In Spirit and in Truth

How do we worship? Is it by actions or by attitudes? Do feeling count? Is there one right way, place, and time? As Jesus Christ confronted the Samaritan woman at the well with the truth of who He is, He said:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24 English Standard Version (ESV)

Remarkably, in this statement lie answers for the questions with which we opened this post. Calvin comments on the passage:

But the hour cometh. …To show that God does not choose to be worshipped either in Jerusalem or in mount Gerizim, he takes a higher principle, that the true worship of Him consists in the spirit; …hence it follows that in all places He may be properly worshipped.

Why, and in what sense, is the worship of God called spiritual? The worship of God is said to consist in the spirit, because it is nothing else than that inward faith of the heart which produces prayer, and, next, purity of conscience and self-denial, that we may be dedicated to obedience to God as holy sacrifices.

But the Old Testament Church had elaborate ceremonies in their public worship. Did they worship in spirit and truth under the Law?

I reply, as God is always like himself, he did not from the beginning of the world approve of any other worship than that which is spiritual, and which agrees with his own nature. …Moses…declares in many passages that the Law has no other object than that the people may cleave to God with faith and a pure conscience.

…Thus we may justly say that the worship [described in] the Law was spiritual in its substance, but, in respect of its form, it was somewhat earthly and carnal; for the whole of that economy, the reality of which is now fully manifested, consisted of shadows.

…In all ages God wished to be worshipped by faith, prayer, thanksgiving, purity of heart, and innocence of life; and at no time did he delight in any other sacrifices.

But what about public worship in today’s visible Church?

…There are indeed among ourselves, in the present day, some outward exercises of godliness, which our weakness renders necessary, but such is the moderation and sobriety of them, that they do not obscure the plain truth of Christ. In short, what was exhibited to the fathers under figures and shadows is now openly displayed.

…Thus all who oppress the Church with an excessive multitude of ceremonies, do what is in their power to deprive the Church of the presence of Christ. I [dismiss] the vain excuses which they plead, that many persons in the present day have as much need of those aids as the Jews had in ancient times. It is always our duty to inquire by what order the Lord wished his Church to be governed, for He alone knows thoroughly what is expedient for us.

So why was there a difference between the Old and New Testament Churches?

The true worshippers. … Knowing that the world would never be entirely free from superstitions, [Christ] thus separates the devout and upright worshippers from those who were false and hypocritical.

…What it is to worship God in spirit and truth appears clearly from what has been already said. It is to lay aside the entanglements of ancient ceremonies, and to retain merely what is spiritual in the worship of God; for the truth of the worship of God consists in the spirit, and ceremonies are but a sort of appendage.

Finally, why is worship not elaborate ceremony but in spirit and truth?

God is a Spirit. …God is so far from being like us, that those things which please us most are the objects of his loathing and abhorrence…As we cannot ascend to the height of God, let us remember that we ought to seek from His word the rule by which we are governed. Christ simply declares here that his Father is of a spiritual nature, and, therefore, is not moved by frivolous matters, as men, through the lightness and unsteadiness of their character, are wont to be.

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As Mark Dever preaches, our whole lives are acts of worship if they’re lived in obedience to God. Our public worship consists of: prayer, singing, hearing the Word read, hearing the Word preached, and participating in baptism and the Lord’s supper. Worship is hearing God’s word and responding to it in obedience.

Mark Dever: Worship in Spirit and Truth, Ligonier Ministries

The Fourth Revolution – The Nordic Future

In the fourth and last installment of our review and commentary on The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State by Micklethwait and Wooldridge, we examine the authors’ contention that Sweden and the other Nordic nations represent the future for the West’s reinvigoration.

Before and After

For most of the twentieth century, Sweden embraced the Fabian ideal for their society. Marquis Childs called their social experiment the “middle way,” one between capitalism and communism. In the nineteen sixties, Sweden moved left as they broadened the meaning of equality in their society. They applied more government and higher taxes to every problem.

Then it ended. Their politicians did what most world leaders know they ought to do but fail because they lack courage. Sweden reduced their public spending in proportion to their GDP. The government required itself to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Swedish politicians reinvented the state while reducing its size. They gave their nation’s pension system a sound foundation, they adopted education vouchers, and revamped their health care system.

Sweden focused on reducing waiting times for hospital procedures and on speeding patients through their stays, which also reduced the frequency of hospital communicated diseases. They published data such as operation success rates in health registries for patients and taxpayers to evaluate. And they charged minor fees similar to those that Lee Kuan Yew initiated in Singapore to discourage healthcare system abuse through elective services overconsumption. Swedish health care is now one of the most efficient in the world. Swedes live longer than most in the Western hemisphere and their health costs have decreased too.

Other Nordic countries have improved to a more limited extent. Yet, all four have triple A credit ratings and debt loads below the Eurozone mean. Their economic experiments seem successful. Indices show that they have superior social inclusion, competitiveness, and well-being.

And they’ve done this by serving the individual, employing fiscal responsibility, promoting choice, and encouraging competition. They’ve eschewed state expansion, pump priming, paternalism, and centralized planning. The Nordic countries have extended the market into the state instead of the opposite.

From There to Here

The Nordic countries show what is possible. They had to change because they ran out of money and continued to change because they found they could provide a better state for their citizens.

In 1991, Sweden plunged into their “black of night crisis.” The banking system seized up, foreign investors abandoned their confidence in the third way, and mortgage rates peaked briefly at 500 percent.

In the early 1980s, the people of Denmark faced a “potato crisis.” It was called this because they felt that potatoes might be all they’d be able to afford for their subsistence. Not only was there a cash shortage but the industries which financially supported government programs were strapped.

Now, countries in the West find themselves at or near the same crises. Western states have promised their peoples benefits beyond their ability to provide. The Nordics prove that the state can be brought under control and can be improved for the betterment of their peoples’ future.

But Big Government

History over the last two centuries seems to show that governments grow larger as they accumulate power and control. The Nordic countries provide a counterfactual: government can be contained while its performance and efficiency increases.

The authors pose the question: “How far can you take [the Nordic experiment]?” They argue that neither diminishing productivity returns in the service and government sectors [Baumol’s disease] nor society’s accelerated aging can prevent success. They claim technology is a solution to both problems.

Baumol stated that systems which boost manufacturing productivity are not applicable to the service sector (of which government is a part). The authors suggest that his disease is simply technological lag. As an example, educational efficiency once depended on increasing class sizes.

Now, with the internet, students with drive and grit can access materials from world-class educators. This sort of teaching is even extending into formal classrooms. Accredited degrees are increasingly available online. As a result, universities are having to reconsider the wisdom of administrative bloat and building monuments.

Technology is delayering management and making workers more productive, disseminating health care and school performance data so citizens can make informed choices, and, increasingly, bypassing government by putting power in citizens’ hands.

Law and order, a very labor intensive government function, is also an example. Instead of harsh sentences, increased warehousing, or even a decreasing cohort of young men, the authors maintain that crime prevention is what led to a decrease in crime worldwide starting in the mid 1990s (but varying across the globe). And this decrease has most to do with technology (e.g., CompStat, increased video surveillance, monitored alarms, etc.). Although community policing (directed by CompStat), a hands on solution, is also necessary.

Technology is even reducing costs in the military. By replacing soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guard and air men with automated hardware and software systems, lifecycle costs such as salaries, healthcare, and pensions are decreased. Operations, maintenance, and personnel costs are an overwhelming proportion of total cost of military systems when compared with initial development and procurement costs.

Technology, in the authors’ view, is taking out costs while increasing efficiency in many, if not all, public sector activities.

But Greying Demography

The authors’ ask: “won’t any gains from treating Baumol’s disease be wiped out by demography?” They note that the Nordics have changed the basis for their retirement systems from totally defined benefits to partially defined contributions. Swedes put some of their pension money into private plans. The government indexes the retirement age to life expectancy and decreases pensions during economic declines.

Delaying retirement increases worker payments into the system, reduces outlays, and enhances economic productivity of older workers through entrepreneurial activity and skills transfer. And Sweden made these improvements with cross party consensus: the “people’s home” survives only if finances are handled competently.

A Call to Action

There are many ways to improve the state that increase benefits to citizens while decreasing the cost of (and frustration with) government. While the Left argues cutting government will hurt the poor and the Right cries that expanded welfare will collapse the economy, the authors assert that it’s not a zero sum proposition.

Nineteenth century Victorian liberals went after “Old Corruption” in its various forms. Subsidies for the wealthy and middle classes at the expense of the poor are easy to correct via means testing, flat taxes, and repealing funds for government agencies that provide unfair aid where it is not needed (e.g., if I own suitable land that I have no intention of cultivating, should I be paid for not growing tomatoes or some other crop?). It only takes the will to do it.

Rather than take away from the poor, remedying this one situation actually helps the poor. Entitlement programs on which they depend will not run out if we fix who pays in, for how long, up to how much, and who gets to collect and when. There are many other substantive instances of waste, fraud, and abuse that we’re spending trillions on (i.e., not just shrimp on treadmill studies). Fixing these will make the country run more efficiently, benefit those who really need benefits, and increase citizens confidence in government.

Just as Sweden updated their “middle way,” using capitalist competition to efficiently provide socialist services successfully, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western states can shrink government, improve their economies, and restore confidence in Democracy (or the Republic, in our case) while providing the safety nets they’ve promised to those who need them for as long as they need them.

Halfhearted efforts rooted in selective interests just won’t do. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.

RSA Replay: The Fourth Revolution