Look in the yellow pages of the phone book in any sizable American city, and you will see many Christian churches and denominations listed. You are bound to find a place of worship to your liking. Might even find a denomination or two you haven't heard of before.
Variety is good because not everybody worships God the same way. Some people believe that a traditional form of worship is the only way to go. Others like a more contemporary style. Still others may desire something in the middle, etc.
God has no problem with diversity; in fact, diversity comes from Him. Think about it; with over six billion people in the world today, no two are identical. Moreover, from the time of Adam until this current day, no two persons have been exactly the same!
I really think the world would be pretty boring if all of us were just alike, and we all had the same taste. I eat only three types of seafood, for example. If everyone else were like me, that would not bode well for the seafood industry. And when it comes to clothing, I take the conservative route. If everyone dresses as I do, trend-setting fashion designers would have few if any customers.
But though diversity generally is a good thing, when it comes to worshiping God, we must make surevery surethat what we do is based upon a clear understanding of what constitutes true worship.
In the fourth chapter of the Gospel According to John, the Bible tells of a meeting between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. The text strongly suggests that the Samaritans had some misconceptions about worship, as do many people today. One of these wrong notions had to do with the significance of the physical location where the Samaritans worshiped God. "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship," the woman said (John 4:20). I know believers today who seem to think that God only shows up at the physical location where they worship. They talk as though they have a monopoly on the Lord, or that Jesus belongs to their persuasion.
But hear what Jesus said: " neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem" shall be the place where men worship the Father (verse 21). This was a powerful statement since at that time Jerusalem was the place God Himself had chosen for His people to convene and worship Him.
The Samaritans also failed to grasp the importance of a person's relationship with God in worshiping Him. "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews," Jesus said to the woman (verse 22). You see, the Jews were God's chosen people. He was their salvation. On the other hand, the Samaritans did not know this God they worshiped. They claimed allegiance to Him merely because they occupied Samaria, which had been previously inhabited by the Jews. The end result is that the Samaritans were trying to worship a God they did not know.
Sad but true, many of the millions who attend worship services today do the same thing. They go through the motions of worshiping this God they know nothing about. Though they say all the right things among the congregation and may know all the clichés, their worship is unacceptable to Him. Jesus said the Father seeks the true worshipers to worship Him, and they are those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (v. 23).
In simplest terms, to worship God in spirit is to worship Him from our innermost being, as distinguished from some superficial display. To worship Him in truth denotes worship in accordance with His Word because His Word is truth (John 17:17). That means the true worshiper is one who worships God from the depths of his being and in accordance with truth. Jesus said we must worship God this way because He is a Spirit (John 4:24).
Interestingly, the Jews and the Samaritans claimed to worship the same God, but they despised each other. We must be careful not to "write off" those of other Christian denominations simply because their style of worship or their house of worship differs from what we are accustomed to. Different is not necessarily wrong or less appealing to the Lord.
The word worship used in the Scripture above comes from a word (proskuneo, pronounced pros-koo-NE-oh) meaning "to do reverence to." That's what worship is all about; it involves acts of reverence to the Lord, and it is not limited to a physical location. We can do reverence to God in a stately edifice, and we can do the same in a hut of clay!
Also, we can reverence Him in a ritualistic setting with monotone preaching and traditional hymns, and we can equally reverence Him in a very free style of worship with fiery preaching and loud, contemporary music. We can also fail to do reverence to Him via both of these forms of expression and anything in between. Style and location are not what matters to God; what matters to Him is whether or not we are worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.
When I was a teen, a slightly older friend of mine served as the pastor of a church belonging to the holiness movement. At that time I attended a Baptist church. This friend invited me to attend his church, which he was starting in his home. Their style of worship was very different to me. I had heard they worshiped God in a highly spirited way, and I knew their women wore long dresses and plain faces, which is why it took a long time for me to agree to visit, but one night I did.
When the invitation to salvation was extended I came forward. The people rejoiced greatly for me. But a couple of days after that night, I wondered what in the heck I had done. I called my friend the pastor, and talked with him about it. I asked him why could I not stay at my current church and be saved. He told me there was no way I could do that. He apparently believed that his denominationor movementhad exclusive rights to God.
Though I didn't know God, deep down I felt certain that what this preacher had said could not be right, and I chose not to unite with his congregation. I now know that it is not where we worship but how--not how as in the method of our expressions but how as in whether or not our worship comes from our heart and is in accordance with truth.
When we talk about worshiping in truth, we are talking about the whole gamut: the deity of Christ, the holiness of God, obedience to the Great Commission, living by faith, salvation by grace, etc. The sermons we preach, the lyrics we sing, and the things we do in our worship experiences must be consistent with these biblical truths.
In addition to admonishing true worship, the Bible also warns us against vain worship. Jesus defines this as the doctrinal teachings of men that make the commandments of God null (see Matthew 15:1-9). This type of worship we must avoid like the plague.
As I reflect on Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman, I get this chilling thought. She and her people the Samaritans had a zeal for God, but it was not in accordance with the truth. Many churchgoers today are that way. They take their worship experience seriously. They put all their heart and soul into it. There is nothing they wouldn't do for their "church". They literally worship all it stands for. Their sincerity is not in question. But the warning in Jesus' meeting at the well is that if we are not careful we can end up being sincere but dead wrong in what we deem as worshiping God.
Frank King is a former church pastor. He is currently an evangelist and an author. Frank holds a Master of Theology degree. Through the grace of God, Frank has been blessed to cross cultural lines in his preaching. Website: http://www.efrankking.com
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