Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23).
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
A straw dog is a false caricature constructed purposefully to justify tearing it down. In building a straw dog, one describes an object or person in negative terms and then uses those descriptions to tear it down and build a new model. Many church leaders have built straw dogs of traditional churches.
For example, I am sure that you have received church flyers asking a question like the following. “What do you think of when you hear the word church?” Surrounding the question were the following suggested answers: “for perfect people only, outdated, judgmental, un-welcoming, irrelevant, hypocritical, boring, or stodgy hymns.”
After presenting this straw dog, the flyers invite the reader to attend a welcoming and relevant church that uses moving music and engaging programs for children.
Having received church flyers such as the above, the first thing that came to mind was John 4:23, quickly followed by Matthew 7:15. Jesus declared the truth concerning worship which is fundamental to the church. He said the Father was the one who seeks worshipers. He called those sought as true worshipers. He also warned of only looking at the “cover”. Beware of wolves who dress like sheep.
Further, Jesus described genuine worship. Genuine worship is done in spirit and truth. Note that spirit is not capitalized in English translations. Jesus was not referring to the Holy Spirit in this text. He was indicating that true worship must be wholly genuine. It must include the entire person, both body and soul. It is comparable to the Bible’s call to the church to love the Lord with your whole heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).
In addition, examine the word “church.” What do you think when you hear that word? First, it does not matter what you or I think about the word “church”. God has defined it. The church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18). The church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9). It is the church for whom Christ died (Ephesians 5:25). In Greek, church (ekklesia) is a compound word. It means called-out ones. God referred to Israel as those whom He chose (Deuteronomy 7:6-7). The first martyr of the Christian church, Stephen, called the congregation in the wilderness the church (Acts 7:38).
The church of Jesus Christ cannot be for perfect people. The visible church is made up of those who have acknowledged that they are sinners in God’s sight and their children (Acts 2:37-39). God’s church cannot be outdated. Jesus said that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The church is not judgmental. The Bible declares that God alone is judge (Romans 12:19). The church is not un-welcoming. The church is commanded to be hospitable (Romans 12:9ff; Hebrews 13:1-2). The church is not irrelevant. The normal means of salvation is through the church proclaiming the gospel (Romans 10:17). The church is not hypocritical. The church does not play at worship, but worships in spirit and truth (John 4:23). The church is not boring. The church worships the Holy and Sovereign God who has revealed Himself as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, coming before Him requires humble awe and fear (Psalm 96:9; Isaiah 6:5; Hebrews 12:28-29). The Bible reveals the God of majesty and awesome might. It is impossible for genuine worship of the one true God to be boring.
The best thing that can be said about this straw dog of the church is that it may lead professing Christians to think about God’s gift of the church. But there is no need to build a straw dog for us to think deeply about the church. God holds His people accountable to ensure that our worship of Him is acceptable to Him! We dare not design our worship of God for inviting people to be entertained or to think that their needs will be met. We dare not organize our worship of God for non-believers. Clearly, biblical worship is for God by His people. May you be filled with the joy of worshiping God in spirit and truth every Lord’s Day.