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.