Spirit and Truth
Excerpt: For much of church history, doctrine and theology were emphasized, along with ritual and a separation between “clergy” and “laity”. Now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme of experience and feelings, with “doctrine” becoming almost a dirty word. Is there a balance point between the two?
In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman that the time had come to “worship God in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Of course Jesus didn’t mean that nobody had done these things in the past; there were many righteous people in Israel who certainly did so. Rather, Jesus was speaking of the end of sacred places, buildings, and outward laws. We know this because he drew a contrast between such things and “spirit and truth” (vs. 21-22).
But what does this mean for us in practical terms? How do we worship God in spirit and truth? Since we’ve seen that Christianity tends to emphasize one extreme at the expense of the other, worshiping in spirit and truth means to balance the two. That is, spirit and truth must work together. Spirit alone is like a rudderless ship that is carried along by the wind and waves and cannot reach its destination, while doctrine alone is like a ship that has run aground and cannot do what a ship is meant to do.
When spirit and truth work together, each one keeps the other from error. Spirit will remind us of our eternal purpose and keep us from becoming lifeless and dry, while truth/doctrine will remind us of Who it is we worship and keep us from being led astray “by every wind of teaching” (Eph. 4:14). Experience and feeling alone can cause us to unwittingly sink into great evil and deception, while teachings and knowledge alone can cause our love to grow cold.
We as the Christian community need to find that balance and live it. In this way, we will be the “salt and light” we were meant to be. And since each of us has a different spiritual gift, which can range from speaking in tongues to confronting falsehood, we need to recognize the gifts each other has, and not dismiss those who do not have our gifts. If we all had the same gifts, most of us would be unnecessary. We were meant to cooperate with each other, not struggle with each other.