Blessed are those who believe without seeing

Wouldn’t you kill for a paragraph or two in the NT on what should happen in the worship assembly? Maybe we could put to death some of our worship wars. Alas, no NT writer ever weighed in on the appropriate style of music or whether sermons should be topical or textual. In fact, I think much of the NT assumes views of worship carried over from the temple and synagogue, practices developed over time and modeled most clearly in the Psalms.

This is not to say the NT has nothing to say about worship, it’s just that what is said is embedded in narratives or assumed in theological arguments. So, what is said about worship is fairly indirect and must be teased out theologically. Since we have no NT manual for worship, we have to think about what we do in relation to the God who is the subject of our worship and what it means to live in praiseworthy ways in the world God created.

There is, however, one direct statement about worship in the NT that is both deserving of our attention and frustratingly vague in its application. When Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, she poses a question about worship to him. “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” She tries to pull Jesus into a worship war to deflect his queries into her personal life.

Jesus responds, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Well, that’s clear. We must worship in spirit and truth. My hunch is that the various worship traditions represented by contemporary Christianity all think they are in compliance with this statement, but have very different views about what it means. Some place the stress on the word “spirit,” others on the word “truth.” All would agree that something huge is at stake in the phrase “spirit and truth.”


Jamie was born in Michigan, just a few miles from RC, but hadn’t been here since she was 3. I was excited that she came to visit recently with her mom. She can’t wait for Streaming.

I’m not sure I’m the one to shed a lot of light on this text. Fortunately, we have Jamie Clark-Soles coming to Streaming to help us think about worship in relation to the Gospel of John. Jamie is a Johannine scholar from Perkins School of Theology at SMU. She is also very concerned with the renewal of the church in North America in our post-Christendom context. My first instinct in encountering Jesus’ statement to the woman at the well is to say it needs to be answered first in relation to the world imagined by the Gospel of John. So, I’m anxious for Jamie to help us explore the contours of John’s gospel with this question in mind.

Here, I will offer only one suggestion. In John, both seeing and hearing play a role in creating belief. Seeing creates initial belief, but hearing is necessary for deeper belief. In a crucial text near the end of the gospel, Thomas believes because he has seen the resurrected Jesus and touched his wounds. Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for his need to see, but offers a blessing that indicates the priority of hearing: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I’ve often thought that much of what passes for worship renewal these days runs along the rails of seeing. We want the experience of worship to be immediate, to produce in the moment. The one thing, then, that we can’t be is boring. We are constantly giving people something to “see.” Hearing is a much more patient endeavor, requiring the capacity to be still, to be attentive, to be reflective. Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but I think it’s worth asking if our worship aims too much at the more superficial level of seeing, not enough at the deepening capacity of hearing.

Come to Streaming and help us extent this important conversation.

About Mark Love

I am the Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who lives in Portland, OR. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and three amazing granddaughters.
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4 Responses to Blessed are those who believe without seeing

  1. As I’ve read and thought about this passage from John 4 I’ve wondered why it is that Jesus, in the same breath as speaking of “true worshippers” (implying the reality that there is “false worship”) being those who worship “in spirit and in truth” would state, “God is spirit”. Would that imply that true worship comes from those who are IN GOD?

    Likewise, in John 14 Jesus makes the statement, “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the light…”.

    God is Spirit. Jesus is truth. God desires true worship to be “in spirit and in truth.” Is this another way of saying true worship is given by those IN GOD and IN CHRIST? Of course, these are two descriptions of the same status. But I’ve wondered if this is what Jesus was telling the woman…not some much about HOW worship would be presented but, rather, WHERE true worship would be offered.

    After all, the woman’s question was about WHERE true and proper worship should be given. If Jesus isn’t talking about WHERE then did he answer her question?

    I’m eager to see what others may think about this view.

    • Mark Love says:

      I like this because it takes John’s own rhetorical world seriously. I think it very well may be two ways to say the same thing. But I think that one thing would still need to be qualified. Does John use the language of “in Christ”? Would that mean the same thing it means in Paul? Maybe. But I think it would grab other things native to John’s gospel, like light and life and washing feet and friendship and seeing and hearing. In other words, it would be more than a generic or abstract notion of being “in God” or “in Christ,” though those things may very well be implied, but would carry the distinctive and particular emphases of John’s narrative as well. But, let’s see if others have things to add.

  2. It’s true that in John’s gospel we don’t encounter the term “in Christ” as we do throughout the Word that has come to us through Paul. BUT…as we look at the Gospel of John we find this same reality stated 11 times (by my count) in the first person as Jesus speaks of being “in me”, most often in the form of “abide in me” – eleven times references to a man abiding “in me” (in Jesus), five other statements of God (the Father) abiding in Him (Jesus).

    And when we get to 1 John we find this reality stated over and over (12 times by my count) by use of the term “in him”. Finally, with respect to Scripture that is given to use through John, is the statement in Revelation that says, “Blessed are the dead who die ‘in the Lord’…”.

    Again, as I’ve considered the answer by Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well as being WHERE true worship would be given (in spirit and in truth) if this is correct it carries implications to other parts of the Way of Christ as well. For example, when Scripture speaks of “faith in Christ” I tend to look at it not only as Christ being the object of our faith but also the arena – the place – where our faith is lived out. A man may profess a faith/trust/belief in Christ but if he is not living/abiding in Christ will that professed faith profit him anything at all?

    Granted, none of this speaks to the questions raised in the article about the superficiality, on the one hand, or the contemplative depth, on the other hand, of what is found in Christian worship today. Yet it points to the fundamental truth that no worship is true worship unless and until it is offered in the only place where true worship can be given…not on the mountain in Samaria, not in Jerusalem, but in Christ, in Him, in the Lord.

    I do hope other will weigh in on this.

  3. Pingback: Following Jesus 101 – Gospel of John Bible Reading Plan – Wanda L. Ball

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