Worship, Equivocation, and the “Argument of the Beard”, by Doy Moyer


In discussions about worship, I am finding at least two fallacies that are being floated (and are related). I want to spell them out in order to be clear about the nature of the problem I want to address.

1. The reductive fallacy sometimes called the “argument of the beard” is a failure to properly distinguish degrees of concepts and terms (“degree” is the key term here).(1) When is a beard a beard? After one day? Two days? Five days? How exactly do we tell? If we cannot tell with any certainty, then there must be no difference. If the distinction isn’t clear, then no distinction is to be made. For example, one might say that since there is a little good and a little evil in everyone, then there is no real difference between someone who is good and someone who is truly evil.

2. The fallacy of equivocation is one of the most common ones and occurs when the same term is used in two or more senses, but without recognizing it. When in the course of an argument a word shifts in meaning, but the argument proceeds as if the original definition is still in use, then this fallacy is committed. For example, one might argue that since evolution means change over time, then evolution (macro) must be true. “Evolution” is equivocated because the meaning shifted.

It is important to understand that making distinctions in terminology is not “verbalism” or “getting hung up on words.” In fact, it is just the opposite; it avoids “being victimized by words.” As Kreeft says, “The reason we make distinctions is because we insist on going beyond unclear words to clear concepts.”(2)

The issue I am raising is that we hear these kind of fallacies made in some discussions about biblical worship. Either the lines are blurred in the terminology or the term is equivocated (worship as sacrifice in general or worship as specified actions when assembled). Here I am not talking so much about technical definitions (as if a strict definition of the Greek terms will settle the issue). I’m talking more about how the term “worship” is actually used in different contexts (“all of life” or a particular, purposed assembly).

We have heard the argument that “all of life is worship,” based on passages like Romans 12:1 (which uses latreia, service). I won’t quibble over the question of whether a sacrifice is a form of worship, and so I would agree that there is a sense in which this point is true. All that we do is to be to God’s glory, reflecting a self-sacrificial mentality that seeks God’s praise. Our lives are to be lived in adoration to God as we proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). Worship certainly is not confined to four walls one day of the week (cf. Jas 5:13). How, then, are the above fallacies made? Please note the following statements that express the sentiment of arguments I’ve seen and heard in my experience:

1. Since “all of life” is worship, then there is no real difference between the rest of life and the so-called worship assemblies.

2. Since “all of life” is worship, then worship is not something for a set time and place with any kind of pattern attached to it.

The first example is a form of the “argument of the beard”; the second is equivocation. Is there a difference between “all of life” in the broad sense, and specific actions at a certain time and place that are called worship? Here is where the mistake is made. If all of life is worship, then, it might be reasoned by some, there is really no difference to be made in coming together in an assembly for worship other than just being a part of life. Worship in an assembly, then, is not based on any patterns, so we can do in our assemblies what we would do in any other context. There is no real difference. The distinctions are blurred. There is nothing particularly special about worship in an assembly context. In fact, it’s not really worship as much as it is encouragement for each other.

Concepts of “worship” are distinguished in Scripture, which shows that worship can be a purposeful act aside from “all of life.” Paul went up to Jerusalem “to worship” (Acts 24:11, which uses proskuneo, to bow down, show reverence). Abraham went up the mountain to worship (Gen 22:5). Worship, in this sense, is something that has a starting and stopping point, a time and place. We can go “to worship” (which is active). As such, it is distinguished from normal activities of life—the same activities that are part of our daily self-sacrifice to God. If no distinction is to be made, then why do the Scriptures make one? Wasn’t Paul already worshipping with his life when he went up to Jerusalem to worship?

The question is, do we, in our assemblies, have specified actions God wants us to do together that may be called worship? Can we not call singing praises to God worship (Eph 5:19-20)? Or giving thanks and praise in prayer together? Even an unbeliever, if convicted in an assembly, might “fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Cor 14:25). Yes, worship can take place in a special way, distinguished from the idea that “all of life is worship.” No, the exact Greek term for “worship” need not be used to recognize this is what it is (“praise,” for example, would make the same point).

Some of the talk about worship seems to be a reaction to what many have, through the years, called “the five acts of worship” in assemblies. I’ve never been a fan of that terminology, and I feel no need to try to put all of this in a neat little box just for rhetorical purposes. Some of what we do in assemblies is meant for edification of each other (preaching, teaching), and so one might question whether or not such is “worship” in a strict sense. The question is, what do we see Christians doing together in the context of a purposefully assembled congregation? 1 Corinthians 14 is sufficient to show that they did worship God together in song and prayer. They did teach and edify. They did partake of the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:18ff). These were purposeful, specific actions they performed in assemblies as a congregation meeting for that purpose, and abuses were chastised. Not everything was acceptable to God in those assemblies.

What’s the reason of all this? Even if one wants to argue that “all of life is worship” based on the need to be living sacrifices, such does not negate the need to assemble with saints on the first day of the week for purposeful actions of worship and edification together, as authorized by God and according to His grace. We cannot excuse ourselves from being part of a group on the basis that “all of life is worship,” nor can we use our purposed assembly times to just do whatever we wish based on a failure to distinguish concepts of worship. God is always in charge of His worship, and we are still responsible for following His will when we come together in those purposed assemblies.

Make your life a life of worship, but also make the assemblies with the saints a special time of worship and edification. Never neglect one for the other, but strive to keep your life and worship in harmony. If our lives really are worshipful, then our assemblies together will truly be special as we raise our voices as one in praise and seek to teach and edify each other for deeper growth in knowledge and spirituality.

1. Geisler, Norman, and Ronald M. Books. Come, Let us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990.

2. Kreeft, Peter. Socratic Logic. 3rd ed. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine, 2008.

Doy Moyer

4 Replies to “Worship, Equivocation, and the “Argument of the Beard”, by Doy Moyer”

  1. While I agree with the statement of our lives are to be such that they glorify God in our actions and activities and worship is not to contained within 4 walls on any articular day, your ending premise is that the “5 acts of worship” (in which you only really mentioned 4 of them) are the only ways to accomplish/achieve worship. Your article doens’t talk about servitude towards other to be worship (Matt 5:16 – …so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”) or showing kindness, patience, love, joy, longsuffering, gentleness (aka fruit of the Spirit) to all of mankind. What about how showing my love towards those who are His disciples tells others of my love for Christ (John 13:35)? Is that not worship? What I find interesting is looking through the entire book of Acts and examining when the called out (aka church) are together I don’t see anytime where Luke states they are worshipping God? I don’t see this “worship service” being spelled out or any reference to this is “how” or the “process” in which one worships God and in doing so the “5 acts of worship” are given as the instructions. Now, understand I’m not condemning those activities or stating that I myself don’t sing, prayer, study the bible with fellow believers, use my funds to help those in need or proclaiim the Lord’s death until He comes. It is my understanding from the Scriptures that worship is showing reverence to God. But examining Romans 12, Paul states it is the presentation of my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God as my spiritual worship. If that includes singing, praying, helping brethren (and others), studying His word with others and observing the Lord’s Supper then I those are considered worship. But that doens’t exclude helping others in need (Good Samaritan), helping my brother or sister in need in whatever capacity that need might be (Jno 13:35), teaching my children to love the Lord (Eph 6:4), etc. But those things are not called out as worship in your article.
    My point is not to be contentious. I’m truly seeking to understand what God’s will is for me and my family. My concern and why I write is because I’ve experienced a very legalistic approach given to what worship is and through years of study, praying and seeking to understand what exactly worship is (and is not) I’ve found it lies within the 2 great commandments: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself (Mt 22:37-38).

    John Woodall

    1. John,

      Thanks for your remarks,While I would rather as always talk in person as old friends aught to. I’ll add a few thoughts here. While we have swam in the same circles over the years, I have not really had the same experiences as you have, so I don’t really have footing to respond to that.

      “While I agree with the statement of our lives are to be such that they glorify God in our actions and activities and worship is not to contained within 4 walls on any particular day, your ending premise is that the “5 acts of worship” (in which you only really mentioned 4 of them) are the only ways to accomplish/achieve worship.”

      John, this is not at all what Doy wrote. In fact, he included “Make your life a life of worship, but also make the assemblies with the saints a special time of worship and edification.” in his closing remarks. You may want to reread the article above so we can have a clear conversation.

      Under your criteria of “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself” (Mt 22:37-38), How would you describe how Christians should work and worship together?

  2. Phil,
    I agree speaking face to face is certainly going to be a better approach, but unfortunately are paths don’t cross each other very much. Although I have family in Smithville, TN and will be there towards the end of month and most likely over the Christmas holiday’s maybe we can schedule a breakfast or lunch. Your call.
    I’m trying to understanding this making the assemblies a special time of worship and edification that just follows the 5 acts. I can’t help but continue to refer to them as such, because the many churches of Christ I have visited across this nation and over the years practice just that. They don’t refer to anything outside of the 5 acts or would call a gathering at your home on a Friday night with a cookout and possibly some singing worship. This has been what has driven me to ask many questions about what is worship. What does it look like? What do I see in Scriptures between Genesis and Revelation that talk about what worship is (not necessarily what is not)? When is worship to take place? What is acceptable worship before God and what is unacceptable worship before God?
    I know for my experience worship was just that (which I don’t believe to be just my experience, but more so a doctrine taught). Singing, praying, preaching, giving every Sunday, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper where those acts every Sunday am/pm and Wednesday night. Occasionally there would just be a singing, prayer service and each one ended with offering the invitation to be obedient to the gospel.
    But what I didn’t see or experience was any of those activities outside of the church building being called worship. It was only when the entire (the sick and traveling excused of course) congregation was assembled when we were to worship God. I’m certain I’m not alone with that experience for I know many a congregation personally that did that and still do under the guise of “the authority of the Scriptures”.
    Again, please don’t take offense to what I am asking or saying. This comes from a sincere heart and sometimes black text on a white background doens’t show that (in which I understand that to be a two way street. Social media certainly has it’s limitations).
    In regard to your question, “How would you describe how Christians should work and worship together?”, I think I’ve answered that under the principal of the 2 great commandments. For the way in which I show the first commandment is how I treat the second commandment. Am I seeking the best of my neighbor (for this question I’ll insert brethren instead of neighbor)? Do I think of their interest over my own (Phil 2:3-5)? Do I practice the fruit of the Spirit and encourage others to do the same?
    Now for the practical application of those questions. I currently am helping a brother in need with removing a fallen tree in his backyard. It was brought to my attention by a sister in Christ about this servant opportunity and my appreciation for her care and concern spurned that motivation. I also love this brother and therefore want to help him with his need. Out of this opportuntiy my hope is we grow closer to each other. We develop our relationship to be able to talk to each other about deeper concerns and needs for ourselves, family, co-workers, brethren, etc. I’m hoping that as an older man to him I’m setting the example of putting his needs above my own and how a servant acts. Maybe we’ll share a meal together and continue on in encouraging each other in our service to God through others (Eph 2:10). Maybe his neighbors see this or he tells others and God is glorified from this act of service to another. Maybe someone will see the love I have for him and recognize me as a disciple of Jesus. I’m not for sure if that’ll happen, but I’m hopeful it will.
    That is sufficient for now and again my offer still stands of getting together either the weekend after next or over the Christmas holidays. God bless.


    1. John, I’ve just now become aware of your response,I’d love to get together, even if only to chat about the old days… I don’t have a free weekend until May 2014, no really it’s that sad.

      I’m not sure if I worded my basic question well enough, but maybe you could answer these which might help me understand where you are at a little more clearly.

      Is your primary concern the use of the accommodative labels like “5 acts of worship”? since it seems your the only one pressing them into the conversation? Doy didn’t use them, I tend not to either. So I don’t see the point of your complaint in this matter.

      Is your concern that folks don’t use the term worship outside times when Christians meet together as a church? I’d have to say that is more of a quibble than a cause for outright revolt, given the possible hypocrisy of the complaint. (I don’t like the terms you use to describe your relationship to God, you need to be using mine.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: