I experienced a real “aha” moment recently when reading Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s fabulous work, Worship: Its Theology and Practice. Sometimes I find that, in discussing the concept of worship with thoughtful folks in the church, we’re talking past each other with what we mean by “worship.” One person is referring to whole-life worship while the other is talking about gathered, corporate worship. And there certainly is a tension between these two realities. On the one hand, the concept of whole-life worship reminds us that no aspect of our life is left untouched in the quest of the glory of God (Col 3:17). People who champion this approach helpfully point out that folks who think they’ve done their “worship duty” by attending Sunday services fall short of God’s summons on their lives the other six days of the week. On the other hand, there is something unique and irreducible about the public gathering of the people of God. People who champion public worship rightly point out that an overemphasis on whole-life worship can often lead to downplaying the importance of coming together weekly with God’s people for the special things that God reserves for that context only (e.g. the Lord’s Supper).
When we take a step back, though, we have to at least for a moment scratch our heads as to why we even have such discussions and emphases and why it is that we often talk past each other when we discuss worship. When dualisms like these are exposed, it often means that there’s a tension to be maintained for a proper biblical understanding (think of other classic dualisms like God’s oneness / threeness, Jesus’ divinity / humanity, Divine sovereignty / human responsibility, etc.). So why is there a healthy tension between private, individual, whole-life worship and public, corporate, Lord’s Day worship?
Von Allmen says that this tension walks on the same tight rope as the theology of the Kingdom of God:
[Corporate worship] is necessary because the Kingdom of God is not yet established with power. [Corporate worship] as such is necessary because the whole of life has not yet been transformed into worship. Thus it suggests that the Kingdom exists already, like the leaven in the dough, but is not yet established. It shows that Sunday is other than weekday, that all is not yet Sunday.1
Whoa. Did you catch that? The private / public worship divide is directly related to the already / not yet divide of the Kingdom of God. If we’re honest, there’s a tension in all of us when we worship on the Lord’s Day and then “go out into the world” Monday through Saturday. This rhythm is a good rhythm…a necessary rhythm, even, for now. But it feels partial. It feels incomplete. It feels forward-pointing. It feels pilgrim-ish, not home-ish. And it makes complete sense.
Personally, I want there to be more of a unity and seamlessness between my Lord’s Day life and my weekday life. I want the worship in one sector to more naturally feed into and feed upon the worship in the other sector. Certainly part of this is my fault–my own sin, brokenness. But it’s also the fault of the broken world (well, I guess I’m culpable for that, too), waiting like a pregnant woman for her due date. The Kingdom is not yet fully realized, and we will always walk through our seven-day rhythm with a funny taste in our mouth. Evidently, that’s the flavor of “not yet” rolling around on our tongue.