Variations in worship styles abound in the church. We differ in preferences as to how formal or informal the style of worship service. We are concerned with where the church is located. Some of us want large megachurches, while others choose smaller intimate congregations. Some of us are more comfortable as spectators, while others prefer to be involved. One of the differences that has been front and center since the ’70s has to do with music. We have experienced a period of controversy and change over the type of music with which we worship. We have gone from a period of traditional hymns to the introduction of contemporary Christian music. Many people change fellowships, not because they have conflict, or are concerned about teaching or leadership, but simply because they prefer a different worship style. I am not saying they are wrong to do so but are we correct in how we define what it means to worship God?
John 4:21-24 (ESV)
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Prior to the coming of Jesus, under the Old Covenant, the center of worship was the temple. In order to worship, one went to the temple and participated according to the day or circumstance. God dwelt in the temple (at least He did at one time when the Ark of the Covenant was present). This is where this question originates. The Samaritans had their own location. What can we learn from the question and from the answer?
My personal opinion about worship and the differences in music, participation, and liturgy in contemporary American churches is as follows. I can sing both hymns and choruses, and in fact, I prefer to mix it up. I can sing with different song leaders, as long as their vocal range is not outside mine. (I have very limited abilities!!) I do prefer the tempo to move along. This is my preference and others do not have the same taste. I do not attend a liturgical church, though the thought of doing so interests me. I prefer to participate to some extent rather than just watch others do so. I live in a small town and do not have too many options as to size.
What do I think the above conversation misses? Worship is not about style. Worship is much deeper and richer than style. Worship is something that comes from the heart. Different types of styles and music speak to different preferences and can only aid a worshipping heart. Singing religious music is not worship in and of itself. In fact, worship is not synonymous with music. Worship takes many forms. It takes place in singing, in prayer, in reading the Word, in service, and in so much more.
What does Jesus say? He is answering the question in my paraphrase “Where is the correct place to worship?” You notice He does not give her direction as to location, but as to attitude. Jesus is introducing worship as residing in an attitude of the heart rather than a location. However you worship, what form your worship takes, and with whom you worship…… it is not about you, it is about God. The directive given here is that we would worship in spirit and truth. This should be our goal. All the forms or locations that we employ, should be founded in spirit and truth. We are free to find a context for worship that aids our worship in spirit and truth. We should not see our external framework as better or more right that other forms of worship. We should not insist that others adopt the experience that we find helpful. I think all the other things will fall into line if we earnestly seek Him and seek to honor Him in spirit and truth. God is seeking such people.