John 4:24 says:
God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
Answer: Concerning what Yeshua meant about worshipping God “in spirit and in truth,” one has to consider the context of Yeshua’s conversation with the Samaritan woman. In this conversation, the question came up whether Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim was the proper place of worship. Hence, the issue was not the form or type of worship, but rather: Must the worship of God occur in only one specific place? The Messiah declared to the Samaritan woman that, for the time being, Jerusalem was the proper place of worship. It was where the Temple stood and, therefore, worshipping God and trying to fulfill the commandments on Mount Gerizim was simply not acceptable. Then, He went on to say that a time was coming when the issue would be neither Jerusalem nor Mount Gerizim, but rather worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. When the Messiah died, the Law of Moses was rendered inoperative. Believers are no longer obligated to travel to Jerusalem to fulfill the commandments. Rather, they are able to worship God wherever they live, as long as they worship Him in spirit and in truth. To worship Him “in spirit” does not refer to a specific type of worship, but the inner attitude a man has when he worships God. When a person is worshiping God and their mind, heart, soul, spirit, etc., are focused on Him, then they are worshiping Him “in spirit.” To worship “in truth” is to worship Him with an understanding of the truths the Bible teaches about God’s nature and person and work. There was a time when worshipping God in spirit and in truth could only take place in Jerusalem, but now such worship can take place anywhere.
As far as the style of worship is concerned, in Scripture, the concept of worship was not so much intertwined with style or form, but with obedience. In places like Mark 7:1-11, keeping the commandments of God would be considered true worship, whereas keeping the commandments of men would be considered empty worship. Thus, whenever we are conscious of the commands applicable to us and are keeping them on the basis of the fact that they are divine commandments, the very act of obedience already involves worship.
Insofar as corporate worship is concerned, the rabbinic writings provide the details of what used to constitute corporate worship. To a great measure, corporate worship consisted of reciting prayers and the singing of psalms. I have met worship leaders who emphasized dancing, jumping, and shouting. Unfortunately, more often than not they were imposing their own charismatic culture on the text. That is not the way it was necessarily practiced in Judaism. This does not mean that these things are wrong, but they were not really the intent of the Hebrew and Greek words, nor was dancing, jumping, and shouting the format used by Jews in early worship. In fact, often, these worship styles lead to disorder, and that is why Paul warned the Corinthian church, primarily a Gentile church, that all things should be done decently and in order. Today, there are congregations that allow worship dancing, and many of them do so in a way that is honoring to the Lord. In others, they may call it worship dance, but frankly, I see hardly any difference between the dancing in these churches and the jumping up and down during a rock concert.
To a large measure, the style and type of worship tends to be determined by cultural preferences, and so God has given people much freedom here, as long as the principles of decency and order are not violated. Furthermore, any form of worship must not supersede the primary purpose of the meeting of the body—which is to learn from the exposition of the Word of God. The exposition of the Word of God and submission to it with knowledge and, therefore, in spirit and in truth, is the ultimate way of worshipping God.
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Arnold Answers is a bi-weekly Q & A with founder and director of Ariel Ministries, Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.