursuing The Wrong Kingdom

Maybe Christians today have forgotten this or maybe they just don’t want to embrace it since it’s not desirable like the power of militant and political coercion! Many Christians read Acts with admiration for the way the early church so rapidly grew, dreaming of how their own local churches could experience such growth. Many other believers lament the decline of Christianity’s influence in much of North America, hoping that somehow America could return to whatever Christian values they believe the nation once had. All the while, Christianity in America appears ever closer to losing sight of Jesus and the gospel he proclaimed even as local churches are declining as their witness is becoming marginalized.

Perhaps that sounds overly critical and you think I am painting with too broad of a brush stroke. Perhaps I am and perhaps I am too critical. However, the only reason why any Presidential Candidate is appealing to Christians (though certainly not all) with an assurance of giving them power is because there is a large enough group of Christians who desire such. So here is an important truth: The desire for such power says more about Christians than it does Donald Trump or any other Presidential Candidate and what it says is not good… it even raises the question of idolatry.

The desire for any form of militant and political power places Christians with the  masses who demanded that Pilate crucify Jesus. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that a desire for coercive power is a desire to crucify Jesus. What I am suggesting is that those who demanded the crucifixion of Jesus from Pilate wanted the Kingdom of God but not on the terms of the God the Father revealed in Jesus. They wanted a kingdom in which they ruled with political coercion and were ready to use militant force in order to secure that power. The desire to protect and preserve Christian values and a Christendom culture among America, which is the sentiment that Trump is appealing to, is a desire to have power over others and that is the same desire as those who crucified Jesus. But there is a cost… The price of attaining political power over others is the Kingdom of God because nobody can rule among this world and participate in the Kingdom of God. Only Jesus has received the authority to rule this world!

A Final Word

I am writing this because there are other followers of Jesus who see the same problem, even if they might express it differently than I. My hope is that this might help raise awareness of the problem and provide a corrective that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The local churches we fellowship with need us to speak out and call us back to the way of our crucified and resurrected Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

The pursuit of any coercive power is one we pursue to our own peril. However, the good news is that when we let go of the desire for such power, we gain the freedom to love one another and even love those whose beliefs, values, and lifestyle is drastically different then ours. Rather than wasting time trying to win political arguments about who should become the next President of the United States, we can spend time being present with people, loving and serving them, and showing them who Jesus is. This is the power of living by the Holy Spirit as witnesses of Jesus and it’s the only power we need! When we live by the power of the Holy Spirit as witness of Jesus, the Kingdom of God appears here on earth as it is in heaven!

Seeking With The Spirit

I’ve been writing some on how a local church lives as a community animated by the Holy Spirit. That naturally raises the question of how does this happen and, as I said in another post, that begins with repentance. Yet that is only where a church begins. There is more…

Two Modern Church Practices

Growing up as a child, there were two practices of the church that need mentioning here.

  1. Men’s Monthly Business Meetings. These meetings were open to any male member of the church and by that, I mean any baptized male. So at age nine, after being baptized, I was considered a man of the church and was asked to attend where I would vote along with the other men on any and all decisions. That’s right.. vote. Each meeting proceeded according to Robert’s Rules of Order because it was a business meeting. Whether the issue was buying a church van, giving support to a missionary, or else, as long as all the details appeared fiscally responsible, then a motion would be made, seconded, and approved by vote — democracy at its best.
  2. Monthly Congregational Singing. These singings we’re joyous occasions because I liked to sing and there wasn’t any sermon (how ironic now that I’m a preacher). Everyone present would name a hymn request and then the men capable of leading a hymn would take turns leading the requested hymns. Each singing would begin and end with the customary opening and closing prayers, and occasionally someone might read a passage of scripture but the primary reason for gathering was to sing hymns.

Now you are asking yourself, “Rex, what did these business meetings and congregational singings have to do with the church living as a community animated by the Spirit?” My answer is that they didn’t! Yet these practices were highly valued by the church of my youth and still are valued in some churches.

Why does this matter? Because when we read through the book of Acts about the beginning of the church, we don’t find the community of Christians engaged in either such practices. That’s not to say that they never came together to make decisions or to engage in worship through singing hymns… they surely did but the prioritized other practices that have been given very little priority among many churches today.

Two Ancient, Yet Relevant, Practices

There are two practices of the earliest Christians that need mentioning which are vital for churches discovering today how the Spirit seeks to lead them:

  1. Table Fellowship. This is a smaller gathering of Christians in a home around the table enjoying a meal together where everyone can engage in each other’s life. It is a time and place where deeper and more meaningful conversation about how God is at work in each other’s lives, how the scriptures bear upon each other’s lives, and how each person can lovingly encourage one another to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is one powerful way in which the Holy Spirit, who dwells among each believer, works to reveal what must be done in order to participate in the mission of God.
  2. Prayer. This practice is rooted in the profound belief that Christians are incapable of embodying the gospel based on their own strength. On their own, fears and temptations will have mastery over them. But by creating space and committing time for prayer — whether it’s for family facing personal challenges, someone having an evangelistic conversation with a co-worker, the church seeking a bold vision for engaging the neighborhood, and so on — the church turns to the Sovereign Lord who, in a mysterious manner, gives power through the Spirit to overcome with faithful witness.

Part of the challenge in recovering these ancient practices is overcoming vulnerability and humility. You see as long as Christians only gather in large assemblies for worship, preaching/teaching, and fellowship better known as potluck meals, there will likely never be any deep engagement of life seeking participation in the mission of God. That’s because such engagement requires vulnerability and that is more likely to happen as believers gather for table fellowship. Similarly, as long as a church thinks it only needs to maintain its current way of life, believers will never come together for a committed time of prayer.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for gathering as a collective group for worship where the church can sing, read scripture publicly, here that scripture preached, etc… but that alone is insufficient. It’s very passive and doesn’t require much. Plus, few Christians really want to stand up in such large gatherings and say, by way of example, “I’m struggling to get along with my new neighbors of a different race and religion, what might I be doing wrong? Could you help me and pray for me that I might better love them as my neighbor?”

When we read though Acts, we read of a movement of Jesus followers who were committed to table fellowship and prayer, among other practices. Because they were committed to such practices, they were able to discern the work of the Spirit among them and live a life animated by the Spirit. Such commitments helped them when they had to make decisions such as who should replace Judas (cf. Acts 1:12-26), which seven servants should be appointed to care for the ministry of the widows (cf. Acts 6:1-6), and even when faced with a decision regarding what the gospel requires of Gentile believers (cf. Acts 11). Such commitments drew them immediately into prayer when they realized that the opposition the apostles were facing (cf. Acts 4:23-31). Neither coming together to make a decision or for corporate prayer was the response of democratically human power but the seeking of God at work through his Spirit so that these followers of Jesus might embody the gospel faithfully and continue participating in the mission of God.

A Final Word

Beyond the Sunday gatherings of public worship and fellowship, every local church needs believers who are committed to table fellowship and prayer. That means someone making their home available, inviting a few others over, and taking the lead so that the time is spent purposefully engaged in life and the work of God, where time can be spent in prayer. This is where the Spirit begins cultivating organic change that will undoubtably not only enhance the Sunday gatherings but also lead to organized change as the church discerns how the Spirit is empowering them to live as a faithful yet contextually relevant embodiment of the gospel among the local community.

So what say you?