H. Leo Boles
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 ASV).
Three requisites of acceptable worship are set forth in this verse:
We must worship God.
We must worship God in spirit.
We must worship God in truth.
The first commandment forbade the worship of any other being. It said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Deut. 5:7 ASV).Verse 9 of Deuteronomy 5 reads, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; for I, Jehovah, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me.” Hence, however sincere might be the idol worshiper, his worship is highly displeasing to God, because it fails in the first of the requisites above given. It is not directed to God.
Second, the worship must be in spirit (i.e. proceeding from a sincere heart and rendered with attention and understanding). This forbids worship that is merely formal—worship that consists of rites and ceremonies in which the worshiper may engage without attention. Catholicism is a system of such worship where the worshiper may not know, and indeed is not expected to know, the significance of much in which he engages.
There is some danger that this type of worship should come to obtain in Christ’s church. The unvarying routine of services, the formal and mechanical participation in song, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper, the failure to give attention and enter heartily into the worship leads to that which is not in spirit. This is that which Jesus rebuked in the Pharisees in Matthew 15:9—vain worship.
Such people as this worship him with their lips and give utterance to phrases of worshipful nature, but the heart is not in it, and God is not pleased. We should ever be on our guard that we do not fall into a mechanical, formal, heartless type of devotion to God.
Finally, worship, to be acceptable, must be “in truth.” To be “in truth” is to be according to God’s word. Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Any act of worship—however sincere might be the worshiper—is not acceptable to God if it is not in harmony with the scriptures. This teaches us that God will accept only that which he has specifically set forth in the scriptures for us to do in worship.
We walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), and since faith comes by hearing God’s word (Rom. 10:17), we can offer in faith only that which is set forth in his word. This will exclude from our worship everything not specifically mentioned within Scripture. By this rule, we can never use instrumental music in worship, because it is nowhere commanded or even mentioned in New Testament worship. Therefore, we cannot engage in it “by faith.”
True, David used instrumental music, but he also offered animal sacrifices and burned incense in worship. We do not take our orders from David today. Christ is our lawgiver and guide (Matt. 17:5; 28:18; Heb. 1:1-2). He has nowhere authorized instrumental music, the Holy Spirit-inspired apostles did not sanction it, no New Testament writer mentioned it in New Testament worship, and no apostolic church practiced it. To engage in it is to fail to worship “in truth.” But God is pleased when one only worships “in truth.” Therefore, instrumental music is not pleasing to him.
The items of worship are set forth in Acts 2:42 and Ephesians 5:19. These are:
The contribution, and,
The Lord’s Supper
These items were observed on every first day of the week by the church in apostolic times (1 Cor. 16:2; Acts 20:7).
The disciples were directed by men who were empowered with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:42; 2:1). We can do no less than this and be assured of pleasing God today. What pleased him then, will surely please him today. All else must be rigidly excluded from worship and service to God. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).