But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. (John 4:23)
Christianity still ranks as the largest ‘religion’ with an estimated over 2 billion followers. Yet it also claims the largest number of different ‘denominations’ – estimated at around 43 000 – with an estimate of around 40 significant doctrinal differences that create separation. In the face of all of this, its not surprising that that many non-Christians or new Christians raise the rather confused question: Which of them is right? It’s a question that seems to have crossed my path a few times recently, and it’s essentially the question with which the Samaritan woman confronted Jesus in this Scripture. It’s one worth considering, especially in end times, when division within the church has become more pronounced and doctrinal differences dictate the form and nature of individual worship.
We can never fully measure Christianity in terms of numbers, because estimates cannot possibly take into account the individual believers who do not have church membership due to circumstances, location and other reasons such as the necessity to be ‘underground’ in many parts of the world. I also don’t believe that God is at all interested in numbers – which, sadly, is often the measure of ‘success’ of today’s business-church. But they do offer a ‘for instance,’ a general picture that provides some insight.
The sad truth that emerges is that the number of ‘counted’ Christians has in fact dropped since 2011 while other religions have gained in popularity, particularly those with a mystic, ‘esoteric’ attraction, and others, like Islam, appear to have grown in power if not in actual numbers, even in traditionally Christian regions of the world. Against this backdrop, we find Christian leaders calling for unity – an excellent call, on the surface, but the trend appears to be that we are to stand in unity with other religions. We are to come together in unified prayer with other faiths, each of us worshiping and praying to our different ‘gods’ together, in unity. This may well be the ‘beginning of the end,’ the catalyst that starts the ball of apostasy rolling in earnest.
Today’s verse highlights the true nature of worship for followers of Christ. It is the defining characteristic that God has always intended for His people. And it cuts through the great denominational/religious/doctrinal debate like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Throughout the Bible, we can find countless verses that direct us to ‘real’ worship, or which call both believers and religious leaders to task over their form and nature of religious ritual. Jesus Himself challenges and rebukes without hesitation those who make the Law their religion. Over and over, we find truth that reveals worship as being of the heart, of grace, rather than of the Law.
Scripture indicates that true Christianity will become more and more ‘unpopular.’ It’s no stretch of the imagination to see that even whole churches will turn aside from worship in Spirit and Truth, demanding teaching that is comfortable and self-gratifying and pursuing what Paul calls ‘doctrines of demons.’ The tragic truth is that the church itself is becoming its own worst enemy. If we’re honest, we don’t need Satan or the attack of other religions to divide the church and bring about her destruction. We’re losing the real focus of our faith – Christ and Him cruficified, resurrected, and glorified – and are slowly creating our own demise.
Today’s verse, more than ever before in history, is the simple yet life-changing challenge to each and every believer. It is a call to the divine purpose for our lives. Are we willing to stand as the kind of worshiper the Father seeks? It’s going to mean that, at some point, we may be called to separate ourselves from those who are not. They may be people we know and love, people we have fellowshipped with for many years, perhaps even those who loved, taught and discipled us in our early Christian walk. Jesus talks of this – we may be called to leave our father, mother, brothers or sisters. Following Christ will set one against the other, dividing houses and families, and none more tragically than the church.
This division is not that of ‘doctrinal differences.’ It’s not that of what we feel comfortable with – the nature and form of our collective worship. It is the hard and tragic reality that believers in Christ will, sooner or later, be faced with a hearbreaking choice. Paul tells us this in Timothy 3:1-5:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
These are words, first and foremost, for the church, not the people ‘out there.’ It’s unequivocal. We are to separate ourselves. This does not mean that we ‘write them off.’ We are still called to pray for them, to speak the truth in love, and to intercede constantly. But we are are to have nothing to do with them. It is a choice that is going to require the grace, the strength and the courage that can only come from God. We will one day go home rejoicing, but I have no doubt that there will be a time of intense mourning before that happens. There will be many within our fellowship that will be lost before that day.
The days of complacency are over. The age of the Gentiles will soon be over. The moment of choice faces each and every believer. It simply does not matter where we worship, but how we worship. Are we willing to choose Christ no matter what, to worship with a heart totally and completely surrendered, to separate ourselves from everything which has the form or semblance of evil? I have absolutely no doubt that those of God’s who people who step out in faith on the hard and narrow way will be brought to a place of worship and intimacy that we could never even imagine. I believe this because we will need it to sustain us. Out of apostasy, God always raises up the remnant, a people who, like Enoch, walk with Him moment by moment. He does it because He knows that nothing else will get us through.
We no longer have the luxury of ‘tomorrow.’ We don’t have time to ‘play church,’ to indulge in ‘perfomances’ of worship that remind us only of ‘how good God is’ and how much He loves us. These are truths that sustain the believer. They are the truths that underscore our faith and reveal the nature of God. But our continual focus on on self in worship denies the full reality of who God is. True worship acknowledges God as sovereign, as all-powerful, as totally holy and unable to condone or excuse sin. True worship looks as God as Creator-Father-Husband-Judge-Master. True worship brings us to the cross, and brings us to our knees. It puts to death all that we are, and brings us to the place where we can weep for our sins and rejoice in our salvation, the place of ‘though He slay me, yet will I praise Him.’
The modern church, seduced by a world of self-focus and by doctrines of demons, has set a course for self-destruction. We have reached the place of separation, of choice. Will we worship in Spirit and Truth, holding fast to the Word and surrendered to the Spirit, or do we still strive to please man rather than God. This is the moment of choice, while we still have time to turn our hearts completely to God and allow Him to work in us as He wills. It is the moment where we cry ‘Lord, here am I,’ and step into the place in Christ for which we were both created and called. It is the moment of total separation unto God, and it begins with a simple choice.
Father God, strengthen us and teach us, draw us into that place of worship in Spirit and Truth. Give us the courage, Lord, to choose You, the grace to live and speak Your Truth in love, to separate ourselves from all semblance of evil and to come willingly to the cross, to lay down all that is not of You, and to walk in faith with You.