(Part 7 in the Worship White Noise blog series)
To review, armed with this wider, more expansive definition of worship, four fresh terms will now help us distinguish between the various expressions through which we have the privilege of responding to God’s initiative of love.
These clarifications, I hope, will allow us to keep the melody of worship the melody, and the accompaniment of worship in its rightful place. These terms are not all “new,” but they are clarified and categorized in this list of terms to help us find fresh and meaningful language with which to speak about worship.
Those terms are:
1) Life Worship (the melody),
2) Gathered Worship (the accompaniment),
3) Family Worship (the accompaniment), and
4) Personal Worship (the accompaniment).
Let’s begin with the most important, and all encompassing, of the fresh terminology – Life Worship.
And buckle up – the terms sacred and secular are about to take a wild ride.
1. Life Worship (the melody)I
Life Worship is the melody of worship. Life Worship is what God is after in us, from us, and for us (Rom. 12:1-2).
Life Worship is what happens when your life and mine are responding in loving allegiance and surrender to the God who first loved us (1 John 4:19).
This is the melody of worship, a life directed Godward, giving thanks through “all activities of the human spectrum.” This is the essence of the worship the Father is seeking in and from us, that is in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-23).
It is a life lived coram Deo, “in the presence of God.”
Life Worship is “capital W” worship – it is what God is after in the woman at the well, and in us. He is not after our songs – He is after our lives.
Life Worship weaves itself throughout human history as the all-encompassing response that God is inviting from every man, woman, and child on planet earth.
Life Worship Includes All Other Expressions
All expressions of worship are included within Life Worship, but they only find their meaning when Life Worship is in place.
Expressions of worship can inspire us to Life Worship, but they must never be confused with the goal itself. God is after you and me. Our music, our services, our liturgies, our sacraments, and our social action are all caught up in this supreme posture of Life Worship.
To offer every aspect of our lives, from the way we spend our money to the way we speak to our co-workers, is our only fitting response to the loving pursuit of God in Christ Jesus.
Let’s unpack this important idea, as much white noise stems from our misunderstanding of Life Worship’s melodic center.
All Of Life Is A Sacred Space
If we generally agree on the above, there are halting repercussions that will alter our theology of worship and mission – and what it means to act with God in the world as our living act of worship.
An accurate rendering of the concept of Life Worship acknowledges that all of life is sacred, and all of your activities and mine can become acts of living worship – responses to the pursuing love of God – no matter our occupations, hobbies, talents, relationships, ethnicities, or locations.
Doing justice, loving mercy, creating animations, designing clothes, loving neighbors, acting generously at work, cleaning homes, honoring spouses, stewarding money, running businesses, changing diapers, architecting software, running gardening clubs, studying math, actively cherishing our children, spouses, and parents – all can become acts of Life Worship.
It All Comes Back To A Choice
Millions of Christians have been let off the hook of Life Worship because someone told them that church services and Gathered Worship (see below) would do the trick. As Dallas Willard once said, one of the greatest problems in the church of the 20th-21st century is that most people singing the songs and filling the seats have never actually decided to follow Jesus. I agree.
There is no liturgy so beautiful, no song so stunning, no Eucharist prose so profound, that it can actually make the life participating actively worship. No, the life of the person is what brings the meaning to the liturgy, be it expressed in songs or sacraments, and uses them to worship.
Our actions can inspire and move the heart toward worship,
but the choice remains in the will of the worshipper.
Gathered Worship, like a good accompaniment, creates a space for the elevation of the melody of Life Worship. Apparently, according to Romans 12:1-2, Life Worship is the only fitting response to the all-surpassing love of God (Catherine of Sienna) – all else is a stream feeding this river.
Now, here is where the distinction between Life Worship as the melody, and other ideas about worship as the accompaniment, becomes so very important.
Let’s say the above, “all of life is a sacred space,” in another – more provocative – way.
Killing The Holy Cow: Simplistic Views Of Sacred And Secular
While the following is not “new” – in the sense that many respected scholars have been saying this for many years now – it is still alarming to many parts of the Body of Christ when it’s put into straight terms.
An accurate rendering of the concept of Life Worship defies the existence of a “Secular” world as a real, metaphysical “space in which things happen.” It demands that all of life be seen as a sacred space for worship to happen within.
This is worth some time. Why? This faulty idea, that a Secular world exists (consisting of Secular music, Secular jobs and more) as a separate category from God’s Sacred creation is the single most confusing idea confronting empowered Life Worship today. If this is not addressed, no Walt Disney, no Steve Jobs, no great artist innovatively carrying a Kingdom mindset with a vibrant culture-shaping skill-set will grace the halls of our generation.
Our view of Life Worship demands that we take a few moments to deal with our confusions about the words Sacred and Secular – and that we introduce a third, fresh category, called “Creational.” More on that later.
The Earth Is The Lords… Or It Isn’t
For now, let’s affirm that, biblically, the “earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1).
Full stop. So is the cosmos. Full stop. We can talk about a metaphysically distinct sphere of material reality called the “Secular world” till we’re blue in the face, but it won’t make God’s sacred world less His. Genesis 1-2 precludes such a notion – God started it all, despite Satan’s fall from Grace. (Satan may operate as the “prince of the powers of the air,” which Ephesians suggest is a spirit at work in people; and people may defer to more Sacred or more Secular visions of the world – however.)
To package all of that nuance up (of human beings and their place on the continuum of engagement with the world’s “empire”) into 2 easy, distinct categories of Sacred and Secular is just plain dangerous. All of us are nuanced in our ultimate allegiances, and so is much of the church.
To help us, let’s ask this question – “Does God believe in a Secular world that is utterly apart from His influence and domain, in which all occupations and music that aren’t directly church-related fall into?” My answer and hopefully yours, informed by the Scriptures, would be “No, it’s more nuanced than that.”
Now, there may be no metaphysical Secular world that exists outside of God’s cosmos, per se, but there are secularizing elements at work within the world, driven by unseen forces and disordering God’s good creation in a variety of ways. They encroach on us all the time, and when led and driven by highly Secularized people, they harm and corrupt.
But they are not everywhere that an official church is not. The world is more nuanced than this, and we’ll see this when we address our connection with the music that is so important to this discussion.
How do we talk about this, and still retain our fresh vision of Life Worship?
First, let’s affirm that the blanket assumption certain normal occupations (see the abnormal ones below) and music pieces (music that doesn’t explicitly nurture faith) are inherently “Secular” has no place in a rich, flourishing, Kingdom-of-God vision of a human at worship.
When You Assume, You…
The fact is, our time and place can determine our assumptions. For the early church, being a soldier, or being a farmer (Augustine), had nothing to do with Christ and were therefore “Secular” occupations. In essence, God wanted nothing to do with them. The funny part is, so was prostitution. Hmmm. Being a farmer or being a prostitute falls into the same category?
For the extremist Muslims in Mali, who have burned instruments and forbade any music but the singing of Koranic verses, all music other than that based on its holy scripture is “Secular.”
Today, we may see all of this differently than the early church or this stance of Muslim extremists. We might say that being involved in sex trafficking, or running a drug ring, are truly “Secular” occupations. In other words, they directly and intentionally disorder the creation as God designed it and pull people away from a Christocentric (Christ-centered) set of desires and longings.
However, currently, the same category of occupation (Secular) that houses sex traffickers, if you listen to the average Christian speak, also houses graphic designers, psychologists, teachers, and lawn care workers.
If they’re not working directly with the church, they are all “Secular” jobs – right?
We have a big problem. Sacred and Secular are not working well as categories for Life Worship. Too many are “in,” and too many are “out.”
If every breath, sacred as the space in which it is drawn, matters to God, then Life Worship can be expressed in most of these apparently Secular occupations – rendering them Sacred. We no longer need to pray for all passionate young people to become youth pastors or work in a Christian-baptized industry. They don’t all need to be oversees missionaries.
We want them to become Kingdom people. Sacred, incarnational activists who live and breathe and work and laugh in order to know Christ, be known by Christ, and make Christ known.
One basic idea changes, and the whole tower of cards falls at the feet of Jesus.
The ground that you are on is holy under your feet; see it as a Sacred opportunity for Life Worship. Secular has to do with the meanings we place on things – not an intrinsic quality that is easily defined. Your work, your home, and the space in which you move is Sacred space. Use it to the glory of God.
“Creational” Is The New Category That Could Heal Us
We have a new category that could begin to heal our non-nuanced, confusing thinking. It is the category of “Creational.” Without this category, our working definitions, in popular conversation, reveal an either/or worldview – and both our categories and our truncated worship vision are insufficient to carry us forward as worshippers of God in a sacred, yet fallen, world.
Let’s review. In popular Christian conversation:
Sacred defines any person, occupation, artistic expression, action, or system that is explicitly and literally Christian in wording, self-awareness, or Christian church | ministry | business organizational alignment.
Secular defines everything else. The bucket is big, so everything else can be thrown in. In other words,
Being an airline pilot or a tyrannical despot,
Being a public school teacher or a cut-throat business executive,
Being a pub musician or a licentious rock star,
are all Secular occupations.
Egad. We can’t really believe that, can we?
I propose that these two lone categories of “Sacred and Secular” are completely inadequate for encompassing the broad scope of human activity and the intentions and motivations at work in human hearts – which are then embodied in the systems, art, and worlds we create.
In other words,
“Sacred and Secular” simply do not provide the language we need to describe human activity.
I propose a new, third category that must be inserted for the human experience, and Life Worship, to begin to make sense.
Creational is the new category that could heal us.
Creational is the big category for our human activity as God’s image-bearers,
and Sacred and Secular are ways our expressions can be directed.
According to the narrative on the creation of human beings in Genesis, human beings are created in the image of God – the imago Dei. Some suggest this is simply a vocational statement (we are God’s vice-regents on the earth), and others suggest this is a nature statement (we are like God in the areas of our capacity to love, exert will, benevolently order creation, etc.).
As every person is “created” in the image of God, we all operate out from a “Creational” foundation. The music of the symphony, the beats of the producers, the skills of the master gardener – regardless of their faith perspectives – shimmer and shine with the glory of God.
They can run but they can’t hide. God’s magnificence and ingenuity is shining through their expressions.
So, the insertion of the new third category alters the definitions of Sacred and Secular and gives us a fresh context in which to see our lives flourish.
(Let me note here that the term “Creational” has academic uses that may confuse this discussion for some. I am not oblivious to these, but I am focusing currently on using the term Creational to speak of all expressions that come from people created in the image of God.)
The following is just a working diagram, and is only intended to relate to our view of occupations and music (and other expressions that flow from human beings) specifically.
We are all created in the image of God (Creational), and therefore we create. Much of what believers we create has a God-centric focus (Sacred), but not all of it (Creational).
Others, who don’t know Christ, create out of their Creational selves, and some produce very Sacred moments (I love when this happens, and a musician or filmmaker realizes they touched something way beyond them) by also very Secularized ones.
The New Definitions Of Creational, Sacred, and Secular
So, do we have a working way of talking about a world that is more nuanced than two buckets will hold? Let’s introduce the term “Creational,” and try it out in every day life.
Creational is the larger category that ideas like sacred and secular find themselves within. Creational defines any person, occupation, artistic expression, action, or system that flows from the reality that human beings are created in the image of God, and explores, enhances, or amplifies the human experience in the created order. Creational actions may be come from an explicitly Sacred perspective, an explicitly Secular perspective, or anywhere in between. These actions remain Creational. Human love, creativity, friendship, art, worship music – everything – all lives here.
Sacred defines any person, occupation, artistic expression, action, or system that is explicitly (for Christians) focused on nurturing Christian worship, discipleship, and a Christ-centered desire-set/worldview.
Secular defines any person, occupation, artistic expression, action, or system that explicitly (and aggressively) points human beings away from a sacred or creational vision of reality. Secular in this new vision, is clearly, distinctly, anti-faith (in God specifically).
Truth is, many people and occupations we’ve lumped into a Secular category before are operating from a Creational perspective rather than an explicitly Secular one. The “empire” of this world, and human systems, may surround and flow unknowingly through them, but that doesn’t mean that everything coming from them lacks value.
The addition of the category of Creational has just made room for diverse expressions of vocation, art, political action and more to be at the center of the worshipping life rather than on the periphery.
While we could begin to unpack the idea of living a Creational existence, that is Sacred in every aspect, we’ll wait for our next section – focused on music and liturgy – to flesh it out a bit more.
Suffice it to say for now, that with the integration of the category Creational into our language of Life Worship, we have just redefined the nature of life itself.
Life is roomy. Life is spacious. Life is Sacred – inside of a cathedral, inside of an office, inside of a school, or inside of a war zone. We can Secularize anything, and that would be bad whether it happens in the halls of government or in a church’s corporate systems.
Life Worship is now possible everywhere, from anyone.
Life Worship: Nourish To Flourish
We must now nourish and nurture this fresh approach to Life Worship. Armed with our fresh language above, we are saying that there is no place in which true worship cannot blossom, no ground that cannot be holy under our feet (unless it is a world we are participating in that is actively Secularizing at every turn) – from the sound stage of a movie set to the next planet we visit.
It’s all sacred space, and God plays there. We’ll talk more about this topic under our next category of Gathered Worship.
In review, Life Worship recognizes that the terrains on which living worship occurs, on which loving responses to God occur, are everywhere. A big cosmos demands a big melody of worship. In a universe where, a few years ago, a star exploded and spawned off 200 solar systems our size, we need a big definition of Life Worship.
With Christ at the center of our worship, empowering us by the Spirit to respond to the Father, and inviting us into a Christ-centered view of our moments, months, lifetimes and corporate history, we act out our Life Worship on a daily basis.
Life Worship is the melody – but for the melody to last it needs constant harmonic support. Enter “Gathered Worship.”
Stay tuned for our next installment.
(Click the “Follow” Button Below To Follow The Worship White Noise Series; post excerpted from Worship White Noise: Tuning In The 7 Worship Culture Shapers In The Chaos Of The Modern Worship Experience)