30 August 2013

Why Truth deserves place of prominence in worship

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in May 2011. Phil shows why Truth must be the primary component of worship.

As usual, the comments are closed.

God is spiritual in His very essence, and therefore He must be worshipped with spiritual worship—worship in the energy of spirit; worship that engages and employs our entire spirit, not just the motions of our hands and the words we form with our lips; not bare ritual; but a true expression of the heart and soul. "Worship in spirit."

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Jesus is making a deliberate contrast between the worship God seeks and the typical kind of worship that is dominated by human tradition, obscured by empty ritual, and buried under meaningless layers of pomp and ceremony.

Listen to Christ's criticism of the Pharisees' religion (Matthew 15:3, 8): "Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.'"

They had all the ceremonies down. Many of these were rituals prescribed by Moses' law, ordained by God, and therefore good things if used properly. They were fine if seen for what they really were: symbols of a greater reality, aids to worship; not the end-all and be-all of worship. But the Pharisees were more enamored with the rituals than they were with the truth the rituals signified. And so they added layers of their own man-made rituals on top of what the law prescribed: extra washings; more complicated ceremonies; more elaborate costumes—longer tassels on their robes and whatnot to exaggerate the liturgical impact of all the pageantry and spectacle.

The flesh loves that. And the ceremonies themselves became what they thought of when they thought of "worship." It was a flamboyant display for the benefit of the worshiper rather than an expression of praise and honor to God. They were worshiping Him with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They were indulging their flesh, not worshiping in spirit.

And let's be honest: we all have a sinful tendency to do that. We go through the motions without really engaging our spirit in worship. We seize the opportunity during the pastoral prayer to look at our watch, or send a text message during the congregational hymn, or whatever. Jesus said that's not authentic worship; It's not worship at all unless we "worship in spirit and truth."

This is a much abused and widely misunderstood principle today. Jesus is not calling for the kind of shallow passion that responds to the music and the atmosphere. He's not saying we should aim at working ourselves into a frenzy of feeling and passion devoid of any rational content.

Authentic worship is concerned with truth, not bare passion.

It's a common misconception today that worship in the spirit requires us to empty the mind of anything rational...We use music and atmosphere to build raw passion to a crescendo. And lots of people think that's the purest form of worship—when you are basically so overwhelmed with emotion that your mind is unattached and unengaged in any kind of rational thought. In fact, music is so important to the process that when you use the word "worship" today, most Christians assume you are talking about music.

But notice that Jesus gave truth, not music, the place of prominence in worship: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."