23 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. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24 (NIV)
How do I boil this down into soft morsels of, say, asparagus, so that it can be explained simply and digested quickly, yet keep it nutritious enough to be worth the hassle of cooking? I’ll try to discuss this without inadvertently knocking someone into some sort of angry theological abyss.
What does it mean to know somebody (let alone worship them) in spirit and in truth?
Let’s take marriage for example because that (hopefully) is a good example of one mankind’s deepest relationships. Now, unless you live in India, you typically start dating somebody before you marry them. Dating involves getting to know them. This happens on two levels: Spirit & Truth.
When you first notice a girl you notice her brown eyes, curly hair, and the tom boyish way she shoots raccoons with a 20 gauge shotgun and then posts celebratory pictures on Facebook. She’s a farmer’s daughter, after all, and she’s tired of those coons eating her chickens. I just described my wife and that is exactly how she set herself apart from all the other ladies in this world. “Wow,” I thought, “I could get along with this girl.” So I began looking over her profile pictures, her comments, what she shared on Facebook, and what activities she did on weekends. I was learning truth (or facts) about Janice but I didn’t yet know her in spirit. As far as I was concerned, she didn’t even know I existed. So while I was learning to know facts about her, I still didn’t know her.
Knowing truth comes from a one sided, fact finding mission about the opposite party in a relationship.
Truth Churches pursue pure doctrine and hold the line against cultural changes. They are really concerned that their knowledge of truth and application of truth remains untainted from falsehood. This is good since honest relationships are based on truth. However, Truth Churches are so concerned with truth, they do not allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable because they are afraid of deception. Truth Churches tend to be very doctrinally focused churches with little room for emotional expression. Their song lyrics are pithy and full of meaning. Their sermons tend to be centered around discerning the truths found in the Bible and purifying any false beliefs from the congregation. The problem is that emotional expression is required for meaningful relationships.
Truth Churches are like being married to a military man who is very disciplined and will never cheat on you, but is completely unattached emotionally.
Spirit Churches pursue emotional connection with God. Their songs have more beat, more feeling, and more fluff (and repetition) than Truth Churches because these are the things that draw an emotional response from the congregation. Sermons tend to be more inspirational in nature and are generally focused on the personal attributes of God and inspiring a comfortable relationship with God rather than applicable facts of doctrine. The problem with Spirit Churches is that they can be led into false beliefs because emotions are powerful and react quickly to outside circumstances. Their priority of an emotional connection can cause them to make compromises on doctrinal truths because they get in the way of feeling good.
Spirit Churches are like those people who date around because they love the emotional drama of the relationship but don’t want to deal with underlying issues that prevent a stable, long term relationship.
Ideally you want both a spirit and a truth church, just like Jesus said so long ago. Spouses should remain faithful only because it’s morally wrong, they should remain faithful because they love the other person dearly and are enjoying an intimate emotional relationship which removes the desire to even want to cheat. A spouse in a healthy marriage will not cheat even if there were no rules against it. However, the rules still must be followed for a marriage to be healthy. Both truth and spirit are inseparable ingredients in the chicken noodle soup of marriage and religion. Or like burgers and fries. Or whatever food analogy you can think of (I’m hungry).
I’ve known many people who grew up in the Truth Church and have grown disillusioned with it. They felt like they were missing the spirit side of their relationship with God. They were probably right! However, they assumed the Truth Church had nothing to offer and jumped straight over to the Spirit Church and quickly ran off the rails, disregarding Biblical doctrine in pursuit of an emotional connection they were starving for.
I’ve also known some folks from a Spirit Church background who grew weary of the rocking boat of emotional ups and downs. They found the Truth Churches very attractive and end up adopting legalism and find comfort in it, clinging to its unshakable pillars of doctrine.
Neither is good!
A relationship with truth and spirit holding hands (see what I did there) holds you more accountable to the other party than just a truth or just a spirit relationship. A man can remain faithful to his wife all the while wishing he never got married. Did he commit a sin? No. A Truth Church attitude would drop the gavel and give a “Not Guilty” verdict even though he’s likely being a terrible husband who is absent emotionally and has a lonely wife. On the other hand, A passionate man may mean well but may get carried away by his desires and commit adultery. Maybe he gets divorced first so he can feel better about the situation. A Spirit Church would drop the gavel and give a “Not Guilty” verdict because God is loving and forgives you, no matter the transgression. Truth is, neither the truth side or the spirit side is being very accountable to the other party in the relationship.
The sweet spot is somewhere in between.
I grew up in a Truth Church. Fact is, I still have a hard time allowing myself to raise my hands in church and getting lost in worship. I just feel like I’m being manipulated emotionally. I’m still grateful for my upbringing though because truth, when it transforms from head knowledge to heart knowledge, leads you to a healthy spirit filled relationship. Although, if your spirit longs after God (even without much truth known about God) I believe the Holy Spirit can lead you to truth as well. The optimum relationship is grounded in both spirit and truth and that’s what I’m striving for; a balance of firm, unshakeable doctrine that is based on the unchanging word of God yet made alive and reborn by the quickening of God’s Spirit.