— By LOU TISCIONE
“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.” (John 4:23)
You may be asking yourself what the title of this article has to do with Jesus’ words to the woman at the well.
A straw dog is a false caricature of something or someone purposely built to justify tearing it down. In building a straw dog, one describes an object or person in very negative terms and then uses those descriptions to tear it down and build a “new” model.
I recently received a straw dog in the mail. A church flyer asked: “What do you think of when you hear the word church?” Surrounding the question were the following suggested answers: “For perfect people only. Outdated. Judgmental. Un-welcoming. Irrelevant. Hypocritical. Boring.”
Then an invitation was given to those “who currently do not attend one of the great churches in Parker County.”
After my blood pressure returned to its normal level, I began to think more deeply about the flyer. The first thing that came to mind was John 4:23.
Jesus declared to a Samaritan woman the truth concerning worship which is fundamental to the church. He said the Father was the one who seeks worshipers. He called those sought as true worshipers. The implication is that those sought by others are not genuine worshipers.
Next, Jesus described genuine worship. He said that genuine worship is in spirit and truth. Notice that spirit is not capitalized in every reliable English translation. Jesus was not referring to the Holy Spirit in this text. He was indicating that true worship must be wholly genuine. It must include the entire person, body and soul. It is comparable to the Bible’s call to the church to love the Lord with your whole body, soul, and mind. (Dt. 6:5 and Mt. 22:34ff)
In analyzing the flyer further, I looked at the question. “What do you think when you hear the word church?” The fact is, it doesn’t matter what you, or I, think about the word church. God has given us His definition. The church is the body of Christ. (Col. 1:18) The church is the bride of Christ. (Rev. 21) It is the church for whom Christ died. (Eph. 5)
The word church is a compound word. It means the called-out ones. God referred to Israel as those whom He chose. (Dt. 7) The first martyr of the Christian church, Stephen, called the people in the wilderness the church. (Acts 7)
The church of Jesus Christ cannot be for perfect people. The church is made up of those who have acknowledged that they are sinners in God’s sight. (Acts 2)
The church cannot be outdated. Jesus said that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. (Mt. 16)
The church is not judgmental. The Bible declares that God alone is judge. (Rom. 12)
The church is not un-welcoming. The church is commanded to be hospitable. (Rom. 12 and Heb. 13)
The church is not irrelevant. The normal means of salvation is through the church that proclaims the gospel. (Rom. 10)
The church is not hypocritical. The church does not play at worship, but worships in spirit and truth. (John 4)
The church is not boring. The church worships the holy and sovereign God who has revealed Himself as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, coming before Him requires humble awe and fear. (Ps. 96, Is. 6 and Heb. 12) In fact the entirety of the Bible reveals a God of majesty. It is impossible for genuine worship of the one true God to be boring.
The best thing that I can say about this recent mailing is that I assume those who mailed it were seeking to invite non-believers to church. There is no need to build a straw dog to do it. But, there is a need to ensure that those who are invited will experience God’s people worshiping Him as He has commanded to be worshiped. We dare not invite people to be entertained or to think that their needs will be met. Likewise, we dare not organize our worship for non-believers. Clearly, biblical worship is for God by His people.
May you be filled with the joy of worshiping God in spirit and truth this Lord’s Day.
Lou Tiscione is pastor Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA).