Is All Of Life Worship?

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. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. This is why we have a regulative principle for worship, but not (contra John Frame) a regulative principle for all of life. In fact, for the rest of life we have Christian liberty, so it’s more like the normative principle–we may do what is not forbidden.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    It would seem that there are several reasons why certain folks from the Reformed camp say “all of life is worship.”

    You’ve pointed out the connection between the way our view of the kingdom may be connected to the way we understand worship. That assessment seems fair enough.

    You’ve also raised the problem of how some may undercut the regulative principle of worship with too much emphasis on the broad sense of worship. This also is a fair critique.

    Yet I think there are other reasons why people may make the claim that all of life is worship, and that we don’t have to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

    The broad sense of worship can be brought to the fore when people are simply “going through the motions” of a worship service . . . “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Such an emphasis doesn’t necessarily deny the importance of the worship service . . . in fact, I would argue that it strengthened the importance of the service.

    The broad sense of worship can be utilized to remind people that they do not need to wait until Sunday to pray, or meditate on Scripture, or sing the praises of their God. Again, I don’t think such a focus de-emphasizes the importance of the service, but rather sees the service as the climax and culmination of a week full of acts of worship (private and family).

    The broad sense of worship can also remind us that everything is to be done to the glory of God and that whatever we do, it should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. Once again, I don’t think this idea diminishes the importance of the worship service, but undergirds it and upholds it.

  3. I can appreciate and agree with the idea of the regulative principle for what the church does when it gathers for Word and Sacrament. I have a bit of trouble with the statement made in a response above about the absence of a regulative principle for all of life. Through the Law, Jesus’ teachings and the hortatory portions of the NT epistles, Scripture does give us regulative teachings for all of life. God is Lord over all of life and through His Word He tells us how to live. If Scripture is not regulative, then we are like those in the days of the judges in Israel when everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

    I think I can also say that worship is not a separate activity from how Christians live their lives. Worship can be seen as a subset of the total Christian life.

    • Richard,

      I don’t think you’re understanding what was said. No one here is denying the normative authority of God’s Word. What is in question is the way it norms in different spheres.

      Think of it thus: A Morris Minor is fine for driving on paved roads but it is terrible for off-roading. Does this mean that a Minor is a poor car? No, it means that it was never intended to drive through sand dunes. So it is with the RPW. It is intended to govern stated services. If it is made to govern all of life then it is stretched beyond service and ruined. This is exactly what is happening. It is being made to apply to everything and thus it ends up applying to nothing. The same folk who apply it to everything allow for drama/skits in worship and even in place of preaching. I rest my case. The abuse of the RPW thus has rendered it broken. If it cannot keep out drama or if it allows for drama in place of preaching then it does not function at all!

      The Word of God norms all of life but it does so as intended. Not everything we do is a matter of law. There is an entire section of scripture which we call the “wisdom literature” where we are taught how to gain wisdom and how to apply it to life. There is also Christian liberty wherein Christians will reach different, equally valid, conclusions about different issues.

    • I wasn’t meaning to say that Scripture does not regulate all of life. I was assuming some terminology. The “regulative principle” of worship says that we may only do what is commanded. The “normative principle” says that we may do anything that is not forbidden. The difference between the two is the burden of proof: according to the regulative principle, you assume something is not OK until you hear otherwise, whereas according to the normative principle, you assume something is OK until you hear otherwise.

      Historically, the Reformed have held to the regulative principle for worship, in contrast to the Lutherans, who have held to the normative principle. This is based on our understanding of the 2nd commandment, as well as other texts. (Personally, I think Lev 10:1 is quite compelling in this regard: Nadab and Abihu get in trouble not for offering incense that God had _forbidden_, but for offering incense that God _had not commanded_).

      In the rest of life, we are still bound to obey Scripture, but because of Christian liberty the burden of proof shifts the other way–we are not to forbid what God has not forbidden.

  4. This statement may interest you — “Because man’s chief end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever, all of life is to be worshipful. Nevertheless, worship itself consists primarily in specific acts of communion with God” (Final Proposed Revision of the OPC Directory for the Public Worship of God, I.A.1.a.) —

  5. The WCF XX1:8,WLC 117, and WSC 60, identify private as well as public exercises of God’s worship, and those documents do distinguish between public and private worship, don’t distinguish them in such a way that the RPW would not apply to the private as well as public exercises of God’s worship. Even family and private worship is still limited to what God commands for His worship, with some elements excluded entirely from family and private worship, such as the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. It’s not like the RPW applies only to the stated public services, and anything goes in family and private worship, or at the Wednesday night prayer meeting. For example, one is not released from the requirement of praying in Jesus’ name simply because one is alone in his closet is he? If not then why would the rest of the RPW be inapplicable to private and family worship?

    • Andrew,

      I take your point.

      The question here, however, is whether the RPW applies to truck driving as some would have it. If truck driving is “worship” in a very broad sense, then no, the RPW does not apply to it. One cannot drive a truck according to the RPW. One has to drive a truck according to the Lutheran principle: we may do what ever is not forbidden.

      There is a matter of Christian liberty. Would you charge someone with transgressing God’s law (the 2nd commandment) for singing a hymn or using a piano in private exercises? I would not. If we do not distinguish between private exercises and public, stated, called services (as I think my covenanter friends do) then one’s conscience is bound even in, say, chapels and devotions and prayer groups.

      Are all acts of worship, whether private or public, whether called or not, regulated by the RPW in the same way?

      Doesn’t even the Lutheran principle cover the case you mention?

      That said, must we say the words “in Jesus’ name” or is it the case that we must pray in Jesus name? Would you complain if someone did not say the words, “In Jesus name”? What about someone who said, “for your name’s sake, amen.”?

      • Scott,

        I totally agree with respect to not all life is worship. I see worship as quite narrowly defined, because I believe that is how Scripture defines it. I prefer the term glorifying God for the rest of life as in “whether you eat, drink or whatsoever you do all to the glory of God.” So there is no nexus between worship and truck driving unless, one is singing Psalms on the road, or praying (with eyes open and on the road).

        When you mention Christian Liberty, I have to ask you what is the only thing that may bind the conscience of Christians, is it not scripture? The 2nd commandment does not have a phrase “During the called or stated worship of the church…”, does it? Yet since the 2nd commandment is Scripture and we are to have our consciences bound by scripture, then yes worship in chapels, and private are still bound, but remember, not by me, but by the 2nd commandment, and then by the requirements of the elements of worship found elsewhere in Scripture.

        Despite their exclusive Psalmody, the Covenantors haven’t been very good at RPW, considering how they allowed their progressivism to pollute the Lord’s Supper by substituting the contents of the cup with something other than what Christ used. And speaking of Christian Liberty, they for many years violated WCF XX by immorally requiring their officers an oath to abstain from alcohol, for which there is no requirement in Scripture. So, don’t give the American Covenantors too much credence on these issues.

        When you ask “Are all acts of worship, whether private or public, whether called or not, regulated by the RPW in the same way? ” I ask is God less of a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and forth generation of them that hate Me, but shewing mercy unto thousands that love me and keep My commandments, on Wednesday than he is on the Lord’s day?

        WSC 50 says the 2nd commandment requires “receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.” Pure and entire are superlatives, and again we have no exceptions on private vs public or day of week.

        It is not a matter of whether or not I would charge someone with a violation of the 2nd commandment with regard to the singing of uninspired hymns or the use of musical instruments in their private worship, the question is whether or not the God that goes to great lengths to make known His own zeal for his own worship, will be pleased with whatever you feel like making up, or does he call it vanity when we try our own ideas saying, for in vain to you worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. Remember WCF XXI:1 “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted, by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.” See also WSC52 and WLC110. There is no public private distinction there either. Uninspired hymns and musical instruments are the imaginations and devices of men, that is inescapable.

        I think your question “Are all acts of worship, whether private or public, whether called or not, regulated by the RPW in the same way?” is improper, and that is made apparent when you mention the Lutheran principle immediately following. What does in the same way mean? However, if it means all worship is limited to that which God has commanded in Scripture either expressly or deduced by good and necessary consequence from scripture, then yes, but some elements of worship are reserved for the public or called meetings of the church, such as the administration of the sacraments.

        I’m Reformed every day of the week, so no, the Lutheran principle is just as bad on Tuesday as it is on the Lord’s Day.

        I do like how you can be picky too, but to answer your last paragraph, as long as Christ had been mentioned clearly previously in the prayer, I would not find fault with the use of a pronoun in the closing, and FWIW, I don’t believe nor think Scripture requires that to be at the end, making our prayers in the name of Christ, can come at the beginning, middle or end. I actually subscribe to the WCF, WLC, and WSC as you write in your RRC, because they are biblical, not insofar as they are biblical. WSC98 requires (because Scripture does) prayer to be in Christ’s name “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.” I think WLC 180 and 181 are also very helpful here.


  6. This reminds me again how much importance it is to have a proper definition of terms. I am a strong advocate of Arthur Pink’s definition of worship, namely, that it is our soul bowing or prostrating in spirit and in truth. Thus, we may say that we can live with a worshipful attitude, but simply having a reverent heart does not make one’s life automatically a worship. Likewise, participating a worship ceremony with a reverent heart doesn’t make it automatically a worship. One must actively, intentionally, bow with her soul. To such worship (prostration) is our Lord’s promise that He seeks them.

  7. This “all of life is worship” sentiment is an attempt to be pious, and I would combat it with a converse challenge to piety — “So if all of life is worship, then the assembly of God’s people on the Lord’s Day is nothing special?” I think it is also helpful to distinguish between worshipping God and glorifying God. All of our lives should indeed be glorifying to God, even though not all of our lives are worship. Life glorifies God in a different way than worship does. (It’s almost as if there were another kingdom besides the kingdom of God or something…)

  8. If both private and public worship is to be regulated by the RPW, then should we only worship in private on the Lord’s Day, since we only worship publicly on the Lord’s Day?

  9. Dear Dr. Clark and friends –

    At one time the promotion of fights between hockey players (to draw attendence and increase revenues from a “market” otherwise apathetic to the game) became such a big deal that it spawned the tounge in cheek saying – “I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.” You can apply that saying to how the church has changed its “Lord’s Day worship service” into a “seeker sensitive presentation” and “all of life” into the place for “Christian worship.” One might even say – “I went to church on Sunday and a concert broke out” or “I went to a concert (CMA award ceremony, ball game, any televised contest, etc.) and all they wanted to do was say “thank you Jesus!”

    I really appreciate the distinctions you draw in “Recovering the Reformed Confession.” IMO, if God’s church gave more attention to the things that really matter in its “stated Lord’s Day observances” (honoring God by attending to what He has said and making sure we are hearing Him correctly), Christianity would then be more productivie and creative – and expressed with real charity in God’s world (honoring God by being who we are by His grace and doing whatever we do out of gratitude).

    We lose the “sacred/secular” distinction when the “Creator/creation” distinction is no longer heard from the pulpit. It’s no wonder there is such a strong cry for “all life” (read: “real life”) to be worship, when so much of what God’s visible representative postulates as “worship” is actually relativistic nonsense! Words mean things – and the preachers in the visible church have forgotten the importance of history and grammar when telling forth God’s redemption story. We cannot connect with the imperative without first seeing its (and our) place in the indicative (HC Q&A 21). What are we after – numbers of parrots and puppets or real disciples?!

    God’s own respect for the work of His hands is overwhelming and heat-breaking when we understand that Jesus Christ came and accomplished his work in the history of the world (if only we would meditate on the word “so” in John 3:16).

    I think it was G. Vos who wrote of the irony in how the “special revelation” attaches itself to the “general revelation.” This idea surprised me and freed my mind when I read it. All the stuff about church and worship and what God wants from rational creatures in the form of obedience – it only makes sense when seen in relation to the truth – to the reality of the world in which I too exist!

    Yes, “all truth is God’s truth,” but it’s the job of the visible church “to make visible” to the rational creatures God has made, THE REDEMPTIVE TRUTH God has made known in the history of this world. The message of reconciliation by which, or with which, we implore the lost citizens in this world “to be reconciled to God,” only makes sense to them (as it does to us) when it is understood that “God was in Christ [right here with us in this world] reconciling the world to Himself.”

    Yes, the job of making “what is truth” known to folks is the job of the Holy Spirit – but He “works in and through the Word” to apply the redemptive ends the Father has decreed and the Son has accomplished. The visible church giving proper attention in its Lord Day services to “the things we have recieved” concerning “the word of truth” as “once and for all” “delivered to the saints” – well, it couldn’t hurt. After all we’ve tried everything else 😉

    Thanks for such a excellent blog post.

  10. Scott, this is exceptionally helpful. I had a conversation similar to this one just this week. Thank you for writing clearly and cogently without equivocation. Categories and definitions of categories matter!

  11. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for this post, as I’ve really been trying to think through some of these things recently. I have a question:

    My first question relates to this portion of your post: “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.”

    Particularly, I’m not sure how making “nature redemptive” and “grace natural is ultimately to confuse law and gospel.” It seems like you’re equating nature and law to some extent. I’m not quite sure that I understand that connection…given that the law is something given in special revelation, not nature alone. I’ve been following some of your thoughts and the thoughts at GreenBaggins on this, but I’m not exactly clear on what you are saying at that point.

    • Hi Joel,

      Yes, I’m equating nature and law. I’m thinking of Paul’s doctrine of “stoicheia” in Colossians and Ephesians — sometimes translated “basic principles.” I’m also thinking of Rom 1-2. Nature there is law. There’s no gospel in nature. The gospel is the announcement (prospectively or retrospectively) of salvation in Jesus Christ. There’s no gospel in nature. There is, however, law: God’s righteous judgment. This is Paul’s clear teaching in Rom 1-2 and the confession of Reformed Christians since the Reformation.

      • Thanks for your reply, Dr. Clark. I wasn’t so much questioning whether there is gospel in nature. That seems clear. Rather, I’m asking if law extends past nature. In other words, when you are equating law and nature, are you saying that law is restricted to nature, or rather that nature is restricted to law? If the latter, I see your point. If the former, then I’m not sure I understand, given that God did give his law specifically through special revelation as well. Thanks.

        • Joel,

          No, it doesn’t follow the law is restricted to nature just that the gospel is restricted from nature. The same law revealed to Adam is revealed, in principle, in nature (love God and neighbor), and at Sinai and also in Scripture. He certainly gave his law in Scripture.

          The Heidelberg Catechism is explicit and the Westminster Standards are equally clear that the moral law is revealed in Scripture.

          What would cause you to think that would be in question?

          • I assumed that was your position, Dr. Clark…it wasn’t that anything you said exactly made me think that you would deny that.

            What I was getting at (poorly), was that I’m wondering if one can accept that point and still not hold to the rigid LGD as Lane has been discussing over at GB. In other words, if the law is revealed specially (in Scripture), then it seems that the law there doesn’t fit with the split you’ve put between general/natural, nature/grace, law/gospel. If the law is part of special revelation rather than (exclusively) nature, wouldn’t that mean that it was also part of grace?

            I’m not trying to make a point, just honestly trying to understand some of these things (as these are somewhat newer discussions for me). Thanks again.

            • Joel,

              No, it’s not a problem. All of special revelation isn’t necessarily redemptive. I guess it comes down to definitions. I’m trying to articulate clear categories for distinguish spheres.

              First we have to define what we mean by nature and then by grace.

              This is, of course, a huge discussion. Nature is creation. It is providence. No one is saved by nature. The Trinity is not revealed in nature. Salvation is not revealed in nature.

              Grace is a broad category, in this category to signify God’s saving actions and revelation in history.

              Special revelation contains the same law revealed in nature but that doesn’t make that law “grace” in the sense in which we use the term relative to law in justification.

              When we distinguish between nature and grace relative to culture we’re talking in broad terms. When we speak of law and grace relative to justification we’re speaking more narrowly.

              it’s about definitions.

            • Thanks for that reply, Dr. Clark. That helps to clarify the issue for me somewhat.

              I do think clarity regarding the definitions is what helps…perhaps I’ve been seeing them being used differently in different contexts. Thank you again.

  12. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you very much for your response. It puts many things into perspective. It was quite helpful.

  13. Dear RSC,

    Where is the Bible in all of this? Where is the distinction between broad and narrow definitions of worship in the Bible?

    For a good exposition of what the Bible says see David Peterson’s book, Engaging with God.



    • Marty,

      This is such a tedious line of argumentation!

      Have you never read Calvin’s Institutes or his commentaries or his sermons? Are they not expositions of Scripture? Do I have to repeat the entire corpus of Reformed biblical exegesis every time I answer a question?

      Look, I gave a brief account of Rom 12:1-2 and I could spend hours giving an account of other passages but would it move you? No, I don’t think so. You ALWAYS say this and then, after I’ve spent the time repeating all the biblical arguments, you simply ignore them.

      It’s fruitless. If I thought you were an honest dialogue partner or someone without access to books I would take the time but I doubt the former and I know the latter isn’t the case, so what’s your agenda?

      Why shouldn’t I ban you for wasting my time?

      > > >

  14. Dr. Clark,

    You made a clear distinction between the secular and the sacred. You said that baseball caps do not need to be marked as belonging to the lord. What do you say to horse’s bells or cooking pans being marked holy unto the Lord? I’m not so sure that distinction can always be so clearly made.

Comments are closed.