Chris writes to ask,
I have been thinking about a common phrase I hear among many of my Reformed friends, that “all of life is worship.” My gut instinct is to argue with this, and to state that worship is properly restricted to the administration of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer in a local assembly of believers. That is not to say that we cannot glorify God with all of our lives, but simply to say that not every activity that a Christian does is worship. Am I off on this? Is this statement about all of life being worship something that the reformers believed historically?
The distinction between broad and narrow is very helpful here. Broadly considered all of life may be said to be worship but not narrowly considered. All of life is not a stated service. The intent of the Reformed synthesis of sola scriptura and the 2nd commandment is to set apart the stated service from the rest of life.
Here another distinction is helpful, secular and sacred. If “sacred” refers to worship in the narrow sense, then daily life may be said to be “secular,” as distinct from sacred. By “secular” I don’t mean “neutral” or “outside the sovereignty of God” or even unclean, but I mean only “not set apart for worship in the narrow sense.” I understand that the term is not commonly used this way now but I think it’s worth trying to recover the term for Christian use. I had a similar discussion the other day. The fellow objected to my use of “secular.” I asked him what term he proposed in its place? He didn’t have an answer. I’m open to alternatives but so long as I’ve defined the term and it’s understood by reasonable people that I don’t mean “ungodly” or anti-theistic then it shouldn’t be a problem.
Though any sort of sacred/secular distinction is decried frequently (this post from 2006 is typical), we observe a s distinction all the time. We baptize persons thus marking them out as belonging to the visible people of God but we don’t baptize anything else. Why not? Because baseball bats don’t need to be baptized. Why not? They don’t need to be marked out as belonging to God. Why not? Because they belong to his providence generally speaking but not to redemption, the narrower sphere of God’s saving operations.
The question is not whether all truth is God’s truth. The question is under which category should we analyze this truth, under nature or grace? To make nature redemptive and to make grace natural is ultimately to confuse law and gospel. Nature is not gospel. Nature doesn’t reveal salvation and grace. To try to find grace and salvation in nature is to distort nature or the gospel. Grace alone contains the gospel. General providence and special providence are roughly equivalent categories to nature and grace or secular and sacred. Plumbing is not redemption and redemption is not plumbing. God is sovereign over both but he exercises his sovereign rule and reign over plumbing and preaching in distinct ways.
Worship in the narrow sense is the called gathering of God’s people to worship him according to his revealed will. He has revealed his will, in Scripture, for worship more specifically than he has revealed his will, in Scripture, for plumbing. Plumbers are not to steal etc but we don’t learn a great deal about the art of plumbing from Scripture. We do, however, know from Scripture precisely how God will be worshiped. Here is where we see the value of the broad and narrow definition. When the plumber and the preacher are fulfilling their vocations they are both worshiping God but they are doing so in quite different spheres and in quite different senses. Plumbing belongs to general providence, a realm in which the rules (but not the interpretation of the rules or the art) are common to believers and unbelievers. The ministry of the Word and sacraments belong to a distinct species of worship.
I learned this distinction between broad and narrow from Zacharias Ursinus, the principle author of the Heidelberg Catechism and the authorized commentator on the catechism, who distinguished between the Kingdom of God considered broadly and the Kingdom of God considered narrowly (see his explanation of Heidelberg Catechism Q. 123).
The KOG or the Kingdom of Heaven is, first of all, eschatological (i.e., it refers to heaven) and refers to God’s sovereign rule and reign over all things. That sovereign rule and reign breaks into history however. The disagreement comes in how to account for the manifestation of the KOG in history. Some evangelicals and some Reformed folk want to associate the KOG with a variety of human activities, where ever God’s rule and reign are manifested and others want to restrict to the visible institutional church.
Here’s where Ursinus’ distinction between broad and narrow can help us. Broadly, any manifestation of God’s rule and reign can be called a manifestation of the Kingdom, but we’re speaking here of God’s general providence, which is common to believers and non-believers. The rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matt 5). God’s special providence refers to his saving work in humanity and the institutional representation of God’s saving work (grace) is the visible, institutional church. It is to the visible, institutional church that God has given the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16), the administration of the Word and sacraments (Matt 28) and discipline (Matt 18). These things don’t belong to any other institution and no other institution may presume to administer them or to do the work given solely to the church.
On analogy, the distinction between worship broadly and narrowly considered saves us a good lot of confusion. Is all of life worship yes, but not in the same sense at the same time. That would be simple equivocation. When we are gathered before the face of God in stated services we are worshiping God in the special, narrow sense of the term. It is extremely unhelpful to equate this with the general, broader sense of worship. Indeed, in view of the reigning confusion about what Christian worship is and how it be conducted, we would probably do better not to use the phrase “all of life is worship.” If we’re going to use it then we need to qualify it very carefully so that, as a catchphrase it’s lost its vitality.
Finally, we can see a clear distinction between worship broadly and narrowly considered if we consider the laws under which they operate. Life in common (not neutral! -see links below), creational, natural spheres exists under God’s sovereign rule and reign but they are governed by natural laws. Stated worship services, however, are governed by God’s law in a way that common life is not. God’s law for worship is that we may not do anything that he has not required. That’s not the law by which we operate in daily life. We don’t build a bridge because there’s a positive command to build a bridge. In worship, however, we ought not do anything without positive warrant (by command or clear implication) from Scripture. We may build that bridge or we may not. Whether we do it is largely dictated by necessity and wisdom and perhaps the general love of neighbor. Both spheres operate under God’s law but in different ways and with different relationships to God’s law.
So all of life is worship but not in the same sense. All of life is not worship, not unless we distinguish clearly how we’re using the term worship.
© R. Scott Clark, 2020
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