Worship In Spirit and in Truth

Worship In Spirit and in Truth May 27, 2021

Rembrandt van Rijn and one of his students: The Death of Sapphira / Wikimedia Commons

Now that people are being vaccinated against COVID19, more and more churches are opening back up, having worship services taking place in person once again. Catholics are being told their obligations are being restored. Christians are being told, when they return to their churches, they need to follow CDC guidelines, which means, if they are not vaccinated for COVID19, they are expected to wear masks and practice social distancing.[1] While some churches continue to make masking and social distancing mandatory, many are saying they will let people in without masks, expecting Christians to honor the rules given by the CDC. In such a situation, Christians who go in without masks are telling others they have been vaccinated; if they have not been vaccinated, that means, they are lying by their actions.[2]

Lying runs contrary to the Christian faith. If we love Jesus, we love the truth, for he himself indicated that he was the way, the truth and the life (cf. Jn. 14:6). “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24 RSV). Since the truth is good, lying, by its own nature, is evil, that is, it is an intrinsic evil. Certainly, not all lies are equal, and some are relatively minor, but lying to go to church runs contrary to the nature of Christian worship itself, for Christian worship is to be in and with the truth. How could any Christian who loves Jesus, who loves God, lie to others, and so to God, in order to return to church? What is the point of worship, if it is not based upon the truth?

Scripture, indeed, warns us that if we try to appear good and true, if we appear to love God and worship God, pretending to do what we are asked, but do not do so, we put ourselves into a rather dire situation. For when we say we have done something which we have not done in order to engage the community and worship together with other Christians, we lie not only to them, but to God. Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles, when Christians were coming together, sharing all that they had with each other, Ananias and Sapphira kept some of their property back from the community and lied about it. After lying, they died, with their death being seen as connected with their lying (cf. Acts 5:1-11).[3]

Today, people who lie to the community, saying they are vaccinated against COVID19  but are not, likewise, risk not only dying, but taking others with them. They are worse than Ananias and Sapphira, because they put the community at risk by their lies. Even those who are vaccinated are put at risk, because vaccination is not a hundred percent effective. Lying in order to go to church, lying in order to receive communion, is against the whole point of worship and communion, and those who do so, risk cutting themselves off from grace and condemning themselves through their lies. How could such a person think their worship is going to be  accepted when their worship is all an external show without the spirit of truth attached to it? How could someone receive communion and think they do so worthily if they have to lie to receive it?

COVID19 has revealed the dark underbelly of the Christian community. Many want to get together in a community and appear to be holy and pious, but it is all an act. Everything is external. They do not listen to Jesus who told them to take care of their neighbor, to watch after and help those who are in need. They do not follow after Jesus, making their lives reflections of God’s love. They make it all about themselves. They want to be honored  and respected. They want all to satisfy their every whim, even if it means putting the community at a risk. Jesus fought against such an attitude in his day, saying those who had it were whitewashed tombs (cf. Matt. 32:27-28). Many  have revealed their wickedness by the way they have dealt with COVID19. Those who ignored their neighbor, those who ignored the common good, and so ignored their responsibility to their community, all the while saying they want to be set free to worship God , show that they do not want to worship God as God asks, but rather, they want to worship God as they see fit. They tell God, just as they tell the community, that they are the ones in charge. They will find their attitude, their way of worship, does not bring them what they want, but rather, it will bring them into conflict with God, and as with all who fight against God, they will find they will be the cause of their own undoing and their own woe.  Christians are to worship God in spirit and in truth; if they have to lie to their faith community in order to worship with them, they are far from the faith and risk stumbling around the path of perdition.


[1] Those who have received COVID vaccinations are not required to wear masks, but they can continue to do, both to add extra protections for themselves and their families, but also to be in solidarity with those who have not been and cannot be vaccinated.

[2] Sometimes such people will also lie  by their words as well, as they will say they have been vaccinated if they are asked.

[3] There are many questions which one can raise about the story. It seems that it was a historical event read theologically, and so God is said, in some way, to be connected to the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. But how and why would God kill them when God is longsuffering and willing to show mercy to those who repent? There seems to be more to the story, probably more than the author knew. Did they, perhaps,  suffer a heart attack out of fear when they realized what they had done?  Theologically, we can say, as with all sin, their sin was the root cause of what they suffered and so the sin made its own punishment, but how that sin did so is not something which we can ascertain.

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