“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
When Jesus had His encounter with the Samaritan woman at that midday well, she revealed something about herself that I think is still common today, in and outside of the Church: an attraction to forms. For her and other Samaritans, it was where GOD was worshipped that counted. This kind of preference wasn’t peculiar to Samaritans; the observant Jewish population had its own set of preferences including where worship was supposed to take place. I hear similar attitudes expressed today when people occasionally compare one church against another.
Years ago, I heard someone say that if you package something in the right way, people will want it and buy it just about regardless of the intrinsic worth of what has been packaged. Consumer goods makers have long packaged and branded their products with a certain kind of appeal. At the moment of this writing, I’m thinking of two highly priced, luxury cars, both of which have a less than stellar record of mechanical reliability. Nonetheless, that issue doesn’t appear to me to have hampered their sales; I see a lot of them on the road.
It’s now not uncommon to hear people talk about their brands, i.e. how they want others to perceive them and their supposed value-added presence, participation, engagement, etc. Significant money is spent by churches marketing their brands. Potentially interested people check them out, in person or through whatever online presence they have to see if the substance and the forms of what a church is offering is appealing to them. As in other avenues of choice, folks make decisions based on both substance and form…and sometimes, I think, more on form than substance. I, and I’m sure you, have peeled back the layer on more than a few eye and ear appealing things to discover all that glitters is not gold.
Jesus used the opportunity of this encounter to point the Samaritan woman to what was truly spiritual gold. True worshipers, the kind that GOD seeks, worship Him in Spirit and truth. It has nothing to do with what the building looks like, or the appearance of the church’s website, or whether it is big or small, or the kind of music that is played and sung, or whether it is high church or low church, or if those who attend wear suits and dresses or jeans and flip flops. GOD’s people can worship Him in a cathedral and under a tree in a field, in a garage and in a retreat center, in the presence of thousands of people and in the quiet solitude of a personal prayer space.
What counts is not whether our worship provides us with emotional release in the presence of others, but if the worship flowing out of us is led by the Holy Spirit (“For those led by the Spirit of GOD are the children of GOD”–Romans 8:14). Worship in the Spirit is led by the Spirit. And, then, our earnest effort to follow the teachings of Jesus is worshiping GOD in truth for Jesus is the visible, tangible manifestation of GOD’s truth (“If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”—John 8:31-32).
We may have preferences for what our food looks like on the plate, but it doesn’t alter the substance and taste of the food that gives our bodies the nutrients they needs to be healthy. Presentation is a form. The food (the Spirit and the Truth) is the substance. May we never substitute good-looking pap for what is truly nutritious.
© Byron L. Hannon. 2020. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.