And Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24; NIV) Surely this divine desire has to do with the authenticity of the individual worshiper. God seeks worshipers who are true worshipers, Christians exhibiting in the power of the Holy Spirit a love for God inside and out, in all of life, 24/7, people worshiping from being totally sold out to God.
But is there another meaning to Jesus’ statement? What if worshipers need to be true to God, too? What might worship which is true to God look like? How would we know it when we see it?
The Gospel of John gives clues in some of Jesus’ other statements. A couple of times Jesus makes statements about himself being the truth. In the context of the Gospel of John these statements point to how Jesus Christ reveals the Father. There is a strong revelatory theme in this Gospel. “No one has ever seen God,” John 1:18 (NIV) says, “but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” I had a professor, Fred Craddock, explain this emphasis in the following manner. “This is the perspective of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, “he said, drawing a side view of a farm silo on the board. “And this it the perspective of the Gospel of John,” he added, now drawing a bird’s-eye view of the same silo.
What is worship that gives such a bird’s-eye view, such a true revealing of God through Jesus Christ? It is worship that gives a full revelation of God through Jesus Christ. If our worship is not true to how fully Jesus Christ has revealed God, is it worship that is true to God? Since Christ has promised that the Holy Spirit now is to teach us all things and remind us of everything Christ has said (John 14:26), how can worship be true to God and be truly in the Spirit if it skips part of the revelation of God?
This desire for worship true to God means we need to look at the content of our services to see how fully it includes the biblical revelation of God. To achieve worship in spirit and true we must look at the content of worship, not just the sincere intent of individual worshipers. We may have deeply moving experiences in worship but, without a full, through-Jesus-Christ revealing of God, how do we know it is a true experience of the true God?
Here are some possible guidelines (and examples) for assessing the content of worship. Over time, does our worship remember:
- God’s activity (God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage) and character (God is powerful and faithful)
- in both the Old Testament (God created all things) and New Testament (Jesus Christ conquered death),
- in the full ministry of Jesus Christ in these various dimensions:
- Individual (Jesus saves me) and corporate (Jesus saves his bride, the church)
- Personal (Jesus gives abundant life now) and cosmic (Jesus Christ is the second Adam)
- Historical (Jesus was born in a certain place at a certain time) and beyond history (Through Christ all things were made and in him all things hold together).
This is only a beginning point for assessing worship’s content and the examples given are just that, examples, not an exhaustive list of how each element might be included in worship.
Make this assessment over time. Any one service may or may not have all such aspects of a full revelation of God. In fact it would be hard to do full justice to all in any one service. But, over the course of time, does your worship truly contain full scriptural content? Review the last year of your congregation’s worship? Have there been gaps in the remembrance? Are there aspects missing from a full, true revealing of the God of Jesus Christ?
And make this assessment across the breadth of the parts of worship: the Scriptures read, the sermons, the prayers, and the songs. No one aspect needs to carry the whole weight of truth. But every aspect needs to bear part of the weight. And the parts need to work with each other. See, for example, if your song lyrics regularly speak of Jesus’ life and ministry within history. Do they remember God’s activity in his birth, healings, teaching, Passion, resurrection, and ascension? If not, do two things: expand your repertoire of songs and see how the reading of Scripture, the sermon, and the content of your prayers may cover this gap.
Remember that it is a divine desire: God seeks those who worship in spirit and in truth. This is the point behind the old theological term, orthodox. The root of this word refers not just to right doctrine but to right (ortho-) glory (doxa) for God. What is worship that rightly glorifies God? It is worship that is true to God by being true to the fullness of the biblical, Christ-centered revelation of God. And, indeed, God is worthy of such worship.
Originally posted March 2005