By Billy Walker
I thought it’d be fun to get the blood going today by addressing something the Church has yet to get past—“worship wars.” You know, the battles that pit those who like to sing hymns against those who prefer to sing choruses.
One group says they can do without the “7-11 approach” (repeating seven words, 11 times) while the other complains, “who really knows what an Ebenezer is, anyway?!”
But I want to look at the subject from a different angle—that of Scripture. Just kidding. I know everyone’s arguments have a biblical basis. But let’s examine what a single conjunction from Scripture tells us about the topic.
Growing up, I was allowed to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings while waiting for my dad to fix French toast for breakfast.
As I enjoyed the moments of laughter from watching cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Road Runner, the ABC network would also squeeze some teaching moments into this time frame.
One of these animated snippets was, “Conjunction Junction!” In front of that TV, I learned how to use these short, simple words. I learned the difference they make in sentences.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned God’s Word is filled with important conjunctions, too. One passage where this takes place is in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman from John 4:1-42.
What’s Your Function?
As the discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman turns toward the difference in the worship practices of Jews and Samaritans, Jesus says, “But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him” (John 4:23).
In the context of this passage, many believers choose to use an “or” between the words spirit and truth when God’s desire is for us to use an “and.”
And, Not Or
“Truth” is found in the person of Christ. “Spirit” speaks of the Holy Spirit who combines with our spirits to ignite biblical worship. Why do we attempt to separate these two as if they’re opposed to one another?
In Desiring God, John Piper says, “The fuel of truth in the furnace of our spirit does not automatically produce the heat of worship. There must be ignition and fire. That is the Holy Spirit.”
Many churches seem to feel as though they must choose to either worship in spirit or worship in truth. They don’t take advantage of the opportunity Christ gives to worship freely in and through both.
So Why Not Both?
Worship done in spirit and in truth allows us to come before a holy God in reverence. The Hebrew definition of worship is, “to prostrate oneself.”
In A Little Book for New Theologians, Kelly Kapic reminds us that “the path of pride burdens us with defensiveness, while the way of humility frees us to receive teaching and correction.”
The act of singing often speaks to some people in the audience in a way the sermon may not be able to.
However, being children of God, we can also come to worship with a spirit of excitement and confidence.
For example, “Rock of Ages” is filled with great biblical truth. But when sung with the enthusiasm of a funeral dirge?! Is that really incorporating the “spirit” of worship Jesus describes?
At the same time, just because we modulate up one more half step on the last chorus of “Your Grace is Enough,” doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily had a “Spirit-filled moment.” Perhaps all we’ve done is experienced a nice musical embellishment.
However, when we come to worship in both spirit and truth, it becomes an outward expression of inward living and loving.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
Remember the Relationship We Have With God
What relationship are you a part of that doesn’t include emotion? Now, emotion for emotion’s sake is wrong. But emotion based on truth? Well, you see where this is going.
Offering ourselves as living sacrifices to God in everything we do is our true worship. This does away with another false dichotomy of “secular versus sacred.” Whatever we do; we’re to do it to the glory of God (Colossians 3:17).
Therefore, we can come together for corporate worship when we gather in spirit and in truth!
Billy is a 3rd generation pastor of Calvary Church in Southgate, Michigan. He is the vice president of the Billy Walker Evangelistic Association, and is the president of the Pastor’s Conference for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.