Is Contemporary Worship “in Spirit” and “in Truth”?

Is Contemporary Worship “in Spirit” and “in Truth”?

by Michael J. Penfold

Perhaps the pivotal passage about worship in all of Scripture is John 4:23-24:

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.”

These two verses signalled a seismic change. The locations and styles of worship known to Jews and Samaritans for centuries were to be superseded, through the coming of Christ, by worship “in spirit and in truth”.

What “worship in spirit and in truth” actually signifies, and what its ramifications are for the contemporary ‘worship’ scene today, is ably addressed A.W. Pink (1886-1952) in his commentary on the Gospel of John Ch 4:

Here are the selections from A.W. Pink:

“A new order of things was about to be established, and under it God would be manifested not as Jehovah (the covenant-keeping God) but as ‘the Father’, and then the great question would not be where to worship, but how. Then the worshipper at Jerusalem will not be accounted the true worshipper because he worships there, nor the worshipper at Gerizim the false worshipper because he worships there; the one who worships in spirit and in truth, no matter where he may worship, he and he alone is the genuine worshipper.

“To ‘worship in spirit‘, is to worship spiritually; to ‘worship in truth‘, is to worship truly. They are not two different kinds of worship, but two aspects of the same worship. To worship spiritually is the opposite of mere external rites which pertained to the flesh; instead, it is to give to God the homage of an enlightened mind and an affectionate heart. To worship Him truly is to worship Him according to the Truth, in a manner suited to the revelation He has made of Himself [in the Bible]; and, no doubt, it also carries with it the force of worshipping truly, not in pretense, but sincerely. Such, and such alone, are the acceptable worshippers.

“…This is a most important verse and treats of a most important but sadly misunderstood subject, namely, that of worship. Much of that which is termed ‘worship’ today is fleshly rather than spiritual, and is external and spectacular, rather than internal and reverential…”

“Worship is a redeemed heart occupied with God, expressing itself in adoration and thanksgiving….and everything which attracts the flesh and its senses, detracts from real worship.

“‘God is a spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth’. There is no choice in the matter. This emphatic ‘must’ bars out everything which is of the flesh. Worship is not by the eyes or the ears, but ‘in spirit’, that is, from the new nature. The more spiritual is our worship the less formal and the less attractive to the flesh will it be. O how far astray we have gone! Modern ‘worship’ is chiefly designed to render it pleasing to the flesh: a ‘bright and attractive service’, with beautiful surroundings, sensuous music, and entertaining talks. What a mockery and a blasphemy! O that we all would heed that pointed word in Psa 89:7; ‘God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him’ – how different things would then be.”

“…The place which music now holds in many of our public services is a solemn ‘sign of the times’ to those who have eyes to see. But is music wrong? Has God Himself bestowed the gift? Surely, but what we are now complaining about is church-singing that is professional and spectacular, that which is of the flesh, and rendered to please the ear of man. The only music which ever passes beyond the roof of the church in which it is rendered is that which issues from born again people, who ‘sing with grace in their hearts unto the Lord‘.

“‘God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth’. We must worship ‘in spirit’, and not merely with the physical senses. We cannot worship by admiring grand architecture, by listening to the peals of a costly organ or the anthems of a highly trained choir. We cannot worship by gazing at pictures, smelling of incense, counting of beads. We cannot worship with our eyes or ears, noses or hands, for they are all ‘flesh’, and not ‘spirit’. Moreover, spiritual worship must be distinguished sharply from soulical worship, though there are few today who discriminate between them. Much, very much, of our modern so-called worship is soulical, that is, emotional. Music which makes one ‘feel good’, touching anecdotes which draw tears, the magic oratory of a speaker which thrills his hearers, the clever showmanship of professional evangelists and singers who aim to ‘produce and atmosphere’ for worship and which are designed to move varied emotions of those in attendance, are so many examples of what is soulical and not spiritual at all. True worship, spiritual worship, is decorous, quiet, reverential, occupying the worshipper with God Himself; and the effect is to leave him not with a nervous headache (the inevitable reaction from the high tension produced by soulical activities) but with a peaceful heart and a rejoicing spirit.”

The above comments by A.W. Pink are from his Exposition of the Gospel of John, published by Zondervan in 1975, pages 205-209.

The organs and choirs he speaks of have long ago been replaced, in most Western churches, by Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) i.e. rock music. A clip from a Rend Collective ‘Christian’ concert will give a new meaning to Pink’s words “O how far astray we have gone” and “O what a mockery and a blasphemy”.

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.”

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