Twentieth-century scholars of the history and theology of worship have searched for links between the worship of the New Testament and the liturgies that begin to emerge around the fourth century. Resources from the first several centuries are meager, and scholars have differed as to how the continuity of liturgy evolved through this period. Evidence does suggest certain lines of development between the worship of the New Testament church and that which emerged during succeeding centuries....
It is tempting to assume that the worship practices of the earliest churches are reflected in the more developed liturgical traditions that emerged in the fourth century. A resulting view has been that Christian celebration has exhibited essentially the same shape since the apostolic period. This entry challenges that assumption and suggests that the most ancient forms of Christian worship were not uniform but quite diverse.
Ancient sources reveal that a tradition of daily prayer at stated hours developed quite early in the history of the church. The practice of assembling for these times of daily prayer was derived in part from Jewish custom and is mentioned in the New Testament. Christian daily prayer evolved into two forms: monastic prayer, practiced by members of separated communities (originally of lay people), and cathedral prayer, for which members of the local congregations would assemble with their bishop and other leaders. Daily prayer included the recitation of psalms and hymns, with congregational responses. Some elements in historic Christian liturgies seem to have originated in the practice of daily prayer.
The New Testament records that Jesus and his disciples, as well as early Christian preachers such as Paul and Barnabas, attended the synagogue assemblies. The true influence of the synagogue on early Christian worship, however, is difficult to assess. Contacts between Christians and Jews continued up to the fourth century; thus, in the postNew Testament period Jewish influence can be seen in the development of Christian prayer and the Christian calendar.
Jewish table prayer, thought by some historians of liturgy to be the antecedent of the early Christian eucharistic prayer, evidences a threefold pattern of praise, remembrance, and petition. In a general way this sequence corresponds to the formula "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in Christian worship. Thus, liturgical practice may have helped to shape classical Christian Trinitarianism.
Ordination is rooted in the need for order within the Christian community. It tends both to reflect and to shape the church's life and witness amid changing historical circumstances.
The New Testament spiritual gifts-especially prophecy, tongues, and interpretation, along with healing-continued to manifest themselves in the life of the church up to and beyond the fourth century. Evidence in the literature from this period indicates that these gifts were respected among the "established" church leadership, referred to by important theologians, and practiced especially throughout the "underground" church.
The Revelation to John makes dramatic use of the rich symbolism of the sacrificial ritual of the Jewish temple. A comparison of the language and imagery of the book of Revelation with the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox churches suggests that in the Revelation we see an early stage in the development of Christian liturgy, especially that of the Eastern churches.