The True Worshippers
Robert Wurtz II
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:21-25)
A few times this week I have had to deal with an issue with folks trying to find a place of worship. Those two experiences, coupled with many thoughts and experiences of the last month have served as the impetus for the thoughts I wish to present in this blog. I mention the situations in passing to protect the parties involved. In our passage above I find it interesting that throughout the ages there has always been concern about outward aspects of worship. This woman was concerned with the ‘where’ of worship, while today many are concerned with the ‘how’ of worship. Yet Jesus slips a truth in that often goes undetected, “… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” Here we have our Lord dividing up worshippers into two categories: 1) true 2) false. John uses the Greek word alethine (ἀληθινὴ) which we translate as ‘true’ or ‘genuine’. We might call it, ‘the real one.’ He uses the word when he speaks of the true light (John 1:9), the true bread (John 6:32), the true vine (John 15:1), the only true God (John 17:3), the true witness (Revelation 3:14), and the true sayings of God (Revelation 19:9). True worshippers, says John, worship in spirit and in truth. “Spirit or pneuma (πνεῦμα) is the highest, deepest, noblest part of our humanity, the point of contact between God and man (Romans 1:9); while soul (ψυχή) is the principle of individuality, the seat of personal impressions, having a side in contact with the material element of humanity as well as with the spiritual element, and being thus the mediating element between the spirit and the body. The phrase in spirit and in truth describes the two essential characteristics of true worship: in spirit, as distinguished from place or form or other sensual limitations (ver. 21); in truth, as distinguished from the false conceptions resulting from imperfect knowledge (ver. 22). To worship in truth is not merely to worship in sincerity, but with a worship corresponding to the nature of its object.” (Vincent)
You will recall that ancient Israel under the direction of Aaron made a golden calf for the people to worship. They wanted a god made after their own hands with their own input and concepts; but Jehovah cannot be molded into man’s concepts. (Exodus 32:1ff) He is who He is and cannot be changed. To change God into something other than who He is is to make an idol. We need to ask ourselves; “Am I worshipping the God revealed in scripture or am I worshipping my own golden calf- a fabrication of my own imaginations of how I wish God was.” This event is very instructive. Israel rejected the God of the Fire on the mountain (Hebrews 12:18) and desired one after their own thoughts and purposes. They fabricated it at the foot of the mountain where the one true God was manifesting Himself. Very sobering. They didn’t want the real God, they wanted to remake Him after their own lusts. This leaves one question; what constitutes false worshippers? Obviously they are not worshipping in spirit or truth. We have a responsibility to God to learn of Him and understand His ways so that we can do those things that please Him. What folly is it that we would seek to please ourselves in the worship of God? It is a God-centered proposition from beginning to end.
Regulative and Normative Principals of Worship
The regulative principle of worship is a doctrine regarding worship that teaches that God institutes in the Scriptures everything He requires for worship in the churches and that everything else is prohibited. In this view there can be no innovations. This doctrine is often found among those with a strict view of the principle of sola scriptura. The regulative principle is often contrasted with the normative principle of worship which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship, as long as it is agreeable in the churches. Charles Finney in the early to mid 1800’s argued for innovations in the churches sighting that God allows for the churches to innovate as means and necessity were in view. Not to push the blame to Finney, but certainly there was a shift in the churches from that time and we have been heading fastly beyond even a normative principal approach to worship. I can only describe what is happening in some Christian circles as ‘anything goes.’
Maintaining the Boundaries
In many Christian circles the influence of popular culture has been so great that hymns that were sung in the churches of God for some 200-250 years have been fastly discarded as ‘old’ and ‘out of touch’ with the times. This is a very strange thing to consider even for the most ardent proponent of modern worship techniques. It is as if there is a conspiracy to totally break ties with the past so that there is no continuity between the Christianity of the 1900’s and before and the Christianity of today. It’s as if many want a clean break. What is even more disturbing is that some churches are now adopting full-on secular music into their services. I heard recently of a church that used a popular 70’s hard rock song that was once considered one of the most satanic of it’s time as sermon material. As shocking as that may be, what is more shocking is that there is not a revolt against such things. What has happened is that we have totally lost sight of the boundaries. I have to ask, is this true worship and are these true worshippers? Is this being done in Spirit and in Truth? It is a tough question, but we need to ask it sincerely. In Finney’s day it was pitch pipes that were controversial. In later times it was choirs and musical instruments. Then the question became whether or not accompaniment tapes were valid. But then we turned a corner and various musical genres (rock, country, classical, blues, etc.) were singled out as controversial. In the last 5 years the boundaries have been challenged even more and full on country and rock songs have been made into ‘Christian’ by changing a few words around and directing them at God instead of a man or a woman. But before we can even address that controversy, now we have the satanic music of the 70’s in full-dress making it into the meetings. Now what are we going to do?
A Look Back
At the New Life Conference at Rora, Devon in 2012 I was able to see first hand that a balance can be brought to all of these issues and God be glorified. I heard new hymns and I heard old ones. As Jesus said, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. (Matthew 13:52) I heard worship where the voices of the people carried the song, not the instruments. They had guitars, a bass, drums and an electric piano like any other place I have been, yet they were there to accompany the worship of God not to drive the worship. Noone complained as to how loud the music was because the peoples voices drowned out everything. They sang with all their hearts unto God. As a worship musician for some 18 years and a drummer for over 30 years this was quite an experience for me. People from all over the world and all over England came together in unity and sang as it were a celestial choir prodding my mind to wonder what Heaven will be like. No one got mad if their song was not sung and no man or woman was being glorified. It was an awesome sight. The people sang and I believed them. It was in Spirit and in Truth. Not in a 10 million dollar building, but in a large tent and in a blinding rainstorm.