Two Kinds of Worship

Lent 3 Wednesday

John 4:20-24

[The woman said:] “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say the place where one should worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus said to her: “Woman, believe me, the time will come where you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor at Jerusalem. You do not know what you worship; but we know what we worship; for salvation is from the Jews. But there will be a time, and it is already now, that the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. For the Father wants to have those who worship him in this way. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.”


It follows from these words that there is two kinds of worship: One is outward and bodily; the other is inner and spiritual. Outward worship takes place when you choose an outward place and gestures. This happens when you fall down in the church or in front of the alter or sacrament, bend your knees, bow down, lower your head, look up to heaven, speak with your mouth, and whatever else may happen outwardly. These are signs by which you confess outwardly your God or overlord. Christ here rejects such worship when it is done thinking that it pleases God and is enough in and by itself without inner, spiritual worship, as the Jews thought. But where inner worship accompanies the outward worship, it is done rightly and well, as the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and all saints did. For when Christ here says that worship will take place “neither on this mountain nor at Jerusalem,” he certainly rejects every outward place. But he does so by leaving all outward places free. He means to free consciences in this way: “I do not want any outward place to be a necessary requirement for worship, as you say that one must worship in Jerusalem or on this mountain. Rather, you may worship anywhere, which did not use to be the case until now. When the spiritual worship is there, you may now also worship outwardly, whether you are in Jerusalem or on this mountain, in your house or on the field, in Persia or in Greece. But until now, people only worshiped in Jerusalem, or at least they worship toward Jerusalem, no matter where they were in the world.” Now, where outward worship is by itself, it is nothing but hypocrisy and really a mockery of God. Outward worship by itself honors our Lord in the same way as the Jews honored him when they, in his suffering, knelt before him and said: “Hail, king of the Jews.” For since there is not spiritual worship, it is impossible that they should mean it in earnest and wholeheartedly. But since they do not mean it wholeheartedly, it is certainly a mockery of God. And unfortunately, the whole world and all corners are full of this outward worship. And now the mockery – begun by the Jews during Christ’s suffering when they called him king of the Jews – is in full force. For among the many churches and worship services, there is hardly one in a thousand who honors God with spiritual worship; instead, they all mock him with outward, hypocritical worship. … Therefore, where there is no faith and spiritual worship, it is better to keep far away from worshiping God, and no Lord’s Supper should be observed where there are nothing but true Christians. First people should do away with tabernacles and the Corpus Christi processions because neither is necessary or beneficial and both turn out to be great hypocrisy and a mockery of the Lord’s Supper.


St. Louis ed., 19:1322-1324.

This entry was posted in Daily Devotions From the Writings of Martin Luther. Bookmark the permalink.