I spent the first three years of my life in a Presbyterian church. The next seven were spent in a Southern Baptist church. Then my family moved again and we started attending an Evangelical Free church. I went to a Bible college where I was exposed to a vast array of denominations in the student body that ranged from Vineyard to Mennonite, with nearly one hundred denominational varieties in between. When I graduated college, I became involved in a church that is heavily engaged in various charismatic movements (…is your head spinning yet?).
Having experienced this great diversity of belief within the Christian faith, it’s interesting to me that one of the greatest dividing points is worship. From what I have seen, the issues center on the balance between the experience of worship and ensuring that our practice is theologically sound. In other words, we’re all asking the question, “How much head, and how much heart?”
Having experienced this great diversity of belief within the Christian faith, it’s interesting to me that one of the greatest dividing points is worship.
Thankfully, Jesus has already given us a clear answer to this question in the story of the woman at the well. In this story, Jesus presses the woman with the reality of who He is and what He wants to give her, yet she deflects His statements by trying to turn their conversation to politically charged theological issues.
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:19-24, ESV).
The issue of the day was that Samaritans were considered the same or worse than Gentiles, and were therefore not allowed to worship God at the Temple in Jerusalem. Despite this, they still shared a common faith with their Jewish half-siblings, so they were forced to establish a place within their own territory to worship the Lord. The Jews, of course, recognized this as an abominable and false form of worship (you know, you have to worship the Lord, but you can’t worship Him with us, and you can’t worship Him anywhere else either). For our sakes, let’s boil this down to the basic problem: There is a right way to worship, and it just happens to be the way I worship.
Here’s Jesus’ answer: “You’re both wrong.” As He so often did, Jesus went completely around the immediate question to the heart of the matter, which really had nothing to do with where God was worshiped, but how He was worshiped. This is where our modern issue comes into play, because we have many people saying that there are different right ways of how to worship.
Those with more of a pentecostal/charismatic bent say, “OH! You absolutely MUST have the experience of the Spirit in worship! How can you say that you have worshiped God if you haven’t been touched by the presence of the Holy Spirit!”
To which the more conservative believers respond, “Tsk, you can’t trust experiences; they will lead you astray from truth. Give me a traditional song that is deeply rooted in the ground of my forefather’s faith!”
Here is Jesus’ answer to us today: “You’re both right.” The hour is now here where true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth, not one or the other. According to Jesus, these are the worshipers for whom the Father is seeking. Which, rather incredibly, shows us that worship is about more than just us seeking God—it’s about God seeking us.
That’s where I want to be, in a place where I am not brainlessly seeking the Holy Spirit, nor heartlessly singing doctrinal creeds. If the question were put to my natural body, “How much head, and how much heart,” I would want 100 percent of both, please, and God makes it clear that He desires the same.
Most importantly—and certainly more important than being “right” on the issue of worship—as I want to find God when I seek Him in worship, I want Him to find me as He seeks for true worshipers.