History of New Testament Worship

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

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.

Worship In the Gospels

Prior to the first Christian century, Judaism began to develop traditional interpretations of the Law that would eventually be written down to regulate Jewish life and worship. Judaism was influenced by Greek culture, resulting in the rise of a class of scribes and segments of the Jewish community which were more thoroughly hellenized. The groupings formed during this period set the stage for the various sectarian movements within Judaism of the early Christian era.

Worship In Acts and the Epistles

The book of Acts and the Epistles reflect continuing involvement of Christians with the institutions of Jewish worship. However, with the Gentile mission and increasing separation from the temple and synagogues, the churches had to develop their own forms of common worship. Even Jewish Christians came under increasing pressure as persistent evangelism aroused the hostility of the ecclesiastical authorities.

Elements of New Testament Worship

Though the New Testament does not give any detailed information on the structure of the first Christian services, it leaves little room for doubt concerning the basic elements of primitive worship: prayer, praise, confession of sin, confession of faith, Scripture reading and preaching, the Lord's Supper, and the collection. Early descriptions of Christian worship, such as that in Justin's Apology, reveal a close similarity to the practice of the synagogue. Even without the synagogue model, however, the fundamental elements would surely have found a place, and distinctive Christian features would have their own origin.

The Essence of New Testament Worship

Though the elements of Christian worship are the same as those in the Old Testament, there are two new factors at the very heart of the New Testament that bring about a decisive reorientation. First, Christian worship is through God the Son; second, it is worship in the Holy Spirit.