The Dimensions of Worship




Alex Tang



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The Dimensions of Worship

by Dr. Alex Tang


1.                  The Need to Understand Worship

·        To study the Biblical dimensions and component of authentic worship.

·        To look at worship in our own life and our own church.

·        To be a true worshipper of God.


There are two kinds of idolatry:

to worship a false God,


to worship the true God falsely

                                                                                                                                      Author unknown

2.                  What is worship?

Too late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new,

too late have I loved You!

You were within me but I was outside myself, and I sought You there!

In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things You have made.

You were with me, and I was not with You.

The things You have made kept me from You-

The things which would have no being unless they existed in You!


You have called, You have cried out, and You have pierced my deafness.

You have radiated forth, and have shined out brightly,

            and You have dispelled my blindness.

You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in,

            and I long for You.

I have tasted You, and I hunger and thirst for You.

You have touched me, and I ardently desire Your peace.


Augustine of Hippo


True worship arises because God calls us. As an echo, our worship directed to God is a gift in response to His gifts.

The word 'worship' comes from the Old English roots weorth, meaning 'honor' and 'worthiness' and scipe, signifying 'to create'. Worship is our ways of honoring God that bespeak His worthiness. Worship is for God only. The chief aim of worship is to please God- whether by adoration and praise, prayer and proclamation, confession and offerings, thanksgiving and commitment and all these actions combined. To use Christian worship for any purpose other than glorifying God is to abuse it.

Worship is like a theater. Whereas many worship services allow the congregants to be a passive audience while the pastor and musicians as main actors, true worship happens when everyone know that God is the audience. Musicians and pastors are the prompters but all of us are actors and all our worship acts are directed to God and God alone.

3.                  Worship and worshippers (A Study of John 4: 4-26)

  JN 4:4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

    JN 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

    JN 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

    JN 4:10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

    JN 4:11 "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

    JN 4:13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

    JN 4:15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

    JN 4:16 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."

    JN 4:17 "I have no husband," she replied.

    Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."

    JN 4:19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

    JN 4:21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

    JN 4:25 The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

    JN 4:26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

Some background information about the Samaritans:

(1)   The Assyrians took most of the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity around 722 B.C. The Assyrians not only deported Israelites but brought in people from B Babylonia and Syria to settle them in Samaria. In the beginning, these people brought their own gods, but in time they slowly adopted the worship of Yahweh, forming a syncretic religion. Those Israelites left behind intermarried with these newcomers.

(2)   When the Jews returned to rebuild the temple, they were specially concerned about the purity of their race. As a result, they rejected the Samaritans' help causing enmity between them (Ezra 4: 1-4).

(3)   Around 400 B.C., the Samaritans built a temple on Mount Gerizim. This was destroyed the Hasmonean leaders of the Jewish Maccabean revolt in 128 B.C. which did not improve matters.

·        God actually seeks worshippers

This is a very interesting point that is often missed out when we read this passage. We worship a God who specifically seeks us out so that we can be the type of worshipper He wants. This puts a different dimension and understanding on worship. Worship is not something we just do to a God who could not care less. But worship is to a God who seeks us out to worship Him. This worshipping experience will be a meaningful and transforming experience as it turns our hearts-our spirit- towards Him.

·        Worship in spirit and truth

When John quoted Jesus as describing the type of worship that God desires, he mentioned 'spirit and truth'. There is a fine point in the dimension of worship here. Is it 'spirit and truth' as a single component of worship or 'in spirit and in truth' as two complete but complementary dimensions of worship.

Those who believe in a single dimension of worship gives examples such as 'heaven and earth' (Gen.1:1), 'brimstones and fire' (Gen.19:24) and 'kingdom and glory' (1 Thess. 2:12). But the context of the passage seems to support two separate components. In John 1:17, he wrote 'full of grace and truth' which is obviously two separate components. It is important to establish in our mind that the worship of God that Jesus teaches is to worship God in spirit and to worship God in truth. Each is a separate dimension but together makes a powerful and complete worship of God.

·        Worshipping God in Spirit

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (vv. 13-14).

The Samaritan woman thinks that Jesus was talking about drinking water (v.15) but Jesus is talking about something that wells up in a person and gives him or her eternal life. The 'spring of living water' is the Holy Spirit. Thus true worship wells up within us as we have a spring of living water there.

God is spirit. This is the nature of God. Since God is spirit, the physical space of worship is never the issue (Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim). No space can confine or limit this God we worship. Solomon recognises this at the dedication of the Temple in 1 Kings 8:27. "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!"

We have a 'human spirit'. The existence of a human spirit in every person and the nature of that spirit are clearly taught in the Old and New Testament. Thus true worship must match our human spirit to God in spirit. When Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." John 4:23. , He is not saying that this is something that has never happened before. What He is saying is that one day; there is no need to fight over the theological issues of the place of worship which was the issue the Samaritan woman raised. True worship happens in the spirit and can be done anywhere.

With our human spirit alone, we cannot give God true worship. That is because our human spirit is fallen and is sinful. Jesus talked about springs of living water welling up in our spirit to enable us to worship. John elaborated this in John 7: 37b-39.

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Hence the Holy Spirit together with our spirit enables us to worship God in spirit. Gordon Fee wrote, "The Holy Spirit fills us so that we give thanks to the Father in the name of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ".

In worshipping in human spirit/Holy Spirit, we need to take our human nature, sanctified by the Holy Spirit and be fully human. Our minds, will, emotions, personalities, relationships, life experiences, memories and genetic makeup must be fully engaged in this worship.

Worship, authentic worship, is about God and about desiring him above all else. Deep and meaningful change takes lace when the things that matter to us change; and when God matters most, then worship has had its true intended effect in spirit and in truth.

                                                                                                                           Richard Averbeck

                                                                                                                          Professor of Old Testament,

                                                                                                                         Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

·        Worshipping God in Truth

Truth- worship that is founded on the whole Word of God, not the limited canon of the Samaritans. Ultimately, Truth is about the right place of worship according to the Word of God and about Jesus as the Word of God. In Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman, the issue is where is the true place of worship- Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim.

·        In the discussion the Samaritan woman talked about water which Jesus tuned to discussion about 'living water'. Then she talked about the true place of worship. In essence, she is talking about truth. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. The implication is that the Jews are worshipping at the correct place. Not only they know where to worship but salvation comes from them. The woman then brought up the subject of the coming messiah. Jesus admitted that he is the Messiah. Jesus seldom talked about Himself as the Messiah so it is significant that he told the Samaritan woman this. Basically Jesus is talking about the truth about Himself as the Word  of God (Jn 1:1-5). So worship that is acceptable to God the Father (4:21-24), as opposed to the teachings of the 'fathers' of the Samaritans (v.20) begins with accepting Jesus as the Messiah.

·        Jesus is the Truth and those who worship the Father but not only believe that He is truth but they must live according to the standards of the truth manifest in Him. Just like the 'spirit' in worship requires the welling up of the Holy Spirit in the human spirit, truth in worship requires both the acceptance of Jesus as the truth and weaving him and the truth he proclaims into all aspects of our lives. Worship in truth leads to action in this life and this life action in turn becomes worship.


Worshipping God in truth is about a genuine pursuit of God. Worshipping God in truth is about being impressed with our overwhelming God in the midst of life. Worshipping God is about seeing him while looking at life squarely in the face.


                                                            Richard Averbeck

                                                Professor of Old Testament,

                                    Trinity Evangelical Divinity School


4.                  The Community Dimension of Worship

·        The Tabernacle/Temple in the Old Testament

Mount Sinai is the key in understanding worship in the Old Testament. It was at Mount Sinai that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and commissioned him on his mission to save Israel out of slavery in Egypt (Gen.3:1). It was at Mount Sinai that the Mosaic covenant was ratified. (Exod. 18:5; 24:13). At the burning bush, God promised Moses that His presence will be with Moses as he goes to Egypt, out of Egypt on the way to the Promised Land. The tabernacle is part of God's plan to show the Israelite that His presence will be with them as they leave Mount Sinai to the Promised Land. Averbeck referred to the tabernacle as ' a portable Mount Sinai. It was a place of worship and a place of God's continued presence. It was also a symbol. Wherever the tabernacle was the Lord would be present in all his glory just as he had been at Sinai'.

The worship of God in His presence at the tabernacle is the perspective of Leviticus.  Exodus 40:17-33 recounted the building of the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34-35 described God's glory settling into the tabernacle. Exodus 40:36-38 revealed the guidance of God through the tabernacle as the people journey through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. This same point is repeated over and over again in Number 9:15-23 and Numbers 10:11-12, 33-34. Leviticus 1 through Number 9:14 is encased between two tabernacle presence and guidance passages (Exod.40:34-36; Num. 9:15-23).

The Temple in Jerusalem is a direct representation of the Tabernacle as Israel moved from a nomadic people to a nation state. As in the tabernacle. God's glory settled on Solomon's temple signifying His acceptance of this place of worship (1 Kgs. 9:10-11; 2 Chron.5:13-14; 7;1-3). Unfortunately, by the time of the Babylonian captivity in 586/7 B.C., the Israelites so desecrated and defiled the temple that the cloud of God departed abandoning it to destruction. Even then, God promised that He will return to a Temple (Ezek.43).

It must be noted that Old Testament worship is not about sacrifices. It is about the presence of God in the tabernacle/temple.

·        The Tabernacle/Temple worship in the New Testament

In the New Testament, Jesus is the glory of God made flesh. John 1:14 puts it," The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (tabernacled) among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came form the Father, full of grace and truth".

Later on in John 17:22,23a, Jesus prayed that He has given that glory to his followers. "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me". This glory is the Holy Spirit who indwells us (2 Cor. 3:17-18; 4:4).

Individual Christians is the temple of the Holy Spirit and we are not to defile ourselves through immorality (1 Cor. 6:18-19) but to honor God through worship.

The community of faith or church is also God's Temple. Ephesians 2:18-22 explained this:

 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

5.                  Reflection Questions

·        What are the three dimensions of worship?

·        How do you worship in spirit? How does your human spirit worship God with the Holy Spirit?

·        How do you worship in truth? How does the Word of God influence your worship?

·        True worship happens when we are focused on God. Consider the many activities of your church. Which activities are focused on God and which are focused on man (believers and non-believers)? Make a list.

·        What is false worship; worship displeasing to God?


6.                  Reflective Reading


Andrew Hill, Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College.                                                              Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books,1996)

If Christianity is the transformation of rebels into worshipers of God, then it is imperative for the Christian to know and understand what constitutes biblical worship. One may always consult Webster’s Dictionary for the precise meaning of worship (adore, idolize, esteem worthy, reverence, homage, etc.). Yet truly defining worship proves more difficult because it is both an attitude and an act.

Worship Ancient and Modern. Both the Old and New Testaments admit the possibility of false worship, usually associated with idolatrous cults and gross misconduct (Deut. 7:3–6). For example, the Canaanites practiced ritual prostitution and infant sacrifice under the guise of worship to gods like Molech and Baal (Lev. 18:6–30; 20:1–5), while Paul found little had changed in the practice of idolatrous worship in Greek Corinth of the first century a.d. (1 Cor. 6:12–20; 10:14–22). The psalmist recognized the folly of such false worship, noting that those who make idols will be like them (Ps. 115:2–8). The prophets, too, warned against idolatry, a fatal attraction for the people of God (Ezek. 14:3–7). Sadly, the biting sarcasm of these divine messengers, who decried images with plastered eyes that had to be nailed to shelves to prevent them from toppling over, fell on deaf ears—as deaf as those of the idols they had fashioned (Isa. 41:5–7). In the end, of course, these “stumbling blocks” of wood, stone, and precious metal overlay could not save Israel (Isa. 44:17). 

The antidote Jesus commended in his discourse with the Samaritan woman remains the best preventive against false worship (John 4:23–24). All true worshipers must worship God in “spirit and in truth.” That is, true worship takes place on the inside, in the heart or spirit of the worshiper (cf. Pss. 45:1; 103:1–2). Worship pleasing to God must be unfeigned and transparent, offered with a humble and pure heart (Ps. 24:3–4; Isa. 66:2). 

But this is not enough. Worship “in truth” connects the heart or spirit of worship with the truth about God and his work of redemption as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. David understood the importance of worshiping in truth and the necessary linkage between “truth” and the Word of God when he wrote, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear [i.e., worship] your name” (Ps. 86:11; cf. Ps. 145:18). Here both the Old and New Covenants agree! The true worship of God is essentially internal, a matter of the heart and spirit rooted in the knowledge of and obedience to the revealed Word of God. 

The Bible also warns of more insidious forms of false worship, namely, religious syncretism and religious hypocrisy. Religious syncretism is a process of assimilation that incorporates elements of one religion into another. As a result, the basic tenets and character of both religions are fundamentally altered. For the Hebrews during Old Testament times this religious syncretism usually involved the union of Mosiac Yahwism and Canaanite Baalism. The prophet Elijah chided the people for attempting to “waver between two opinions” (1 Kings 18:21), and the subsequent contest on Mount Carmel between the prophet of God and the prophets of Baal demonstrated the superiority of Yahweh’s religion. In the New Testament Jesus took issue with those who mixed faith and materialism when he declared, “you cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24); Paul continually battled those who preached a different gospel, one that perverted justification by faith in Christ by blending the teachings of Judaism and Christianity (Gal. 3:1–14).

Hypocrisy is a pseudo-pietism that pays “lip-service” to covenant keeping and social justice (Jer. 12:2), and exhibits all the external trappings of true worship of God. However, this worship is “godless,” based as it is on rules formulated by human teachers (Isa. 29:13). Additionally, this false piety is also lawlessness, in that it multiplies sacrifices while it tramples the poor (Amos 5:11, 21–24). The impious and insincere nature of this worship is further characterized by a consistent pattern of infidelity to Yahweh’s covenant (Jer. 12:10). Much later, Jesus described religious hypocrisy as both “play-acting” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16) and godlessness (worshipers who were outwardly pious but inwardly profane, Matt. 23:13–29). Nonetheless, their end is the same in either covenant: the pseudo-pious or hypocritical worshiper is rejected and judged severely by almighty God (Jer. 14:11–12; Matt. 23:35). 

Worship in the Old Testament. The study of the Old Testament worship is important for at least two reasons. First, the Old Testament Scriptures are part of the Christian canon, which means these documents are valuable for the Christian church as divinely inspired revelation of God and authoritative for the life of the church—at least in theological principle, if not in literal teaching. Second, the life of the Israelite nation depicted in the accounts of the Old Testament provides the pattern for public worship found in both Judaism and Christianity. 

The God of Israel. The object of veneration in the Old Testament was the God of creation (Gen. 1:1–2), the God of covenant revelation (Gen. 12:1–3), and the God of redemptive acts in history (Exod. 20:2–3). This God, Yahweh, merited the worship and devotion of the Hebrew people both for who he is and for what he does.

The God of the Old Testament is utterly holy and thus transcendent, inaccessible, mysterious, and inscrutable (Ps. 99:3–9). But if this alone were true about God, why worship such a terrible and awesome deity? Happily, this same God is also the “Holy One among you” (Hos. 11:9), a God who at once dwells “in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit” (Isa. 57:15). God merits worship because in his imminent presence he is able to answer those who call upon him and forgive their wrongdoings (Ps. 99:8). It was this intimate presence of a holy God that prompted heartfelt praise and worship (Ps. 99:3) and the keen desire for holy living among the people of Israel (Lev. 19:2). 

And yet, this were not enough if God was not sovereign in all of his creation. The sovereignty of God indicates his absolute authority and power over all creation for the purpose of accomplishing his divine will. The God of Israel alone rules forever (Exod. 15:18) and accomplishes his sovereign plan among the nations (Isa. 14:24–27). Otherwise the Hebrews would have been little better off than the rest of the nations the Rabshakeh of Assyria chided, “Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isa. 36:18). All this, the holiness of God, the holy imminence of God, and the sovereignty of God, make him a unique divine being. For the prophet Isaiah, the uniqueness of God constituted a call to worship the Lord as King and Redeemer of Israel (44:6–8; 45:20–23).

Despite the majesty and perfection of God’s person and character, Hebrew worship would have been misplaced if this God were impotent to act, to intervene in the experiences of life on behalf of his worshipers. Hence, the activity of God in human history served as both a basis for Hebrew worship and justification of the worship of the particular God, Yahweh. Among all the deeds of God recorded in the Old Testament two are foundational to the idea of Hebrew worship. First is the activity of God in creating new relationships with Israel (and others) by yoking himself through covenant promise (“I will be your God”) and covenant stipulation (“you will be my people”) to establish a worshiping community in holiness. The second was the event of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, God’s redemption of Israel (Ps. 77:13, 15) designed to prompt worship on the part of those who witnessed or later heard about Yahweh’s dealings with the Egyptians (Exod. 18:10–12). 

Hebrew Anthropology. While Hebrew anthropology affirms the individual is comprised of distinguishable physical and spiritual elements, there is no systematic distinction between the material and the immaterial, the physical and the spiritual in the Old Testament. According to the pattern of ancient Hebrew thought, a human being is an indivisible totality or unity. Thus, it is the whole person, not just the immaterial essence of an individual, which blesses the holy name of the Lord in worship (Ps. 103:1). 

This understanding of the synthetic nature and constitution of humanity by the ancient Hebrews is remarkably relevant for contemporary Christianity. The holistic emphasis of Hebrew anthropology affirms persons created in the image of God as indivisible unities, thus serving as a potent antidote for the far-reaching (and lethal) effects of Platonic dualism within Western thought. Acknowledging the interrelatedness of the physical and the spiritual dimensions in human beings also helps prevent establishing false dichotomies between the “sacred” and “secular,” meaning work, play, and worship are all sacred activities under the rule of a sovereign God. Recognition of the integrative unity of humanness permits a “whole person” response to God in worship, instilling the freedom to worship God with intellect, emotions, personality, senses, and body. Finally, Hebrew anthropology fosters the notion of corporate identity or the sense of belonging to the organic unity of humanity. This means the privatized worship of the individual finds its completion in the public worship of the larger worshiping community (cf. Heb. 10:25).

The Practice of Worship. Worship during the patriarchal period was either an expression of praise and thanksgiving prompted by a theophany (the visible or auditory manifestation of God to human beings) or the act of obedience to some divine directive (e.g., Abram “obeying” the command of God to sojourn in Canaan, Gen. 12:4). Often this expression of worship took the form of altar building (Gen. 33:20) and sometimes combined prayer (Gen. 26:25) or animal sacrifice (Gen. 31:54; 46:1). Other expressions of patriarchal worship included the erection of stone pillars and the pouring of drink offerings (drink offering, Gen. 28:18, 22), taking of vows in response to divine revelation (Gen. 28:20; 31:13), ritual purification (Gen. 35:2), the rite of circumcision as a sign of covenant obedience (Gen. 17:9–14), and prayers of praise and thanksgiving (Gen. 12:8; 13:4), petition (Gen. 24:12; 25:21), and intercession (Gen. 18:22–33; 20:7). 

The Book of Job confirms much of this assessment of pre-Mosaic religion among the Hebrews. The date of the literature of Job notwithstanding, the cultural and historical background of Job’s testing certainly reflect the patriarchal age. Like the Hebrew patriarchs, Job is cast in the role of priest for his clan as head of the family and offers sacrifices on their behalf (1:5). Confession and repentance (42:6), and petition and intercessory prayer (6:8–9; 42:8–9) were routine practices for Job as a blameless and upright man. Even the internal attitude of worship represented by the “fear of God” (2:3) and the lifestyle response of obedience as seen in Job’s oath of clearance (chap. 31) parallel the patriarchal worship experience.

The Mosaic period (ca. 1400–1100 b.c.) is widely recognized as the formative era of Israelite history and worship. Hebrew religious consciousness and worship practice was largely shaped by the dramatic events of the exodus from Egypt. Likewise, the covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai was the vehicle by which God established Israel as his “treasured possession” (Exod. 19:5). The divine law attached to the Sinai treaty became the instrument that both molded and preserved Israel’s identity as the people of God and chartered Israel as a theocratic kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6). Whereas the events of the exodus from Egypt bonded Israel together as a worshiping community, the covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai resulted in a “constitution” that created the nation of Israel (cf. Deut. 4:32–40). 

This covenant legislation enacted at Mount Sinai prohibited the Hebrews from attempting to represent Yahweh’s likeness with an image (Exod. 20:3–4). The question of the existence of other gods was not an issue. The Hebrews acknowledged the existence of foreign deities. The sole task of the Hebrews was to worship their God, Yahweh, and serve him alone.

The Old Testament celebrates the Passover and exodus as both the supreme act of divine judgment and divine deliverance in Hebrew history (Exod. 6:6; 15:13; Deut. 7:8). As such it furnished the seedbed for the growth and development of the Israelite theological language of redemption. Specifically, the purpose of the Passover animal sacrifice was didactic in that the enactment of the ritual of atonement was designed to instruct the Israelites in the principles of God’s holiness and his unique role as Redeemer, human sinfulness, substitutionary death to cover human transgression, and the need for repentance leading to cleansing and renewed fellowship within the community and with Yahweh. The Passover ceremony and the exodus event exalted the covenant God, Yahweh, who redeemed Israel from the foe (Ps. 78:12). They also stood as a perpetual reminder to the successive generations of Hebrews that redemption leads inevitably to the worship of Yahweh (Exod. 15:18).

The legal code forming the stipulations of the Sinai covenant also formally organized Hebrew worship. Mosaic Law legitimized and standardized the media or form and the institutions of Israelite worship of Yahweh. Worship as recitation for the ancient Hebrews included liturgical responses like “Amen!” (1 Chron. 16:36) or “Hallelujah!”, singing (Ps. 92:1), prayer (Ps. 5:3), vows and oath taking (Ps. 66:13–19), and the reading and teaching of God’s Law (Deut. 31:9–13). Worship as ritual drama for the ancient Hebrews included sacrificial worship (Lev. 1–7), the Sabbath (Exod. 20:8–11), the seasonal festivals (Lev. 23), the pilgrimage festivals (Exod. 23:14–17), incense offerings and libations (Exod. 30:7–9), penitential rites (Lev. 16:29), purification rites (Lev. 12:1–8), the tithe (Lev. 27:30–32), and artistic responses (e.g., music 2 Chron. 5:11–14; dance, Ps. 30:11; and sign and symbol, Exod. 28:6–30). 

The exodus event and the covenant pact ratified at Mount Sinai also reshaped Hebrew understanding of time and reordered Hebrew life according to a new religious calendar. The Decalogue command to observe one day in seven as holy to the Lord established the connection between the Sabbath and original creation (Exod. 20:11). The “rest” in God’s presence on the Sabbath day typified the goal of redemption in Old Testament revelation: rest in Yahweh’s presence in the land of covenant promise.

The divinely ordained covenant prescriptions for holiness in Hebrew life extended beyond the Sabbath to the entire calendar. Six annual festivals and holy days were inaugurated as part of Mosaic legislation, including the Passover (and the Feast of Unleavened Bread), the Fest of Firstfruits, the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23). These great religious festivals and holy days corresponded to the major seasons of the agricultural cycle of the land of Palestine so that the Israelites might acknowledge Yahweh as their Provider and Sustainer. Three of the festivals required pilgrimages of all Israelite males to appear before the Lord at the central sanctuary (Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; Exod. 23:17). This assembling of the Hebrews for worship both reinforced the ideals of covenant community and personal piety, as well as reminded the Israelites that their physical and spiritual well-being was solely dependent upon the covenant love of Yahweh (Deut. 30:15–20).

Much of the worship associated with Solomon’s temple was simply the transference of the worship practices associated with the tabernacle rituals established by the Mosaic covenant at Mount Sinai. However, biblical scholars have discerned a temple liturgy in Psalm 95 consisting of the entrance (implying preparation, confession, forgiveness, and cleansing), enthusiastic praise, worship proper (getting low before God), and the response of obedience. In addition, this first temple period witnessed the development of the Psalter as the songbook of Israel’s private and public worship. According to later rabbinic tradition the psalms were used daily in the temple service accompanying the morning and evening sacrifices. These “proper” psalms included Psalm 24 (day 1), Psalm 48 (day 2), Psalm 82 (day 3), Psalm 94 (day four), Psalm 81 (day 5), Psalm 93 (day 6), and Psalm 92 for the Sabbath. The Hallelujah Psalms (113–118) were used in conjunction with the New Moon, Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, and Dedication feasts; while Psalm 7 was included in the Purim liturgy, Psalm 47 was part of the New Year’s Celebration, and the Songs of Ascents were associated with the three great pilgrimage festivals (Pss. 120–134). The prominent place of music in temple worship accorded the priestly musical guilds status equivalent to the priests responsible for the sacrificial liturgy.

The Institutions of Worship. The tabernacle was a portable tent-sanctuary ordained by God and constructed by the Israelites under the supervision of Moses. The instructions for the design and fabrication of the structure, as well as the directives for implementing the worship of Yahweh there, were part of the covenant legislation revealed by God to Moses at Mount Sinai (Exod. 25–40). According to Exodus 40:1, 16, the tabernacle was completed in the second year after the exodus from Egypt, a little less than a year after the revelation had been given to Moses at Sinai. The cloud of the glory of the Lord that filled the tent sanctuary then guided the Israelites in the stages of their desert trek to Canaan, the land of covenant promise (Exod. 40:34–38). The three clans of levitical priests—the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites—were responsible for transporting, dismantling, and erecting this “tent of meeting” (Num. 3–4).

The tabernacle was a rectangular wooden-frame structure some 10 cubits wide and 30 cubits wide according to the biblical dimensions (about 15’ x 45’). The tent itself was divided into two rooms or compartments by a veil. The other room or Holy Place measured 10 cubits by 20 cubits (about 15’ x 30’) and contained the lampstand, the table of presence, and the altar of incense. The inner room or Most Holy Place was 10 cubits by 10 cubits (about 15’ x 15’) and housed the sacred ark of the covenant. The tent shrine was centered in a fenced courtyard some 50 cubits wide and 100 cubits long (about 75’ x 150’). Entrance to the sanctuary was from the east court; the bronze laver or basin and the altar of burnt offering were set in the courtyard between the court entrance and the tabernacle proper.

The direct purpose of the tabernacle was to showcase the imminence of God, a habitat where God might live among his people (Exod. 25:8). The indirect purpose of the tabernacle was to afford the Israelites the means by which they might honor Yahweh through carefully prescribed worship rituals orchestrated by the newly established levitical priesthood. The very design and construction of the tabernacle, as well as the prescriptions for the worship liturgy performed there, all reinforced key theological emphases of the Mount Sinai theophany (e.g., the tension between divine immanence and transcendence and the principle of mediation to enter the presence of God). Likewise, the artistry and craftsmanship employed in the design and construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings introduced the use of sign and symbol for inspiring worship and conveying theological education to God’s people (especially Yahweh’s majesty and holiness).

No organized Hebrew priesthood functioned during the pre-Mosaic period of Israelite history. Rather, the patriarch or elder of the Hebrew family or clan officiated as the priest for that group (Gen. 35:2–5; Job 1:5). The sole exception was Abram’s encounter with the priest-king of Salem, Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18–20). The New Testament identifies this enigmatic Old Testament figure as the prototype of the later levitical priesthood and ultimately the prototype of the messianic priesthood fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:1–27; cf. Ps. 110:4).

The Mosaic covenant enacted at Mount Sinai legislated the establishment of a formal Hebrew priesthood to serve God in worship. This priesthood represented the entire Israelite community before the Lord, since they were constituted a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:5–6). The Hebrew priests were employed in the service of Yahweh full-time and were supported in their ministry by the tithes, offerings, and portions of the sacrificial offerings of the Israelite community (Lev. 7:28–36; Deut. 14:22–29). The period of service for the priesthood was twenty years, from age thirty to age fifty (Num. 4:47). It appears the priests were trained for their duties during a five-year apprenticeship, from age twenty-five to age thirty (Num. 8:24–26). Unlike the other Hebrew tribes, the levitical priesthood received no inheritance of land in Palestine. Instead, the priests and Levites were allotted forty-eight cities in which to live (Num. 35:1–5). The Aaronic priests and Levites were denied territorial rights since the Lord God and service to Israel in his name was their inheritance (Num. 18:20; Deut. 10:9–10).

Only males from the tribe of Levi were permitted to hold priestly office (Num. 3:1–39). Following the prescription of Mosaic Law the Israelite priesthood consisted of two orders or divisions, the priests and the Levites. While the term “Levite” may refer to the entire Hebrew priesthood, technically the priests were descendants of Aaron (Exod. 29:1–37; Lev. 8:1–36). One from among the Aaronic lineage was chosen and ordained high priest for life (Lev. 21:10). Specifically, the Levites were non-Aaronic descendants of Levi who functioned in the service of the sanctuary in subordinate roles. Three clans or subdivisions of Levites are recognized in the Old Testament, taking their names from the three sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (Num. 3–4).

Duties charged to the Aaronic priesthood basically fell into two categories: superintending sanctuary worship and instructing the people of God in the Law of Moses (Exod. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Deut. 33:8–10). The high priest supervised sacrificial worship in the sanctuary (Lev. 4:3–21), officiated over the Day of Atonement ceremony (Lev. 16:1–9), and handled the Urim and Thummin, peculiar objects carried in a pouch on the breastplate of the priestly vestments and used for determining the will of God in certain instances (Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8). The Aaronic priests officiated over sacrificial worship in the sanctuary under the direction of the high priest (Lev. 4–5), led the congregation of Israel in corporate and festival worship (Lev. 23:15–22), transported the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:8; 31:9), served as religious educators (Deut. 27:14–26) and advisers to civic leaders (Deut. 20:2; Judg. 18:18–19), and were models of covenant obedience and holiness (Lev. 21:1–24).

Originally, the non-Aaronic priests or Levites were designated as assistants to the Aaronic priesthood and porters of the tabernacle, God’s portable tent-sanctuary. This levitical assistance included doing the service at the tabernacle, having charge of the sanctuary and its furnishings, and attending to the duties of the Israelites (Num. 3:5–8). Later the levitical duties were reorganized since they were no longer required as porters given the construction of the Jerusalem temple. According to the Chronicler, David was responsible for reassigning the levitical priests to new duties that included assisting the Aaronic priesthood in temple worship, cleaning and maintenance, procuring and storing supplies, and serving as temple musicians (1 Chron. 9:28–32; 23:26–32).

Despite the divine prohibition against his actually building a temple for God, David did make arrangements for its construction, including gathering the necessary materials and supplies to ensure his son Solomon’s success in erecting a house for the name of Yahweh (1 Chron. 22:2–19). Solomon began construction of the elaborate edifice in the fourth year of his reign (ca. 966 b.c.) and it was completed seven years later (1 Kings 6:37–38). The magnificent structure was patterned after the tabernacle and replaced that tent-sanctuary as the religious center of Israel, with the levitical priesthood continuing to officiate over the sacrificial and festival worship of Yahweh. Solomon’s temple witnessed both the blessing of God’s divine presence in the form of the cloud of glory (1 Kings 8:11), and the abasement of divine abandonment as God’s glory departed the temple due to Israel’s sin of idolatry (Ezek. 10:18). Not long after Ezekiel’s vision, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian hordes plundered the treasures of Solomon’s temple and reduced Jerusalem and Yahweh’s “house” to ashes and rubble in 587 b.c. (2 Kings 25:1–21). All that remained of the splendor of Solomon’s temple was the memory.

The sanctuary of the Lord as a symbol of God’s presence in the midst of his people was retained in the shift from desert tabernacle to urban temple (1 Kings 8:57). However, new theological emphases surface in Solomon’s prayer of dedication, including the temple as the embodiment of the fulfillment of divine promises regarding the Davidic covenant and perpetual dynastic kingship (vv. 14–21), the idea of Yahweh’s temple as a house of prayer (vv. 27–54), the temple as both a witness to God’s sovereignty over all creation and as a token of Israelite covenant obedience (vv. 41–43, 56–61), and the temple as a tangible reminder of God’s transcendence—a God who does not dwell in a house made by human hands (vv. 27–30).

Unfortunately, by the time of Jeremiah the prophet (ca. 627–580 b.c.), this lofty “temple theology” had been forgotten or so corrupted by religious syncretism with surrounding paganism as to be unrecognizable. The temple was no longer a symbol of God’s divine presence and a monument to his sovereignty, but was now equated with God’s actual presence and considered the ultimate spiritual reality by the Hebrews. The mere association of Yahweh’s temple with Jerusalem insured divine protection, security, and covenant blessing in the minds of the people of God. Jeremiah indignantly condemned this misplaced trust in the temple as a talisman or fetish and predicted its eventual destruction (chaps. 7–10).

A second temple dedicated to the worship of Yahweh was erected in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile at the prompting of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1–2; Hag. 2:9). The rebuilding project commenced in 520 b.c. and was completed sometime in 516 or 515 b.c. The second temple was but a shadow of its predecessor, to such a degree that those who remembered Solomon’s temple lamented the inferiority of the new edifice (Ezra 3:12–13). This temple complex was expanded and refurbished in grandiose style by King Herod the Great (begun in 20 b.c. but not completed until a.d. 64, well after Herod’s death). It was in this temple that the infant Jesus was dedicated by Joseph and Mary and recognized as Israel’s messiah by Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22–38). In keeping with the emphasis of Solomon’s dedication of the first temple, Jesus cleansed the second temple so it might truly be a house of prayer (Mark 11:15–19). Ironically, Jesus’ teaching in the temple during his Passion week (including his forecast of the destruction of the temple) incited his rejection as Israel’s messiah and sealed his fate for crucifixion as a religious imposter (Mark 14:53–65) and enemy of the state (Mark 15:1–15). Fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy (Mark 13:1–8) to the letter, the second temple was completely destroyed in a.d. 70 by the Roman general Titus during the First Jewish War.

The New Testament records indicate that the sacrificial system associated with temple worship remained at the core of the Jewish religious experience, with throngs of Jews from Palestine and beyond overrunning the city during the great pilgrimage festivals. However, the dispersion of Jews across the Mediterranean world under Greek and Roman rule prompted the rise of a competing religious institution, the synagogue. Increasingly the temple became identified with the Hellenized Jewish aristocracy of Jerusalem, sparking the growth of the synagogue among the grassroots population outside the environs of Jerusalem who were attracted to the emphasis on simple personal piety and the spiritual sacrifices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Theological Implications. The Old Testament anticipates Christian worship in theological principle, in that Hebrew worship: (1) required conscious preparation on the part of the worshiper; (2) encouraged private and family worship as a complement to corporate public worship; (3) demanded the response of the whole person to God as Creator and Redeemer; (4) encouraged congregational worship that was active and participatory; (5) focused on the redemptive acts of God in human history (i.e., the Passover/exodus event); (6) employed symbolism to enhance worship aesthetically and improve worship didactically; (7) observed a liturgical calendar that heightened the worshiper’s anticipation of and participation in ritual reenactment; and (8) assumed that a lifestyle of obedience in service to God completed the integrity of worship.

Worship in the New Testament. The Jewish Roots of Christianity. The Jewish character of early Christianity may be traced to three primary points of origin, including ethnicity, the Old Testament Scriptures, and the institution of the synagogue.

First, and most obvious, early Christianity was essentially Jewish because the early Christians were Jews. Jesus Christ was a Jew from Nazareth in Galilee (Matt. 1:1), the twelve apostles and the pillars of Christ’s church were all Jewish (Mark 3:13–19), the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was largely a Jewish event (Acts 1:15; 2:1–5), and the initial missionary thrust of the church focused on the Jew first (Acts 6:7; 13:5).

Second, the continuity between early Christianity and Judaism may be linked to the Holy Scriptures of Judaism—the Old Testament. The Old Testament was the Bible for the early church. Jesus Christ, by word and deed, demonstrated himself as the fulfillment of the old covenant promises concerning the Messiah made to God’s people Israel. Hence, the Old Testament was the source book for early New Testament preaching and the apologetic of early Christianity was essentially one of evincing Jesus as the Christ by appeal to this fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The Jewish-Christian authors of the New Testament appealed to the Hebrew Old Testament for instruction, exhortation (Rom. 15:4–6; 1 Cor. 10:1–13), and illustrative examples of faith in God (Heb. 11). In addition, they understood the church of Jesus Christ to be the new Israel (Rom. 4:16–24; 9:11–27; Gal. 3:19–29). Thus, while the Holy Bible contains two covenants, the Old and the New, it is a continuous and single record of divine redemption in human history.

Finally, the antecedents of the form and practice of worship of early Christian worship may be found in the liturgy of the Jewish temple and synagogue.

The Apostolic Church. The Book of Acts indicates that the first church gathered daily for worship in the Jerusalem temple and in the homes of believers, devoting themselves to instruction in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, prayer, and the Eucharist or Lord’s Table (2:42–47). Given their Jewish heritage and the example of Jesus, who worshiped in the synagogues and temple (Luke 4:16; John 10:22–23), it is only natural that the apostolic church retained temple worship and Sabbath keeping along with the development of Christian worship patterns for Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection (Luke 24:1).

By the time Paul had evangelized Asia Minor and Greece, the church (now decidedly Gentile in composition) met for corporate worship (the breaking of bread or Lord’s Table) on the first day of the week or Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). In addition to the weekly observance of the Lord’s Table, the New Testament records indicate worship in the apostolic church also included the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16), prayer (1 Tim. 2:1–2), almsgiving (1 Cor. 16:1–4), the reading and teaching of the Old Testament and apostolic doctrine (1 Tim. 4:11–13), and the manifestation of a variety of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1–11). In fact, when Paul instructed the church at Corinth on the subject of spiritual gifts and orderly worship he specifically mentioned the hymn, a lesson from Scripture, a word of revelation, and a tongue and its interpretation as a few of the elements comprising Christian worship (1 Cor. 14:26).

Of course, the transition from Judaism to Christianity posed real problems for many Jewish believers in Christ, as did the inclusion of Gentiles in the predominantly Jewish early church (Acts 15:1–29; Gal. 1:11–14). The tensions between form and freedom in worship were also pressing, evidenced by Paul’s treatise on spiritual gifts and lay participation in the worship service (1 Cor. 14:26–40). The letters of Paul establish helpful guidelines for resolving these problems associated with the practice of Christian worship; primary among them are the principle of edification or common good of the congregation gathered for worship (1 Cor. 12:7; Eph. 4:12–13), the principle of order and peace governing the form of worship (1 Cor. 14:33, 40), and the principle of a clear conscience and individual accountability before the Lord in certain matters related to personal freedoms and preferences in worship (Rom. 14:1–12).

Basic to the formation, identity, and worship of the apostolic church were the ritual symbols of baptism and the breaking of bread or Lord’s Table. The ceremony of baptism symbolized the cleansing from sin effected by Christ’s redemption and served as the rite of initiation into the church as the body of Christ (Rom. 6:1–4). As such, Christian baptism holds great significance for worship because it places the believer formally in a worshiping community—the church of Jesus Christ; and it signifies newness of life in Christ and the things of the Holy Spirit who activates Christian worship (Rom. 8:5–6; 1 Cor. 12:11). Much like the Passover meal of the Old Covenant symbolized Israel’s redemption in the exodus event, so the Eucharist or Lord’s Table depicts Christian redemption because “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). As a living symbol of the Christ-event, the Lord’s Table comprises the central element of Christian worship because it represents the fulfillment of Old Testament promises (Luke 2:28–32). As an act of remembrance, it recalls the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:23–26); it symbolizes Christian unity and fellowship (1 Cor. 12:12–31); and it constitutes the church’s eschatological hope in the return of Christ and the consummation of his kingdom (Matt. 22:16–18; Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 11:26). This sense of bonding or unity in covenant community was rehearsed in the apostolic church by means of the fellowship meal or agapeµ feast that accompanied the observance of the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:17–22).

Worship in the apostolic church is not without implications for worship and worship renewal in the contemporary Christian church. For instance, if worship recapitulates the Christ-event, then significant attention must be given to the eucharistic aspect of worship and to the value of sign and symbol in instruction and worship (1 Cor. 11:23–26). Likewise, if worship actualizes the church, then the corporate worship experience must balance form and freedom in the structure of worship and provide time for Holy Spirit-prompted lay participation and opportunity for the worship response of meaningful service (1 Cor. 12:4–7). Finally, if worship anticipates the kingdom, then worship has a prophetic function in that it testifies of Christ’s triumph over sin and death and engenders hope for the realization of the heavenly worship at the heart of John’s apocalyptic vision—the Lamb of God enthroned in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1–5).

The Synagogue and Early Christian Worship. The origins of the Jewish institution known as the synagogue are obscure. It is likely the synagogue evolved from some kind of informal gathering or association of Hebrews during the Babylonian exile. Development continued and perhaps was even spurred by the Torah-based reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah during the mid-fifth century b.c. The oldest testimony of a diaspora synagogue is an inscription dated to the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (247–221 b.c.), found at Schedia in Egypt.

Wherever Jews settled in the diaspora, a synagogue was established. In fact, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, it was difficult to find a place without a synagogue (Ant 14.115). More than 150 known ruins of ancient synagogues dot the Mediterranean world from Galilee and Syria, to Asia Minor and Greece, to Italy, Gaul, Spain, North Africa, and Egypt.

The New Testament cites the synagogue as a place of prayer, reading and teaching and preaching of the Old Testament Scriptures, almsgiving, exhortation, and fellowship. New Testament era synagogues were local Jewish congregations scattered throughout Palestine and beyond, and apparently under the jurisdiction of Jerusalem as the religious power center of Judaism (Acts 9:1–2). The synagogue was also the site for judgment and punishment in matters of Jewish law (Mark 13:9; Acts 22:19). Jesus taught, healed, and preached in the synagogues of Palestine, often attacking the abuses associated with the institution—not the institution itself (Mark 1:21; 3:1; Luke 4:16–24).

The Book of Acts indicates the synagogue later became the primary target of early Christian missionary outreach. It seems Jewish Christians constituted themselves within local synagogue congregations for the first several decades of church history, until the Jew-Gentile issue split the two groups (Acts 18:26; 19:8; 22:19; cf. Acts 15:1–35). During New Testament times the synagogue stood alongside the temple as an equivalent religious institution in Judaism. After the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in a.d. 70, the synagogue was considered a full substitute for the temple as the religious institution of Judaism.

Influence on Early Christian Worship. First-century Jewish Christianity rooted in the synagogue tradition had a considerable impact on the development of the early Christian church, specifically in the areas of church architecture, organization, and liturgy.

The influence of synagogue architecture and furnishings on the early Christian church may be seen in the use of the bema or raised platform, including an altar or table (replacing the ark of the Torah in the synagogue) and a pulpit or podium (much like the synagogue lectern used for the Scripture readings and sermon). In addition, seating the worship participants on the platform and arranging the congregation in rows of benches facing the platform are Christian adaptations of synagogue design and practice.

Similarities may also be identified in the functions of the ancient synagogue officers and the officers of the early Christian church. For example, the Christian office of bishop or overseer combined some of the duties of the head of the synagogue (who presided over the worship service), the minister (who often functioned as the synagogue tutor), and the interpreter (who both translated and explained the Scripture lessons and sermon). The concept of spiritual patriarchs or elders in the synagogue congregation carried over into the early church as well. The first deacons of the Christian church were charged with the same commission of the almoners of the ancient Jewish synagogue, gathering and distributing charitable gifts to the needy in the congregation (cf. Acts 6:1–7).

By way of general principle, the influence of the Jewish synagogue on the worship of the early church may be seen in the church’s commitment to prayer and instruction in the Scriptures (by means of reading and exposition, cf. Acts 2:42). This development was only natural, given the fact that the early church was essentially Jewish. In addition, the prominent place given to the reading, chanting, and singing of the psalms in early Christian liturgy was borrowed directly from synagogue practice. Thus, much like the Jewish synagogue, the worship of the early Christian church was founded upon praise, prayer, and the exposition of the Scriptures.

Of course, Christian worship continued to develop in distinct worshiping communities through the centuries of church history. Quite naturally the form and practice of Christian liturgy changed over time. Christian worship gradually drifted away from its close ties to Jewish worship, especially as the church became an increasingly “Gentile enterprise.” The official schism between the two groups (Judaism and Christianity) occurred in the second century a.d. The intention here is simply to recognize the importance of synagogue worship for the form of worship in the early church and to garner an appreciation for the Jewish roots of the Christian tradition.

Theological Implications. By way of theological principle, the Jewish roots of early Christianity grounded the church of Jesus Christ solidly in the belief of the divine and supernatural origins of the Scriptures, and ordained an apostolic authority in the divine authority of the Old Testament.

By way of worship in the early church, the Jewish Christianity of the first century a.d. facilitated the shift from the theocentric worship characteristic of Judaism to the Christocentric (and even Trinitarian) worship that is the hallmark of Christianity. Second, the church inherited the concept of the centrality of the Scriptures in worship (reading and exposition) from the Jewish synagogue. Third, and significantly given the explosion of spiritual gifts in some segments of the Christian church today, like the Jewish synagogue the early church was primarily a lay institution encouraging extensive lay participation in worship.

However, this shift from Judaism to Jewish Christianity was not without difficulty. Two key issues dominated theological discussion in the early decades of Christianity. In modern terms, the first issue was really one of ethnic and cultural diversity, as the early church debated the implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ for Jew and Gentile (Acts 15:1–35). The compromise solution achieved at the Jerusalem Council later proved ineffective, and to this day the church continues to debate the relationship of “law” and “grace” in the life of the Christian. The second concerned the relationship of Jesus Christ to the primary institutions of Judaism, the priesthood, the temple, and sacrificial worship. Here the author of the Book of Hebrews, by means of typological interpretation, demonstrated Jesus Christ as the greater high priest (chaps. 5, 7), the more perfect temple (chap. 9), and the ultimate sacrifice for sin (chap. 10) to the Jewish Christian recipients of the letter.

Unfortunately, many Jews were unable to accept the harsh teaching that Jesus necessarily abolished the first order (the Old Covenant and its form and practice of worship) to establish a new order of form and practice in worship (Heb. 10:9)—the worship of continual praise and the worship of doing good (Heb. 13:15–16). Likewise, the ever-expanding Gentile church failed to appreciate and nurture the Jewish roots of Christianity and proclaimed itself the “new Israel,” further compounding the division between Jew and Gentile. Today in many quarters of the Christian church there is renewed effort to implement Paul’s missionary vision—“first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16).      

                                                                                                                                                      Soli Deo Gloria



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