Being a language person can make one appear obsessive or annoying. Being a language person is also a state of being, i.e., it’s not exactly a choice one makes, and it’s difficult to mask or deny or move away from said state. 18 years ago, I wrote the following to the Christian Chronicle (based in Oklahoma City), and I still think such language matters are significant.
To the Editor:
I would like to make two language-related suggestions toward a more appropriate understanding of what God intended in the sphere of corporate worship:
(1) Migrate from using the term “worship service” since this term tends to obscure the two distinct aspects of Christian activity, relegating what should be a dynamic and transforming occurrence to the realms of ritual ceremonies like “graduation services” and “funeral services.” Also, since “worship services” typically contain much that is not actually worship, and rightly so, the meaning of true worship is often lost.
(2) Realize that the phrase “in spirit and in truth” refers primarily to the spiritual realm and to true, actual worship, not to attitude and to supposed doctrinal correctness (though attitude and sound theology will certainly come into play). Jesus likely made no intentional reference here to the truth that resides in the words of the sacred writings.
[ . . . ]
#1 above is a nearly universal concern; most protestant churches and believers should be able to grasp and heed. On the other hand, not all readers’ backgrounds will allow for immediate understanding of the issues behind #2; it is a more provincial concern.
In particular, the Church of Christ (over the Christian Church and far over the Disciples of Christ) has a history of stressing “doctrinal correctness.” While the interest in being “right” and following God’s desires certainly stems from good intentions, in my estimation, it is not always pure-hearted — and in fact can result in misguided actions and off-base emphases.
One instance of such misapplication is in the area of worship and the assembly or gathering. It is entirely right to be concerned with what God wants and doesn’t want when the church (or an individual, for that matter) worships or edifies. It is, however, off-base to think that Jesus’ articulation “spirit and truth” in John 4 speaks of “doing things right.” For one thing, in John, Jesus is manifest as truth, and any John words about truth should be considered in that light. Moreover, from a simply linguistic standpoint, to do things “in truth” is to do them truly or genuinely or authentically, and it should not logically be presumed that doing something “in truth” equates to doing it with strict adherence to a body of understood protocols.
Jesus’ thought seems to be more about being genuine and real than “correct.”
For more on worship John 4 and worship, please click here: A Paramount Worship Text: John 4