We all have preferences when it comes to church. We like the music, the programs, the preaching or even the people; that is why we continue to go back to the same church each Sunday. However just as many have ideas about how an ideal church functions, they also have opinions as to how others are doing church wrong. We can identify flaws in their mission statement, the way they baptize people, the way they pray or even the sound of their musicians. These opinions and differences are rarely about a church’s or denomination’s core beliefs. They often focus on the irrelevant or something that has not been well defined in scripture; such as to sprinkle or dunk during baptism.
When Jesus met the women at the well she brought up one of the divisive differences of opinions that Samaritans and Jews have regarding worship. Jesus however sets the record straight by suggesting worship is not about the location or the frills. He said true worshipers worship the Father in spirit and truth; true worship engages the heart which has been enhanced by the truth about God. Worship in spirit and truth requires scripture, not legalism or preferences, to be the foundation of our love of God. When we ground ourselves in His truths, we then know who it is we seek to glorify.
Have you ever been in a church other than your own or even one from another denomination? Have you seen people worship in spirit and truth outside of your own congregation? It is happening despite what you may have heard. It is happening in churches where liturgy and ceremony are central to the service just as it is happening in places that resemble concert stages. It is happening where people are not concerned about where they are but who they are there to honour with their worship. Focusing on our differences out of jealousy or ignorance hurts Christ’s Church (the body of believers) and can have dire consequences.
Stephen is identified as the first Christian Martyr of the Church and his problems started with people who probably worshipped differently from him. He was chosen to oversee the early church’s food programs not because he was a great logistician or had connections to food distributors or was well liked by everyone in his community. He was chosen to be part of the Holy Spirit’s earthly mission because he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He set about doing the work to the best of his abilities and people had opinions about his ministry, specifically the Synagogue of the Freedmen (literally made up of those who were former slaves). Their opinions lead to an accusation of blasphemy which resulted in his stoning and death. Incredible to think that even in the early days of the church, differences of opinions caused such horror.