History and Institutions of Biblical Worship

Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

History of Israelite and Jewish Worship

From the beginning Israel's worship is a response to Yahweh for the acts he has performed in its history. Israel's whole history is a life of coexistence with God, a partnership in a historical drama. The emphasis is on Yahweh as the initiator, but Israel responds. The people address Yahweh in a personal way. They offer praise, ask questions, complain about suffering, and converse with him about all the issues of life. This conversation of worship is recorded throughout the Scriptures, binding Jewish history together in celebration of this relationship with the Creator God. In the New Testament church the emphasis falls on the historical acts of the triune God, with the central focus on the Incarnation, the Cross, and the exaltation of Jesus Christ the Lord, made real by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:18). These details are covered in seven entries.

  1. Worship In the Patriarchal Period
  2. Mosaic Worship and the Exodus
  3. The Danger of Canaanite Religious Influence on Israelite Worship
  4. Worship During the Davidic Period
  5. Israelite Worship from Solomon to the Exile
  6. Israelite Worship During the Exile and Restoration
  7. Israelite Worship During the Intertestamental Period

History of New Testament Worship

Early Christians continued to worship in the temple and in the synagogue. Gradually, however, they separated from the Jewish institutions of worship into their own assemblies. As to form, Christian worship involved prayer and praise but centered around the teaching of Scripture and the Lord's Supper. Christ was proclaimed in the Word and celebrated at the table. Four entries on the history of New Testament worship follow.


  1. Worship In the Gospels
  2. Worship In Acts and the Epistles
  3. Elements Of New Testament Worship
  4. The Essence Of New Testament Worship

The Tabernacle

The tabernacle, as described in the next five entries, was the sacred house where God met with his people. It was a place of dwelling for God, a place for meeting, a place for revelation, and a place for sacrifice and atonement. The tabernacle is a symbol of God's dwelling with the people of the covenant and is the basis for the New Testament understanding of the incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ (John 1:14) and of the presence of the Lord in the midst of the church.

  1. The Tabernacle of Moses
  2. The Work of the Priest In the Tabernacle
  3. The Role of the Worshiper In Old Testament Sacrificial Ritual
  4. The Tabernacle of David
  5. Features of Davidic Worship

The Temple of Solomon

The temple or "house of Yahweh," was the central sanctuary of the worship of the Lord during the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Through the sacrificial and festive worship of the temple, as explained in the following five entries, the community of Israel expressed its covenant loyalty to God and was reminded of God's faithfulness and acts of deliverance.


  1. Purpose of the Temple of Solomon
  2. Furnishings of the Temple of Solomon
  3. Features of Solomonic Temple Worship
  4. Family Worship In Solomon's Temple
  5. Festal Worship In Solomon's Temple

The Synagogue

After the dispersion of the Jews at the time of the Exile, places of assembly rose up to maintain Hebrew culture and to serve as centers for education and for the social and religious life of the Jews. As shown in the next ten entries, these institutions came to be designated by the Greek word synagogue.

  1. Origin of the Synagogue
  2. Synagogue Architecture
  3. Religious and Educational Use of the Synagogue
  4. Officers of the Synagogue
  5. Elements Of Synagogue Worship
  6. Order of First-Century Synagogue Worship
  7. Synagogue Worship Space
  8. The Shema‘
  9. The Barakhah or Blessing
  10. The "Our Father" (Lord’s Prayer) In Light of Jewish Barekah

The Church as an Institution of Worship

In the following seven entries we find that Christian worship is not an activity of isolated individuals but a function of the corporate life of the church. The place and shape of worship in the New Testament can best be understood against the background of the life of the church as a whole. The church, which offers worship to almighty God and to his Christ, is and has always been a human organization. While from a spiritual standpoint the church bears the unique stamp of its Lord, it may also be described in terms that compare it with other human institutions.


  1. Characteristics of the Church
  2. Organization and Discipline of the Worshiping Community
  3. Public Activities of the Worshiping Community
  4. Internal Life of the Worshiping Community
  5. External and Internal Problems of the Worshiping Community
  6. The House Church and Its Worship
  7. The Christian Gatherings In City Churches and House Churches

Leadership In Biblical Worship

Biblical worship is both an individual and a corporate offering of praise to the Lord; it is both spontaneous and organized. It is a declaration of God's greatness and a celebration of the covenant relationship between God and his people. It is an act of obedience to the Deity who has ordained certain ways by which his sovereignty is to be acknowledged. In order for worship to be organized as a corporate expression, there must be leadership-leadership that is acknowledged by and representative of the worshiping community, leadership that is able to assemble the resources for worship and to bring to a focus the people's motivation to express their devotion to the Most High. In the Hebrew Scriptures, representatives of four major "offices," or functions, within the community served as leaders of worship. As described in the next seven entries, these roles were those of family head or elder, prophet, priest, and king. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ summed up all of these roles.

  1. Family Heads as Worship Leaders In the Old Testament
  2. Prophetic Leadership In Old Testament Worship
  3. The Priest as Worship Leader In the Old Testament
  4. The Role of the King In Old Testament Worship
  5. Worship Leadership In the New Testament
  6. Bishops, Elders, and Deacons
  7. Women In Worship Leadership In Biblical Times