Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Come to Mount Zion, Or In Spirit and in Truth,
The Glory and Genius of New Testament Worship

by William J. Baldwin


Why is the Presbyterian service so boring? If New Testament Worship is so glorious, where is the pomp and ceremony? Where is the spectacle? Where are the pictures and the dancing and the tambourines? Where is the excitement? Oddly enough, first century Christians were asking the same questions (without using the word "Presbyterian"). An entire book of the Bible was written to answer them. And much later, the Reformed-as opposed to the Lutheran-arm of the Reformation would develop and defend this doctrine of "simplicity of worship," denying all outward pomp and show in the worship of God.

We who hold to this doctrine now spend much of our time defending-and being defensive about-it. Who can blame us? It's hard to be calm when someone asks why your worship is boring. Yet at times it seems we concede the premise. We never say but often imply the following answer: "You're right that our worship is boring. That's the way God commands us to worship. We don't have a choice in the matter." The simplicity of worship becomes a doctrinal hair shirt, a belief we hold to because our faith is rugged enough to embrace even teachings that are hard and strange.[1]

The best defense is a good offense. Especially when it's the offense of the gospel. This study hopes to show you the glory-the sheer, awesome wonder and majesty-of the worship of God in Christ. If I can accomplish this, we will no longer be defensive but amazed to receive the questions that began this paper. Boring? Are you nuts? What are you missing? Are you looking with your eyes rather than your faith? And we will ourselves be enthralled, enraptured in the truest sense of the word, as each Lord's Day we sit on chairs or pews, but in Spirit and in truth, by faith in Christ, we are catapulted to heavenly places and brought before the throne of grace.

  1. "In Spirit and in Truth"-Jesus Foretells the Coming Glory
    1. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:1-26)
      1. Jesus says to the woman "Give Me a drink."
        1. He does this to test her.
        2. Will she recognize him? Will she recognize her poverty, her inability to give him true drink?
        3. Will she imitate the words of John the Baptist when Jesus asked to be baptized? "I need to be baptized [given a drink] by you and you are coming to me?"
        4. She misses the point and wonders only how a Jew may ask a Samaritan for a drink.
      2. This is no fanciful interpretation; it is confirmed by Jesus' words in verse 10.
        1. "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
        2. Her eyes and mind are stuck in the mundane, the things of this world, that which her eyes can see. She does not recognize Jesus according to the Spirit and she does not think of water in spiritual terms.
      3. Even now, she does not understand
        1. To her, "living water" is water from a stream, water that moves along and is thus healthier and cleaner than stagnant water.
        2. So she wants to know where he will go to get that living water.
        3. She does not understand that he is the living water, that it flows from him and wells up to eternal life.
      4. Jesus tries again, without result
        1. Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
        2. Surely now she must understand that this water has mysterious, spiritual dimensions to it.
        3. Yet she does not appear to. Rather she seems tantalized merely by the idea that she might never have to go through the physical trouble of pulling water up out of a well again.
        4. "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."
      5. So he reveals to her, by telling her of her five husbands, that he is a prophet.
      6. Perhaps now she will understand.
      7. Instead, she is still hopelessly rooted in the physical, the earthly. So she poses an earthly question:
        1. "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."
        2. For your standard Rabbi this question is a gimme:
          1. Search the Scriptures. Will you find any mention of your mountain, Mount Gerazim?
          2. Is not Mount Zion, Jerusalem, God's holy place, chosen by himself that he should dwell there and be worshiped there?
          3. Mount Zion is mentioned throughout the Psalms, Jerusalem throughout the whole Scripture as God's holy place. What could be plainer than that we should worship there?
          4. And this answer would not be wrong, would it?
        3. But Jesus is not your standard Rabbi.
          1. He knows that within three years there will be nothing sacred about Jerusalem
          2. Jerusalem is only a picture, a copy of the heavenly places where God dwells.
          3. And it is access to that true Jerusalem that Jesus is about to secure.
          4. What good, then in telling her an answer that will be defunct in a few years. Tell her what's about to happen that is much more glorious than worshiping God on any earthly mountain-even the one in Jerusalem.
      8. The woman has relentlessly pursued earthly matters-physical living water, climbable mountains.
      9. Jesus finally and explicitly redirects her attention to the spiritual
        1. "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
        2. Thus he teaches her that the old worship is passing away because it was a mere shadow of that which is about to come.
        3. He informs her that it is he himself, the Messiah (vv. 25,26), who will inaugurate this change.
      10. So let's explore what it means to worship the Father "in spirit and truth"
    2. "In Spirit"
      1. In contrast to the flesh or the body
        1. This is in contrast to the Samaritan woman's relentless focus on the material
          1. She wants water for her physical body, but anyone who drinks that sort of water gets thirsty again and eventually dies.
          2. She wants to know a physical location for the worship of God. Jesus tells her such a question is becoming irrelevant.
        2. John 3:6-What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
        3. John 6:63-It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.
        4. Galatians 5:18-I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
        5. Galatians 6:8-For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
      2. In the realm of the Holy Spirit
        1. John 3:5-7-"Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.'"
        2. Hebrews 6:4 speaks of "those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit"
        3. John's use of "In the Spirit" in Revelation
          1. Same phrase as in John 4:23,24
          2. Revelation 1:10ff.-I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."
          3. 4:2-Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.
          4. 17:3-So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
          5. 21:10-And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.
          6. Clearly this phrase refers to being caught up into heavenly places and seeing things not as earthly men see them but as God sees them.
          7. To worship God "in spirit," then, is to be caught up into that heavenly realm, to be given God's perspective in which all our battles are spiritual-against principalities and powers and the rulers of darkness-and to be shown the victory of Christ and the triumph of his church and to be equipped with heavenly weapons to fight this spiritual battle that we may endure until the end and be saved.
      3. By faith
        1. Paul makes this connection most explicitly in Galatians
        2. The Spirit is received by faith (Gal 3:2)
        3. To begin in the Spirit is antithetical to being perfected in the flesh (3:3). This means that in the opposition between grace/faith and works/deeds of the flesh, the Spirit is on the grace/faith side of the line. To walk by faith is to walk in the Spirit.
        4. God supplies the Spirit by the hearing of faith (3:5)
        5. We receive the promise of the Spirit (or "the promised Spirit") through faith (3:14)
      4. The realm of the Spirit is not visible to eyes of flesh.
        1. But we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7)
        2. And thus we walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh.
        3. Hebrews will deal with this in more detail
      5. The worship that Jesus foretells is a worship of things unseen in places unseen, a worship that appeals not at all to our flesh but to our spirit speaks mysteries from heaven. Thus the material elements of this worship will be simple-only as much as is necessary-but the spiritual elements will be glorious.
    3. "In Truth"
      1. In reality
        1. The Old Testament worship was a time of types and shadows.
          1. A High Priest who was a picture of Christ, sacrifices to depict him as well, a holy mountain and a temple and a holy of holies to picture heaven itself.
          2. We'll deal with this more in the book of Hebrews.
        2. But now that the perfect has come, the partial may be done away with.
        3. Now that the reality has come, the shadow has no appeal.
      2. With grace and the powerful word of God
        1. These things are connected in John's mind
        2. John 1:14-And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
        3. 1:16,7-And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
        4. 17:17-"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth."
        5. In this sense, John would not call the Law "truth" (although the law is true). But it had no power to sanctify or confer the benefits of salvation. God speaks from heaven but his words do not save. But when the truth comes, it will save us all.
      3. In a way that engages the mind
        1. Since the full knowledge of God has been revealed in Christ, the former ways of worship are no longer appropriate
        2. The Old Testament saints did not know the truth that we know.
        3. Even the prophets and angels longed to look into the things that are spoken to us each Lord's Day (1 Peter 1:11,12)
        4. So in the Old Testament it was appropriate to worship God by dancing before him and beating tambourines. Such activity indicated that the worshipers knew that the worship of God was joyful. But they did not yet apprehend the content of that joy or know how to express it in words. So they encouraged their emotions directly, as it were.
        5. But in the New Testament, Paul demands that the emotions be engaged through the mind
          1. Indeed, he says any other form of worship has no profit
          2. 1 Corinthians 14:7-But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?
          3. The tongues themselves were of no value unless they communicated truth.
          4. It was not enough to say that the tongues made one "feel" worshipful even if no one, not even the speaker, knew what was being said.
          5. When so much has been revealed through Jesus Christ, it is scandalous if the worship service does not take full advantage of this by constantly presenting the knowledge of Christ in a way we can understand (Cf 1 Corinthians 14:19-yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.)
        6. For this reason, everything in the New Testament worship is geared toward engaging the mind.
          1. This is not to discount the emotional aspects of religion; those are important and necessary.
          2. But it is to say that the emotions are always engaged through the mind in New Testament worship.
          3. That is to say, we don't make the people feel good by using crowd psychology-getting them to clap and cheer and whatnot. Then they feel good, but what do they feel good about? They have a warm fuzzy feeling, but is there any real fellowship. Are they really all feeling good for the same reason (the salvation of God in Jesus Christ)?
          4. Rather we tell them what they have to feel good about and then when the emotions respond, they have fellowship with each other. The warm fuzzy feeling in each member is produced in reaction to the same doctrine.
  2. "You have Come to Mount Zion"-Hebrews Describes the New Worship
    1. Why Hebrews was Written
      1. The people of God were in transition from the Old Testament to the New.
      2. In the Old Testament worship they had seen exciting spectacles and drama
        1. They'd had a mountain to which they made yearly pilgrimages
        2. They'd had a temple to worship in-a glorious building that outwardly reflected the glory and richness of the Kingdom of Heaven
        3. They'd had a High Priest going into the Holy of Holies once a year and making atonement for sin on behalf of himself and the people
        4. They'd had thank offerings and sin offerings and payments of vows in the assembly of the righteous.
        5. They'd had rivers of blood flowing from visible sacrifices-bulls and lambs and goats and doves.
        6. They'd had holy water and incense and lampstands and tapestries and metalwork and woodwork to make a medieval cathedral green with envy.
      3. Now, all of sudden, they were meeting on the first day of the week in a room in somebody's house. They sang some songs, prayed, heard the word read and expounded, took an offering, and ate a meal together. There were no pictures on the walls (or if there were, no one drew their attention to them and incorporated those pictures into the worship). There was no incense, no sacrifice, no priest mediating between them and God. What a letdown
      4. So they began to think, the old worship was more glorious and exciting than the new. What am I missing?
      5. Hebrews was written to answer that question.
    2. The Comparison of Old Testament Worship and New in Hebrews
      1. The superiority of Christ
        1. To previous revelation (1:1-3)
        2. To the angels (1:4-2:18)
          1. He is the son of God, the Creator, to be worshiped whereas the angels are ministers to those who will be saved (1:5-14)
          2. (Parenthesis: Therefore, how shall we escape if we neglect a salvation that is greater than what was revealed under Moses, 2:1-4)
          3. The new creation is subjected to Christ, not to angels (2:5-10)
          4. And he has partaken of our nature, born our sufferings, and been made our brother and fellow human (2:10-18)
        3. To Moses the mediator of the Old Covenant (3:1-6)
          1. Moses is a servant and a worker in the house of God
          2. Jesus is the wise master builder
      2. The same gospel but a superior administration of it (3:7-4:13)
        1. They (Israel in the wilderness) had the gospel preached to them but failed to lay hold of it by faith (3:19-4:2)
        2. The next generation did not have the true rest, but merely a picture of it (4:8)
        3. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest (4:11)
          1. Being justified by faith
          2. Coming in faith to the worship service (remember the context of Hebrews) where we enter the heavenly rest.
          3. Persevering in that faith by hearing the word with faith (4:12)
          4. And thus at last entering the consummated rest when Christ returns.
      3. We have a superior High Priest who has gone into heaven itself, not a picture (4:14ff.)
        1. Therefore let us come boldly to the throne of grace (i.e. to the true mercy seat in heaven) (4:16)
        2. This is the eschatological perspective of Hebrews. When we come to worship God, we come into heaven where Christ is, to the true rest, to hear the true voice of God, to kneel before the true mercy seat and find true grace.
        3. The earthly High Priest was also subject to weakness (5:2)
        4. Christ's High Priesthood is eternal and he is without sin (4:15, 5:5ff.)
        5. Through his work we "taste the heavenly gift and … become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come."
        6. The Levitical priesthood was a minister of the Law; with Christ a new priesthood is established to minister the gospel (7:11ff.)
        7. Thus Christ is the minister of a superior covenant (7:22)
        8. The Law appointed weak and sinful men as priests, but the Son has been perfected forever (7:28)
      4. This High Priest ministers in the true heavenly places of which the tabernacle was a shadow and a copy. (8:4-5)
      5. And thus he is the mediator of a better covenant (8:6ff.)
        1. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would be no need for another.
        2. The first covenant had earthly ordinances and visible signs (9:1ff)
          1. tabernacle, veil, Holy of Holies, golden censor, ark of the covenant, etc. (9:1-5)
          2. This was symbolic (9:9)
          3. The ceremonies could not make men perfect (9:9)
        3. But Christ came with better everything (9:11ff.)
          1. a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, not of this creation
          2. Not with blood of bulls and goats, which is ineffective, but with his own blood.
          3. The "copies" of heavenly things were purified with blood (9:23)
          4. But Christ has entered the reality, the holy place made without hands (9:24)
        4. The law had a "shadow of the good things to come and not the very image of the things (10:1). The new covenant is superior.
        5. The priests offered sacrifices repeatedly; Christ offered sacrifice once and sat down at God's right hand. (10:11ff.)
      6. And we now enter, not those earthly copies, but heaven itself where Christ is (10:19ff).
      7. Therefore, the author warns, those who reject this new covenant will be judged even more sternly than those who rejected the Law of Moses (10:26-39)
    3. How these New Testament Glories are Entered into
      1. By faith!
        1. The just shall live by faith (Hebrews 10:38)
        2. And faith is the way we enter into all these heavenly mysteries (11:1ff.)
      2. The key element of faith is that it looks at that which is invisible
        1. Faith testifies to that which is unseen, laying hold of all the heavenly realities that we wait for in hope (11:1)
        2. By faith, Noah was warned of things not seen (11:7)
        3. Abraham rejected the country he could see because he was waiting for a city that he couldn't (11:8-10). And by faith we enter that very city each Lord's Day (12:22)
        4. We are surrounded by these witnesses to the glory of the everlasting kingdom. We do not see them, but by faith they speak to us (11:4, 12:1).
        5. And we fix our eyes-i.e. our spiritual eyes, the eyes of our faith-on Jesus (Heb 12:2) whom we cannot see according to the flesh.
      3. Therefore, any visible elements in the worship service do not appeal to faith but to sight and therefore to the flesh.
        1. Even baptism and the Lord's Supper do not do anything by themselves.
        2. Rather, they are laid hold of by faith, and faith connects us with the unseen realities they represent.
        3. They are not copies of heavenly realities, but divinely appointed entries into those realities.
        4. And since these realities are invisible, the visible signs are useless apart from faith.
        5. Baptism is outwardly more simple than the crossing of the Red Sea
        6. The Lord's Supper has much less outward glory than the Passover
        7. But they connect us to realities in heaven that these Old Testament events and ordinances only foretold.
        8. By faith.
      4. And, pulling out all the stops, the author tells us that we have come in truth to all the things that the types and shadows of the Old Testament pointed to. (Heb 12:22-24)
  3. What We Have (Though We May Not Realize It)
    1. Pictures of Jesus
      1. In the Old Testament, they were not allowed to make any image of God
      2. But we are allowed, indeed commanded, to display pictures of Christ before the congregation.
      3. Does this startle you? Are you still thinking according to the flesh, as though I am advocating icons and crucifixes?
      4. Our pictures are spiritual (of course) and therefore displayed to the faith (of course).
      5. There are two principle pictures of Jesus in the New Worship
        1. The audible word-The reading and preaching of the gospel
        2. The visible word-Baptism and the Lord's Supper
          1. The Significance of Baptism
          2. The celebration of the Lord's Supper
    2. A Holy Mountain and city to which we make our pilgrimage
      1. Just as Old Testament saints ascended to Jerusalem once a year
      2. So we have come to the true Mount Zion (Heb 12:22)
      3. We have come to the new, the spiritual Jerusalem (Gal 4:26)
      4. This happens each Lord's Day when we come to church.
      5. What do we need with a physical mountain in an earth that is passing away.
    3. A Temple
      1. Made with living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5)
        1. What point is a temple made with earthly stones? They will pass away.
        2. Everything that is visible will pass away. It is the unseen that is eternal (2 Cor 4:18).
        3. But every Sunday you sit surrounded by the building materials of a temple more glorious than Solomon ever saw.
      2. With a High Priest
        1. Jesus, our great High Priest who truly mediates on behalf of the people.
        2. We do not have a weak and sinful High Priest
        3. But we do have one who can sympathize with our weaknesses.
        4. On the first day of every week, we come, formally and ceremonially, to him
          1. what do we need with an earthly priest?
          2. We have the true One of whom those priests were a copy
      3. With sacrifices
        1. We do not, as the Roman Catholics teach, "re-sacrifice" Christ in the Lord's Supper.
        2. But that holy supper is a fresh application of the benefits of that sacrifice.
        3. As well, we ourselves "offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5)
          1. I.e. the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving
          2. The sacrifice of our lips in singing and prayer
          3. The sacrifice of a broken spirit and a contrite heart.
          4. (Do you see incidentally, how Peter with the rest of the New Testament, sees the worship of God in relentlessly spiritualized terms? All the ceremonies of the Old Testament are caught up into heavenly places and glorified in the transition.)
      4. With access to the Holy of Holies
        1. No one but the High Priest was allowed to enter this Most Holy Place, and he did so once a year, having made a sacrifice for his sins.
        2. It was only a copy of heaven, yet access was symbolically denied the people, for they were unclean.
        3. But Jesus our great High Priest has entered the true Holy of Holies, heaven itself.
        4. Thus, he gained us access
          1. By his death-for when he died the veil of the temple was split in two, symbolically opening the entrance to heaven
          2. By his resurrection and ascension-by which he entered on our behalf.
          3. And we, in him, are seated in heavenly places. (Eph 1:20, 2:6)
          4. And specifically on the Lord's Day, as we come to worship, we come before that "throne of grace" (i.e. the mercy seat that was on the ark of the covenant in the Holiest place).
      5. With the bringing in of tithes and offerings
      6. With the burning of Incense
        1. Rev. 5:8-Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
        2. Rev. 8:3,4-Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand.
        3. Again, notice how everything is spiritualized into heaven so that it is accessible by faith alone.
    4. All the Miracles and Signs and Wonders of the Old Testament
      1. The crossing of the Red Sea-Baptism (1 Cor 10)
      2. Living water flowing from the rock-Spiritual drink in the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 10)
      3. Manna coming down out of heaven
        1. Spiritual Food in the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 10)
        2. Jesus feeding us on himself in the preaching of the word and the Lord's Supper (John 6)
      4. God speaking from Heaven itself
        1. Only we are not terrified to go up this mountain lest we die
        2. Those who preach the gospel preach the living and active word of God (Heb 4:12)
        3. And they do so to those who have come up to heaven to hear that word and feed upon it.
      5. The resurrection of the dead
        1. Baptism as a picture of passing from death to life
        2. The conversion of unbelievers by the powerful word of God.
  4. A Final Plea
    1. Be not Unbelieving but Believing
      1. Thomas was blessed because he touched our Savior and believed.
      2. But, Jesus said, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
      3. As well, Jesus said it was better for the disciples if he went away because then the Spirit would come and lead them into all truth.
        1. The Spirit has come
        2. The worship in Spirit and in truth has begun
    2. Believe and Know and Understand What the Worship Service Does
      1. To understand worship from God's perspective, read Revelation 5
      2. This is a picture of Christ ascending into heaven and opening up the way to God (1-7)
      3. And once that way is opened up, the picture is of heavenly worship, the worship you enter into on the Lord's Day when you, like John, are "in the Spirit" (1:10)
      4. Don't think of yourself as sitting on earth, in chairs or pews, surrounded by boring white walls-You are transported into heaven and are worshiping God through that worthy lamb with all the saints and angels who have gone before you and all your brothers and sisters who have come up to that same vast throne room that they might join there voices with yours in praise to the Lamb that was slain, to him who sits on the throne.
    3. And Beware Lest Any Earthly Thing Distract You and Cheat You of this Prize


  1. I used to treat Calvinism this way as well. It may be tough and unfriendly, but the Bible teaches it so I’ll shut up and salute. The U.S. Marine approach to doctrine. But deep down, I thought the doctrine of free will was more appealing. I used to tell a non-Calvinist friend, "Look, if I had a choice, I’d believe in free will." (Giggle. Snort.) But the doctrines were of no value to me until I began to love them. [Return to text]

William J. Baldwin was an ordained minister in the Reformed denomination of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in southern California. He has a commitment to the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a desire to nourish by that Gospel, strengthened to good works. Bill Baldwin studied under Meredith G. Kline, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in California.

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