What if I told you that there is an entire population of sheep desiring to be in church, wanting to be in communion with the saints, moving in and out of your churches in search of Living Water, lacking an earthly Shepherd?
Certainly, one pastor might say: “These are the malcontents.”
Indeed, another hireling supposes: “They refuse to be under authority.”
Tragic, replies another: “There are plenty of churches. They need to stop church-hopping.”
But what if something else is happening? What if these are those who hear their Shepherd’s voice… and, thus, cannot follow these others?
Defining Those Who Seek
Some time ago, our family took a little road trip to look at a house in the Wisconsin Dells. Winding through the backroads during a snowstorm, poking along behind an Amish cart and horse, and choosing to stay the night in a converted church building, we had little on our minds except hope that this might be the one — the home for us. Little did we know, as we woke the next morning to meet the realtor for a viewing, that a different sort of encounter was about occur.
Patiently indifferent to the home, the realtor was helpful and honest. There was no gussying up this $30,000 reno with any amount of words anyway; the house left a lot to be desired, even if my son was excited about the green Hulk painted on what might have been his future bedroom wall. Nonetheless, we were thorough in discussing options, pulling the realtor with us into the winter wonderland outside to have a closer look, and that’s when it happened. Standing in three feet of snow, we started talking about church.
I don’t even remember how it happened, but in course of conversation I asked where his family went to church. He expressed immediate frustration and confided that his family had been “doing church at home” for a while because —
“It’s like you have to choose between a Word or a Spirit church; why can’t it be both?”
It turned out that we had far more in common with this realtor than any of us had imagined while cringing over a toilet bowl full of paint inside a house we didn’t buy.
I had been lamenting the same frustration for at least a decade. Indeed, we had done “church at home” for several months not long before this conversation for similar reasons.
Because the Spirit churches seem to fall too easily into error (of interpretation and practice or in cultural affairs), manipulation (often over gifts or works), and hype (lights, smoke, and mirrors in the name of ‘relevance’); and the Word churches fall prey to dogma (fighting over doctrines that don’t actually matter), lukewarmness (emphasizing works or no works at all and neglecting spiritual gifts), and the traditions of man (ritual and rote that bears no scriptural foundations but are very dignified).
It wasn’t the first time we’d had a conversation with another family who felt this way. I don’t know if this is a Xennial thing, but there does seem to be a correlation in age amongst those I meet who feel similarly. Sometimes the particular reasons vary, but the overall sentiment remains:
These churches are not true to the whole of scripture; they do not worship in Truth and Spirit OR in Spirit and Truth.
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”John 4:24
Does the Spirit of God express Himself in particular ways?
Well, we already know that ‘worship’ is not a set of slides on a screen that we read off once a week nor the hymnal we cherish; it is not a song or dance, though it may include those things.
Worship is what you do with your life in response to God’s actions toward you. It contains the whole of your life, not just a fraction of it.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Romans 12:1 [ESV]
So then, we cannot say that Sister Susie’s expression of worship – hollering, waving a hankie around, or swinging from the proverbial chandelier – is the truest expression of worshiping God ‘in spirit’.
Likewise, we cannot say that the stoic Brother Timothy’s expression of worship – a little choked up, wholly dignified, subjecting his body to the strictest of codes – is the truer expression of worshiping God ‘in truth’.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.1 Corinthians 12:4-11
In this way we see that the expressions of the Spirit’s indwelling can look different on each one, according to scripture. Where one may burst out in an expression of faith toward God, at home or in the church service, another may pray quietly, in their closet and in a church service, and find the gift of healing at work. One may pray gently, seated at a table, with a gift of wisdom; another, may speak in ‘tongues’ – that mysterious gift – and be blessed or bring blessing to the hearer, as the Disciples did at Pentecost.
The frustration laid upon the hearts of those who believe such things, who take God at His word, is finding that where one church suppresses gifts and expression of them, another makes a flagrant display of them.
Neither treat rightly the Spirit of Grace. Both are abusive in their errors.
Their sin is not against man but against God, who has given us such gifts and such a Helper.
There is a way to balance the spiritually flamboyant errors of worshiping ‘in spirit’, and they too find root in scripture:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.Galatians 5:22-24
Having spent two-thirds of my life in evangelical and charismatic churches, I am well-versed in their tendencies and errors. One of the most common problems in these church types is the bug of super-stardom or a spiritually elite. First-class Christians lay hands on the sick, pray bold prayers, dance ‘in the spirit’, feel goosebumps (if it’s a good ‘worship’ service), speak in tongues more than you all, and talk about signs and wonders as if they are the only true estimation of a true faith.
I can tell you what these tend to lack: The fruit of the Spirit.
They package spiritual gifts in heavy-syrup and then throw the fruit out to get that sugar-rush from the syrupy spook. Chewing is hard work. Let’s dance instead!
I’m not a critic; I’m a convert from these things. It’s vital, when examining criticism to discern the difference… I’m not disgruntled with the Church; I am moved on her behalf to use my own gifts – I pray not without fruit showing when I am with you.
Whether you sing stiffly with a hymnal or dance and shout, I am no judge of these things; rather, I will look to see if you bear the marks of Christ in your body… in your ‘reasonable’ daily service.
From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.Galatians 6:17
We may not yet bear the physical marks of persecution, but should we not bear the physical marks of suffering self-control, that holy fruit? – Of dying daily? – Of putting to death the deeds of the flesh?
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.1 Peter 4:1
Seeking attention, power, status, or to change the flow of a service on Sunday morning where you have not been granted authority to do so, are these not works of the flesh?
If you preach the Word of God on Sunday, then malign your own people behind closed doors on Monday, you may be very gifted… and lacking fruit.
How Does One Worship in Truth?
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.John 17:16:19
Our expression of worship in the Spirit comes through the gifts and through the fruit of the Spirit. These things can be encouraged or extinguished through various methods, orthopraxy; that is true. Nevertheless, all of these things are meaningless if we do not marry them with the truth of God’s Word.
God’s Word, God’s truth, sets us apart from the world and into God’s service.
It’s funny that we call church a ‘service’, isn’t it? The church service was this; the church service was that…
But the Church’s true service is to worship Him by living a lifestyle consecrated to Him (set apart) by God’s truth in tandem with (the gifts and fruits of walking in the spirit by) the precious Spirit of Grace Jesus left to his disciples AND
“…also for those who will believe in me through their word…”John 17:20
Show me a Christian who denies the gifts of the Spirit and I will show you a Christian lacking in the fruit too; likewise, show me a Christian who makes an idol of the gifts and I will show you a Christian who performs like an angel and walks like a devil.
Show me a Christian who denies the truth of God and I will show you a Christian who errs by every doctrinal demon and speaks only truth when he can profit like Balaam; likewise, show me a Christian who preaches dogma in the traditions of man and I will show you a Christian who excels in gaining converts with convincing speech only to make them “twice a son of hell” (Matt. 23:15).
Perhaps, perhaps... in light of these things, one can see why some lament being unable to find a church that operates ‘in spirit and in truth’ and find some understanding.
These are the casualties of your deceptions, Church.
I Can Only Imagine…
So… what would that church look like anyway?
What would a church more concerned about ‘worshiping in spirit and in truth’ than making guests feel comfortable;
a church intent on ‘worshiping in spirit and in truth’ every day rather than spending a week preparing for one day of ‘service’;
a church that hungers and thirsts more for the righteous benefits of ‘worshiping in spirit and in truth’ than they hunger for lunch after service, their own building, community status, acclaim, signs, wonders, or a worldly respectability –
What would that church look like?
Thankfully, we don’t have to only imagine. Are there not vivid examples of these throughout the Bible?
Wouldn’t it look like Abraham, believing God though he did not see the fullness of the promise in his days;
like Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi in a foreign land and in a new lifestyle;
like Job’s stubbornness to honor God in his heart, despite his external circumstances;
like Peter, being led where he did not want to go because He loved Jesus;
like Hannah’s faith through her tears;
like the timid made bold; like the aggressive made meek; like the discontent filled and whole;
like the socially shunned pouring out of her heart a wealth of gratitude at her Savior’s feet, no matter the judgements fomenting around the room;
a table set for a feast in death’s valley under His wings;
like the uproar of swelling excitement on Pentecost day;
like the quiet stashing away of tender truths in Mary’s heart;
wouldn’t it be like the woman at the well, finally finding that one Husband, the Living Water of spirit and truth, her soul had sought for so many years – and then running to tell everyone?
You Are The Church
I speak now to the seeking.
We’ve all heard by now that the church is not the building. Aren’t our church errors, preferences, and camps often an extension of our personal proclivities, gifts, and values?
A Ruth thinks everyone should be Ruth… but some women are Abigails.
A Peter thinks everyone should be Peter… but some men are the beloved, John.
Leah is annoyed by a Rachel’s beauty; Rachel is jealous of Leah’s children.
Saul thinks everyone is another would-be Saul… but some are Davids.
The disciples are indignant that someone else is using their Master’s name to pray… but Jesus calls His own sheep by name.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.Romans 12:3-8
This is your transforming ‘service’ unto God.
Fulfill your ‘function’ in spirit and in truth… then, perhaps, we will find more churches filled with those who worship in spirit and in truth.
Because we can all believe in the gifts of the Spirit but not walk after the Spirit; and we can all hear God’s word every Sunday without ever becoming a doer of the Word.
I invite you to join me in the ‘reasonable service’ of letting the spirit of God’s truth transform your life. We cannot expect to find in a church building that which we do not practice daily in our homes.
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.2 Corinthians 3:6
As a personal note, pray for me. I do not desire to be a teacher or a preacher, though I carry a flame to exhort and encourage the Church; but for whatever function God has given me, I too engage in war (or limp around the battlefield called Trying). It is easier to believe and to hear than it is to do; I too find myself within the battle of Romans 12:1. The spirit is willing; the flesh, indeed, weak. Pray for me as I pray for you and be blessed.