A Real and Present Danger
It is possible to faithfully attend a worship service and turn the experience into a religious ritual without any personal reality. Jesus said that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.” To worship God in spirit and truth is to worship with our head and our heart.
To worship with our head involves understanding the truth of the gospel. By the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, theological dogma is understood and embraced. The Apostle’s Creed is not only recited, it is embraced for the truth it contains concerning God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
An Affirmation of Truth
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell;
The third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The Holy catholic Church,
the Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting. Amen. –AD 140
When stated slowly, and with the mind engaged in the meaning of each phrase, the Apostle’s Creed can be a thrilling summary statement of praise and worship to the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. When stated with a yawn from memory, the Apostle’s Creed has the same meaning as reciting the evening prayer of a child composed by Joseph Addison on March 8, 1711.
“When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to His care;
when I awake, I give my self
Up to His Direction. Amen.”
A later version printed in The New England Primer goes:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
The New England Primer refers to an American textbook intended to teach literacy and Puritan theology. The most popular children’s book in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in New England, The Primer was sold in almost every local bookshop and general store for over a century. Scholars have estimated that between 1680 and 1830, between six to eight million copies of the Primer were printed. It was also probably the first American work of literature to be popular in Europe, in that Puritan children in England and Scotland used it. The New England Primer includes a variety of genres across a range of reading levels: alphabets, emblems, proverbs, prayers, poetry, and moral tales.
To worship God in truth, based on doctrinal orthodoxy is easy. However, to worship God with the heart is more of a challenge, because the mind tends to wander, there are pressing needs in life, there is a busy schedule to keep, or, there is unresolved anger, bitterness, and hatred on the mind.
John Piper has written on the need to have “strong affections for God rooted in truth” so that religious worship does not become a meaningless ritual.
“Worship must be vital and real in the heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit, and there must be truth. . . . Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers . . . . On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy, and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional, and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship” (Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, pp. 81–82).
“Lord, help me to worship you in spirit and in truth. Amen.”