Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (2)

Beyond the practical considerations discussed yesterday, there are also exegetical and doctrinal reasons to steer at least one lane away from “whole life worship” ideas.

I discovered this helpful passage from a somewhat unlikely source–a southern CofC bulletin that quoted the Gospel Advocate:

… much discussion has taken place about something called whole-life worship.  Perhaps you have heard some describe the daily walk of a Christian as worship.  What follows this description is an emphasis, which is correct in and of itself, on the spiritual sacrifice of living a godly life.  Nothing could be closer to God’s will for man than to live our lives in such a way that everything we do in word or in deed is in the name of the Lord.  We should live our lives in such a way that Christ — not ourselves — is seen in us (Galatians 2:20).  Worship, either private or corporate, is not something that encompasses one’s whole life but is a specific spiritual event, an event with specific instructions to govern its observance and uniquely identified from all other activities and events of Christian life.

The misunderstanding comes with the mistranslation of some key scriptures in this discussion.  The New International Version, for instance, translates the Greek word latreuo as “worship” in Romans 12:1.  By this rendering, it would appear that the day-to-day service to God is, in fact, worship.  Nothing could be further from the true meaning of this text. . . .

Christian life includes worship and service, and it’s not as though the two are unrelated, but the concepts are distinct.  If we begin to think of our service as our worship, we forget what worship is.  The converse is also true:  if we begin to think of our worship as the sum of our Christian existence, we may effectively ignore the essence of living.

Personally, I need to attain to higher levels of devoted living and service to others.  Shoot—here in my own home, I can be a louse sometimes.  But even when I am at my husbandly and fatherly and householderly best, giving my words and actions to Jesus and being sacrificial and such, I may not be worshipping, nor need I be.  Worship is something else, and it is something not discussed directly in Romans 12.  No, this passage deals with living—with the sacrificed living that becomes, in an utterly significant sense, worship-with-quote-marks.  And in order to begin to grasp what the sacrificed Christian life is, I need to understand more of the history of sacrifice in the predecessing Jewish religion.

This historical antecedent is precisely what I’ve been procrastinating about, because the territory is so unfamiliar to me.  Whenever I work up the courage, a few Old Covenant passages will merit mention!

Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (1)

Introduced by a well-meaning young believer to some of David Crowder’s thoughts, I was recently reminded of how common the “whole-life worship” idea is.  It has been assumed and/or advanced by countless Christian songwriters and authors, and is pervasive—not only in pop Christian culture, but also in some more reputable, and perhaps dated, Christian writers.  A 1990 work of J.I. Packer, and his reference to Puritan interpretation, is referred to in this clearly well-intended, although overstated and often misstated, sermon transcript that I found in a quick search.

Another example:  Mike Root’s Spilt Grape Juice, a 1993 look at the assembly, is one I believed to have traveled the no-worship, all-horizontal path.  I never read it, but here, a reviewer differs with Root “on the subject of Godward, vertical praise being abrogated in the New Testament.”  The reviewer acknowledges that “Worship in all of life” is Root’s mantra and demurs, as I would.

It’s not as though whole-life worship is a bad idea, in essence, but two aspects cause me to take exception to its ramifications.  First, speaking from a pragmatic, realistic point of view, the notion of giving oneself wholly to God at every moment is, at best, captivating but unattainable.  I’m reminded of a most respected brother who, in a Christian musical enterprise in which we shared, was reluctant to arrange the Avalon song “Testify To Love” that used over-the-top expressions such as “with every breath I take I will testify to love.”  (Later, he politely gave in to filial pressure and did arrange it, but that’s beside the point.)  These kinds of thoughts call us higher; on the other hand, they can depress us even as they expound on lofty, unattainable ideals.

For every women’s conference that encourages sisters to look at all the dishes and consider that each one washed is an act of worship … for every Promise Keepers “totally sold out” and “go all out for God (and your wife and kids)” event … for every youth function that has featured speakers encouraging youth to do every single thing for the glory of God, we could find 99 believers who’ve been inspired and then have nearly expired trying to live up to all that.  Again, it’s a great idea, and one to which God seems to want us to aspire (but not to attain fully)—or else Rom. 12:1-2 and Col. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 10:31, etc., wouldn’t have been scribed.  Essentially the “everything for God’s glory” as a raison d’etre is a high, worthy calling, but it is ultimately frustrating for us sinners, and it does not quite touch the actual idea of worship.

While I believe that (vertical) worship must not be confined to the assembly but, rather, should surface regularly—i.e., on all days of the week in the heart and voice of the Christian—considering every deed to be Christian worship is neither logically warranted nor helpful.  This idea has the potential to leave many in its idealistic wake, and it also obscures the meaning of certain passages such as Romans 12:1.  For more, please check yesterday’s post and the one before that, and …

Please continue with me tomorrow.