Is everything a Christian does worship? Some would answer this question with an emphatic “Yes!” They see a life given over to the Lord as a life of perpetual worship, regardless of what a person may be doing at a particular time. Some will make an exception for sin; that is, as long as a Christian is not sinning, he is worshipping. But if a manager is giving instructions to an employee, is he worshipping at that moment? If that manager is a Christian, some would affirm, “Yes!” If a grocery store shopper is deciding between Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes, is he worshipping at that moment? If that shopper is a Christian, some would again affirm, “Yes!” If someone is using the restroom, is he worshipping at that very moment? If that person is a Christian, the same folks would answer, “Yes he is, and very acceptably!” This is what is sometimes known as the “All of Life is Worship” (ALW) doctrine.
On the surface, this view seems harmless enough. However, this doctrine bears grave consequences. Consider just two of these consequences:
1. If everything a Christian does is worship, then anything a Christian is permitted to do outside of the worship assembly is permitted in the worship assembly and as part of the worship activities.
2. If everything a Christian does is worship, then there is nothing particularly special about the occasions a congregation assembles for worship.
Not only are these consequences serious—both of these conclusions are false. There are certainly things permitted to a Christian outside the worship assembly which are not permitted in the worship assembly and as part of the worship activities: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, emphasis LM; see article in this issue, “Man Must Have Bible Authority to Worship God Acceptably,” by Denny Wilson). And it is certainly false to suggest that there is nothing particularly special about the occasions a congregation assembles for worship—as the Hebrews writer issued a dire warning against any who might be “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25ff).
The rules of logic demand, “Any doctrine that implies a false doctrine is itself false.” Since the doctrine that everything a Christian does is worship implies the two aforementioned false doctrines, the doctrine that everything a Christian does is worship is itself false.
There are various “sugarstick” Scriptures ALW adherents use to justify their doctrine. One such passage is “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Since it is literally impossible for a Christian to offer continuous focused prayer 24 hours a day for weeks, months, and years on end without pause, some conclude that this “prayer without ceasing” is something other than a specific act. However, the word pray specifically means “to petition deity,” to be translated, “pray” (Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich 879). That’s pretty specific, is it not? It will not allow such interpretations as “maintain a prayerful attitude” or “live the kind of life befitting a man of prayer.” It means “pray.” That one is to “pray without ceasing” does not mean that one is to pray every minute of his life. It means that prayer is to be a regular, ongoing part of his life. Similarly, if someone decides to become physically fit, he may determine to implement an exercise regimen. If he wishes to achieve and maintain physical fitness, he will need to “exercise without ceasing.” This does not mean that he is to exercise every minute of his life; rather, exercise needs to remain a regular, ongoing part of his life. When Christians “continue stedfastly…in prayers” as did the early church (Acts 2:42), they “pray without ceasing.”
Perhaps the favorite sugarstick of the ALW bunch is Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” It seems quite a stretch to go from this passage to “every single thing you do is worship.” However, ALW advocates have misleading modern translations to aid their detrimental cause. The New International Version incorrectly renders Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (emph. LM). If one’s “true and proper worship” is found in the entirety of how one lives his life, then select actions could not be set apart from the others as acts of worship. There could not even be different “levels” of worship, as some have claimed.
The Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version likewise render the King James Version’s and American Standard Version’s “service” as “worship.” The original word latreia and its related verb latreuō signify “work for pay, be in servitude, render cultic service” (Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich 587). While this range of meaning certainly includes worship, it is not limited to worship. Jesus used this word in John 16:2: “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service [latreia].” Clearly, no Jew would have considered it an act of worship to kill a Christian, but they would have considered it an act of service. Thus, “service” is clearly the preferred rendering in John 16:2, just as it is in Romans 12:1. Christians need to understand the distinction between worship and service. As many a faithful Gospel preacher has correctly observed, “All worship is service, but not all service is worship.”
Some argue specifically from the word “sacrifice” in Romans 12:1—“present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Such people claim that “sacrifice” itself implies worship; therefore, the “living sacrifice” of our bodies—an ongoing event from initial obedience to the Gospel until physical death—must be worship. It is true that an allusion to worship is made in this term and in this verse. However, one must observe that this “sacrifice” is clearly figurative. Literally speaking, what is a “sacrifice”? It is “an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure” (New Oxford American Dictionary, emph. LM). The allusion in Rom. 12:1 is indeed to slaughtering animals as sacrifice, and the irony of the figure is that living sacrifices are presented rather than dead animals.
Furthermore, this says, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” While those bodies may be used in continuous service, the presentation of one’s body is done at a particular time, just as ancient animal sacrifices were offered at a particular time.
Twenty-four verses following this verse, the civil government is said to be “God’s minister,” specifically so when carrying out capital punishment against a deserving wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). But is this an act of worship? Unless one wants to affirm that God desires human sacrifice as worship, surely it is not.
One may render the entirety of his life in service to God, but he is not worshipping when he is not participating in an act of worship. The word “worship” occurs 188 times in the Bible. Every time, it involves a specific act performed by one and directed toward another.
Notice the words spoken when Abraham and Isaac arrived at Mount Moriah: “And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Gen. 22:5). According the ALW folks, Abraham was confused. Did he not know that he was worshipping the whole time he traveled to Mount Moriah? He should have said, “I and the lad will go yonder and continue worshipping the same way we have been for years”! No, Abraham was correct and the ALW folks are confused. Even though Abraham lived a life of faith to be emulated by Christians everywhere (Rom. 4:9-16), he only worshipped when he offered specific acts of worship.
Likewise, the Ethiopian eunuch “had come to Jerusalem for to worship” (Acts 8:27). The implication is clear that his entire life was not worship if he traveled to Jerusalem for the specific purpose of worshipping.
On one occasion, Jesus was in the household of two sisters, each engaged in different activities. One, Martha, was busily making preparations for her guests while the other, Mary, was attentively listening to Jesus as He taught. Notice the distinction Jesus made between these two sisters’ actions: “Mary hath chosen the good part” (Luke 10:42). Neither course of action was sinful. However, if Martha’s course was properly worship, how could it fail to be every bit as much “the good part” as Mary’s?
There is a relationship between holy living and acceptable worship, but they are not identical. God has always made clear that worship cannot please Him when offered by someone living an unholy life:
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight (Prov. 15:8).
He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination (Prov. 28:9).
But note the distinction above between the holy living—or unholy living, as the case may be—and the acts of worship, here sacrifice and prayer.
When Satan attempted to entice Christ to worship him, our Lord responded, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10). When Christ was speaking to Satan, was He worshipping him? Of course not—His very words were a refusal to render worship to him.
Make no mistake about it, many who advocate the ALW doctrine do so with ulterior motives. Some seek to make the worship assemblies less formal. One ALW advocate states of the first century church, “This first day of the week assembly was as unstructured and informal as an unplanned reunion of college friends” (Root 50-51). At times, worship assemblies in the first century were unstructured and informal (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26-38). However, this was displeasing to God, and the inspired apostle Paul took to task such lackadaisical attitudes toward worship. As Paul wrote, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (verse 40).
A particular goal of ALW advocates is to allow innovations in the worship, including instrumental music and expanded women’s roles. If a man may play his piano at home, why may he not play in the assemblies of the church, since both situations are equally worship? If a mother may speak at her local PTA meeting, why may she not preach during the public “worship” service, since both occasions are just as surely worship?
This is not to say that all who advocate the ALW doctrine have such goals in mind. Some perhaps honestly but erroneously have come to the conclusion that all of life is worship. Nonetheless, all who push the ALW doctrine end up pushing the church in the direction of such godlessness.
Not everything a Christian does is worship. The Bible does not teach any such thing, and the implications of this doctrine are grave. Let Christians everywhere render their lives as living sacrifices to Almighty God, and delight in every occasion to offer worship pleasing to God.
Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Root, Mike. Spilt Grape Juice: Rethinking the Worship Tradition. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1992.