All of Life is "Worship"?
July 15, 2022
Steve raises a good number of questions, all pertaining to the issue of “worship.” He wants to know if all of life is worship and if one can worship God outside of “assembly times” . . .
It's been argued by same that “worship” and “service” are two radically different things. This is as false as it can be and severely abuses language. Like it or not, the radical conservatives are wrong when they say that “worship” must have all five acts of worship or that worship only occurs on Sunday or etc. Where did that idea ever come from?! Surely, not the biblical text. There's not a shred of evidence for that business.
And, it doesn't help that some have quite foolishly appealed to Greek language and argued for a staunch distinction between “proskuneo” (worship) and “latreuo” (service). Look, whatever one does with the idea of “worship,” this much is clear: the lexicographers treat those two terms as synonymous. Regarding “latreia” or “latreuo” (same root), the word that we're supposed to translate as “service” – and certainly not translate as “worship,” according to the radical right-wingers! – Arndt & Gingrich say that is “In religious usage, service or worship.” Thayer says that it is “the service or worship of God . . . to render religious service or homage, to worship . . .” Cremer says of it: “As to the use of this word in Holy Scripture, it is applied exclusively to the worship of God . . . so also in the N.T.” Moulton & Milligan say of it: “In Biblical Greek always refers to the service or worship of the true God or heathen divinities.” Strong's concordance says, “Latreia . . . worship.” Kittel's is always long; he treats the word as either “serve” or “worship.” Colin Brown's “Dictionary of N.T. Theology” treats the word as “serve” or “worship” and lists a number of cases how the word refers to “worship.” The Theological Wordbook of the Bible treats the word as “meaning originally servitude . . . and thence the service of God – divine worship.” Baker's “Dictionary of Theology” treats it as “service” or “worship,” citing specifically Romans 12:1 as “spiritual worship.” (McGuiggan's "Romans" documents all of this for us.)
Okay, so that's more than we need to know, don't you think? And, what's the point of all that?! Say what we will, but the lexicographers – those with credentials, mind you! – don't – DON'T! – see a strong distinction between “latreuo” and “proskuneo.” In fact, they treat the two as synonyms often.
Anybody who says that the modern translations are “weak” and “liberal” because of the way that some of them have translated Romans 12:1 simply doesn't know what he's doing.
It's only because of theological issues that we have difficulty in this discussion.
Look, if we were to look up “worship” in a typical dictionary, we'd get something like, “Pay homage” or “Pay respect” or “Praise” or “Adore” or something of the sort. We KNOW what the word means when the discussion isn't so theologically loaded and motivated. Similarly, we KNOW what the word “service” means. Like it or not, the two ideas – “worship” and “service” aren't all that different – so we can't pretend like “worship” is some “special” or “mysterious” phenomenon that only occurs on the first day of the week or only when five special acts are present. Jesus' resurrection did nothing to REDEFINE “worship” (as far as lexical definition goes). Whatever “worship” meant before the cross, lexically, it'd mean the same thing after the cross. (Context might stress a different application of it before and after, but lexically, it'd mean – MEAN! – the same thing.)
Let's think about Genesis 22:5 for a moment . . . Often, here's a passage used to show that all of life is NOT “worship.” But, it's interesting that in raising this passage, some still hold that all 5 “acts of worship” – a non-textual term that we've used to categorize/list what takes place in a typical Sunday “assembly” – must be present in order to have “worship.” So, the argument goes . . . Abraham went to “worship” God, implying that he wasn't at the time, thus all of life is NOT worship . . . BUT, whatever the point might suggest, it also shows that Abraham could “worship” God without “the five acts of worship.” Isn't that something?!
No temple . . . No synagogue . . . No church building . . . No assembly . . . Just Abraham and his boy, going to “worship” God. What does that tell you? It tells us that “worship” – whatever we understand it to be/mean – isn't restricted to a very specific, limited environment like some would have us believe!
At this point, we really need to rethink what “worship” is . . . It is “homage” or “praise” (or something of the sort) to/before God. So, prayer, song, meditation, devotion, reflection, etc., etc., etc. would ALL fall under this sort of “category.” A Christian fellow's praying to God from his vehicle would be as equally qualifying as “worship” as a fellow praying to God from his knees on the front pew at the meeting house of the local church of Christ. If there's a difference, what is it?! It certainly isn't different because of the very nature of the concept of “worship.” That, as already shown, is not some specialized term; it just means “praise” or “pay homage” or etc.
As an aside, to reduce “worship” to a phenomenon that ONLY happens on the first day of the week when we have all five acts present is severely misguided. The entire biblical witness emphasizes that such physical stipulations are not His primary concern. (And, that hardly means that God doesn't have criteria for “HOW” to worship appropriately; He does [see Mark 7:7; Mat. 15:9 for this point esp.; there IS such a thing as “vain worship” – YES, THERE IS!]!) The point I'm making though is that God has been interested in the HEART . . . And the sacrifices, the songs, the prayers, the sermons, etc., etc., etc. WERE ALWAYS intended to be an EXPANSION or an OUTGROWTH of the RIGHT HEART and NEVER a REPLACEMENT FOR IT. See Psalm 50:7-14 and 51:15-17 especially. God had seen a thousand burnt offerings; what He really wanted was hearts that longed for Him. That doesn't nullify the “worship” system of the Old Testament. It expresses that some had thought that they could have lousy hearts and go through the ritualistic motions as if that'd please Yahweh. God, NOT nullifying the “worship” of the Old Testament, insisted that “worship” should have been an outgrowth/expansion of the heart that longed for him.
Now, we come to the New Testament . . . To reduce “worship” to such a tightly-framed environment (first day of the week, all five acts) severely misunderstands the “nature” of “worship” to God. Imagine the scenario where saints have sung, prayed, taken the supper and are in the middle of a sermon when a shooter comes in, disrupts the service and guns a few down . . . Were they “worshiping”? Did they “worship”? Or, was “worship” only pending or buffering? (Smile.) THEY WERE – YES, THEY WERE – WORSHIPING! And, for pity's sake, if they didn't take up the collection, can we really and honestly conclude that they weren't WORSHIPING GOD?!
“Worship” isn't some sterile, clinical act that needs to check off a list in order to “complete!” It is an act! It is a scriptural act, a noble act, a heartfelt act – and when these elements converge, whether on a Sunday or a Tuesday or any other day, one's “pouring out of himself” TO/BEFORE GOD is “WORSHIP.”
Now, how can it be said that Abraham “went up” to worship God (as if he hadn't been)? Does this really suggest that all of life is NOT “worship”?
This next little bit is slightly complex, largely because we lack explicit biblical data on the matter. That being said, I'm sure it's right . . .
We believe in something like “corporate worship” and “non-corporate worship.” Or, use the terms “formal” and “informal” worship, if you like? Or, use your own terms? The IDEA/CONCEPT is the same, no matter the words chosen to represent the idea.
It's easily seen in the N.T. that there is “the assembly” (as INCLUDING the Supper) and that that environment is quite “formal” or “corporate.” (There are non-supper “assemblies,” too, I think – see 1 Corinthians 11:5 and/or 14:1-40 for examples. 1 Corinthians 11:5, as far as I can tell, is an unusual “assembly” in that there are no males present – I'm reading that in a bit, I know, but it seems to be the case, based on exegetical reasons. 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 has an “assembly” – see vs. 23 and vs. 26 for clarity – but neither of these texts suggest that the Supper was being taken [though I could give you a list of names that insist that it was in both cases].) These assemblies – whether the Supper was being taken or not – are QUITE FORMAL; they are “CORPORATE;” That means that the PURPOSE of the “coming together” (a common term for Paul in the wider unit of 1 Corinthians 11-14 [see 11:17,18,20,33,34; 14:23,26]) was FOR ASSEMBLY. If the Supper were NOT taken in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:5 or 14:1-40 – and there is ONLY THE SLIGHTEST HINT THAT IT WAS – a longer discussion for another time – then whether or not the Supper was being taken is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to the discussion. In either case – whether the Supper WAS had or NOT – is irrelevant; there could be “CORPORATE WORSHIP” or “FORMAL ASSEMBLY” either way.
Here's my point . . . We believe in “formal” and “informal” worship. The FORMAL atmosphere is a CORPORATE atmosphere; it is where saints are PURPOSING to “come together” for the PURPOSE of worshiping God. Saints might “purpose” to “come together” for a game night or a fellowship meal or etc., etc., but I think – dangerous, right?! – I think that most everybody agrees that there is a difference between the ASSEMBLING FOR THE PURPOSE TO COME TOGETHER TO WORSHIP and the ASSEMBLING FOR THE PURPOSE TO COME TOGETHER FOR NON-WORSHIP (INFORMAL? SECULAR?) REASONS.
Now, the question is this: “Are the saints 'worshiping' God in coming together for game night? Are saints 'worshiping' God when they do their laundry? etc., etc.?”
I think that once we've made the distinction between FORMAL WORSHIP and INFORMAL WORSHIP that we're prepared to give Romans 12:1 a second look.
I don't think that Romans 12:1 is to be reduced to specific little acts or instances. Paul's thrust is more OVERALL and CHARACTERIZING. His point is that an entire life should be presented as “worship” or “service” to God . . . He's not being as silly as reducing our relieving of ourselves or our playing Scrabble to being “worship” in the corporate sense; BUT, he is insisting that our entire LIFE – our entire LIFE! – is to be a life of “worship” or “service” to God. (Those words are synonymous, don't you think?!) I think he's assuming that we'll get his usage of the word IN ITS CONTEXT, recognize that he's calling us to live an ENTIRE LIFE of “justification” (picking up the entire conclusion and thrust off of Romans 1-11), and he slaps a term across the LIFE that is lived nobly and in justification before God: “SPIRITUAL SERVICE/WORSHIP.” The saint's entire life is to be a life of “worship” or “service” to God. WE DO NOT NEED TO ITEMIZE AND ASK IF EVERY LITTLE ACTION PERFORMED BY ANY SAINT IS “FORMAL WORSHIP.” Paul is being much more BROAD. In an INFORMAL sense, our entire life is to be worship. (See Colossians 3:4 for a similar idea of what the saint's life is to be.)
I need to say a brief/quick note about our “hermeneutical approach.” John Mark Hicks has a book out called “Searching for the Pattern.” It is GOOD. Usually, I don't recommend Hicks' material because of how disagreeing I am with his usual slant; this little piece by him is worth the price of the book. He teaches us HOW to read scripture. If we're coming to the text, looking for all these little rules and regulations – which DO exist! – we're NOT reading scripture appropriately. Rules and regulations might exist, but we're to read scripture first and grasp the rules and regulations as they come through the scripture. The “prooftexting” method of reading scripture has become FAR TOO COMMONPLACE, and the result is that we neglect contexts, fail to see the narrative of the Bible and as a result form “doctrines” and rules that – IN SOME CASES – do not exist. So, we draw up lines of “all of life not being worship,” use Genesis 22:5 to support the idea and then insist that Romans 12:1 – AGAINST THE OBVIOUS LINGUISTIC EVIDENCE – can't be translated as “worship” and that such is a grave atrocity to which all of the newer translations are culprit. This entire approach doesn't come close to reading the scripture AS IT WAS INTENDED TO BE READ. Doesn't it bother you that some preachers/teachers ALWAYS feel the need to REARRANGE the scripture and cut/paste passages into a TOPICAL MOLD. (I would've thought that literature shouldn't be handled this way? If the Holy Spirit presented the text in the arrangement that it is in, maybe, we'd do better to stick with HIS arrangement and exegete the text in THAT order. Could you imagine reading Shakespeare or Hawthorne or etc. in such a way?! Picking at snippets here-and-there?! That's NOT how literature works! That's not how the Bible works. Our exegetical practice becomes tainted by agenda-driven approach rather than legitimate biblical exegesis, and so we end up making Paul (in Romans 12:1 and a thousand other instances) say things that his CONTEXT never had him saying.
I think that we'd do well to recognize that both Paul and we understand that there is a difference between “corporate/formal worship” and “informal worship” (a looser idea). I think we'd also do well to understand that the first has a PURPOSE of a specific goal in view; we are specifically engaging in purposeful “worship” to God. Paul is using “worship” or “service” in a much free-er/looser way in Romans 12:1. He's not drawing up complex rules about “worship”; he's simply characterizing the entire Christian life as one of service. So, both extremes are out of place . . . Going as far as to say that “all of life is not worship” fails to discern the colloquial use that Paul has in Romans 12:1; going as far to say that “all of life is worship” needs to be aware that Paul isn't intended to say that all of life's specific actions are purposeful acts of service before God – no, the specific acts fall into an overall approach that is noble before God. (Saying, “His whole life is devoted to God!” captures Paul's point in Romans 12:1 well; to reduce the remark to asking about whether or not one's going to the bathroom is “worship” shows how out-of-touch one is with how to read the Bible and/or literature.)
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