To the surprise of many believers, Christian worship did not receive its root randomly. There was an entire plan of God in the works from the beginning of creation and through history in the Nation of Israel. Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Therefore, it is important to look at the past that leads up to Jesus. Furthermore, we should look at the events that took place following His life. We can see from history the many ways that Christian worship has changed. Additionally, we can see the basis of God’s intent for it.
What is the history of Christian worship? Christian worship began in the Nation of Israel and branched off due to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. From there, the apostles and disciples searched the scriptures and contemplated the events of Jesus’ life that they witnessed. They began planting churches and established the values and worship of the early church. The church greatly changed by the time of Constantine in tradition and political standing. Today the church has reformed and reverted back to the style of the early church and scriptures. Yet, there are still many areas that must continue to grow.
I have compiled details about the various spheres of worship from Israel, the early church, the church that followed, and the church we see today. Through this holistic approach, we can understand how the early church was formed and why specific events had to take place.
Brief Explanation of Worship
In my previous blog, “Christian Worship: Definition, Biblical Examples, and How-To” I explained that worship isn’t merely song and music. Worship encompasses the entire life of an individual. It should take place in all areas of one’s life. Obedience, song, dance, prayer, service, scripture reading, and church attendance can all be acts of worship. However, it is important to note that worship is a lifestyle, rather than a momentary action. This is important to note as we uncover the history of worship within the Nation of Israel, Early Church, and the church of today.
If you are interested in knowing more about what worship is and what it isn’t, click here.
The Christian faith came out of the Nation of Israel and the Jewish system. Jesus Christ was the long-awaited and prophecied savor of the Nation. Jesus came thousands of years after the creation of the world and the formation of the Nation of Israel. His life fulfilled all that was declared in the Old Testament texts. He was a Nazarite from the line of David from the tribe of Judah. Jesus was an Israelite. He was fully God and fully man. When Jesus came to earth He brought the Kingdom of God through His life, ministry, transfiguration, death, resurrection, and ascension. Therefore, the Christian faith was birthed through Jesus.
The term “Christian” didn’t come until later on when the early church was spreading. Initially, it was meant as an insult, but the early believers took pride in it and accepted it as their name. They were not ashamed of Jesus. With all this in mind, it is necessary to understand that the Christian faith did not come randomly.
Essentially, the faith was already established but needed the Savior to establish the second covenant. Many Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, therefore, creating a division from the Nation of Israel from those who followed Jesus. This is why today, many people do not connect Christianity with the Jews. The belief varies greatly from Jews and Christians today, but it is important to realize that it wasn’t always divided like this.
How Israel Worshiped
Since Christianity first came to the Jews and then the Gentiles, we see the impact and influence that the Old Testament scriptures had on the new believers. First, I want to explain and uncover some of the ways that Israel worshiped. This will give us a better understanding of the faith as a whole and the way that it functioned in the beginning stages.
Praise and Worship
Perhaps one of the most recognized acts of worship today is that of singing and playing music unto the Lord. This was also common in the Nation of Israel. This style of worship occurred both individually and collectively. We see the Psalmist frequently and passionately worship by himself. In fact, most of the Psalms are songs of worship, praise, and adoration. They also depict the struggle of life but lead up to the contrasting praise of God’s goodness within the midst.
- Psalm 71:23 states, “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered.”
The Psalmist also includes the Nation and all peoples within this style of worship. He often encourages others to take part in this. Furthermore, King David hired the best musicians and singers to dedicate their entire workweek to continual praise and worship to the Lord God. He established 24/7 worship that was incredibly planned, funded, and supported.
- Psalm 33:1-3 says, “Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.”
- Psalm 95:1 declares, “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.”
- Psalm 117:1 states, “Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.”
- 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 explains part of David’s plan to honor the Lord. It says, “He appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the Ark of Adonai, to petition, to thank and to praise Adonai, the God of Israel. Asaph was the chief and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jehiel. They were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and the kohanim Benaiah and Jahaziel were to blow trumpets continually before the Ark of the Covenant of God.”
Worship within the Nation of Israel also included dancing. King David danced, the daughters of Israel would dance upon victory in battle, and others would dance as an act of praise.
- 2 Samuel 6:14-15 says, “Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.”
- Psalm 149:3-4 states, “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.”
- Jeremiah 31:13 also describes dancing. “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
Animal sacrifice, drink offerings, and grain offerings were offered to the Lord as an act of worship. There were specific offerings that covered certain types of sins that were required. There were also voluntary offerings.
- Psalm 54:6 says, “I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.”
- Leviticus 23:18 explains some of the offerings. “Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. “
Simple obedience was also an act of worship. One of God’s main desires is that the Israelites would live a life of obedience. He desired obedience and a genuine heart over sacrifices. Obedience created order, as well as showed love and dedication to God. Additionally, obedience included following the law, festivals, and Sabbath. God takes obedience very seriously. Acts of worship mean nothing unless there is a lifestyle that reflects worship. Otherwise, they are merely hypocritical and worthless actions.
- Deuteronomy 5:33 states, “Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.”
- 1 Kings 2:3 also adds, “Observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to Him and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.”
- 1 Samuel 15:22 explains, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
Tabernacle and Temple
Worship within Israel included the tabernacle and temple. This is where the priests were able to provide offerings for the Lord. Additionally, it was the place where the presence of the Lord dwelled.
- Exodus 25:8 says, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”
- Isaiah 56:7 describes, “These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
Formation of Christianity
Now that we have covered the foundation of the faith, we will be able to better understand the process in which the apostles and eye-witnesses of Jesus established the church. Since the first Christians were coming out of Judaism, they had to follow the Holy Spirit and uncover what exactly the New Covenant pertained to. They had to choose what to follow and what to disregard. Furthermore, church leaders had to lead Gentiles into the faith. There were many debates on whether or not Gentiles needed to be circumcised or follow the food laws. (Read more about this specific issue in the book of Galatians.)
It is evident to see in the beginning years of the Christian faith that many were hesitant to leave behind the Old Covenant. The Gospel of Jesus Christ flipped the entire world upside down. It created confusion and conflict within Judaism, as well as within Rome and the surrounding governments. Jesus and His teachings were challenging the status quo. Those who witnessed the incredible life of Jesus and His resurrection were left with a decision: would they follow this man who proved Himself to be the Messiah by His actions? Or would they remain in the safety of following the norm?
What did the Apostles Decide?
The apostles concluded that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). They chose not to disregard what we now understand as the Old Testament. Instead, they recognized it as the word of God. They saw the purpose and power in it.
They still chose to refer to it and learn from it. However, they recognized that Jesus’ sacrifice became the last needed sacrifice, thus, completing the sacrificial system. Moreover, this grace through faith in Jesus Christ fulfilled the works of the law. Therefore, those under Christ did not have to follow the law, circumcision, sacrificial system, or the Old Covenant. But, this did not mean they stopped following the example of faith within the Old Testament and covenant. In fact, the apostle Paul speaks of the faith of the patriarchs.
Furthermore, Paul and the other apostles consistently quoted Old Testament scriptures within their teachings and letters to the churches. This newfound Christianity gleaned from the works of God within the Old Testament and accepted many of the same priorities and principles.
The Early Church
The worship of the early church mirrors the worship in the Nation of Israel in many ways. But, it also brings in new elements and more freedom. Jesus declared in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament was intended to lead to. Therefore, the foundation that God established through the Old Testament did not need to be destroyed, but rather, it needed to be interpreted through the lens of Christ.
Praise and Worship
Worship in the form of a song was incredibly common within the early church. Believers often sang psalms, hymns, and songs of the Spirit. Additionally, they wrote many new songs about Jesus’ life. They also commonly sang scripture.
- Acts 16:25 portrays, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
- Colossians 3:16 describes, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
- 1 Corinthians 14:26 also speaks of worship in song. “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”
Taking up Their Cross
The sacrificial system of animals, drink offerings, and grain offerings were fulfilled and no longer necessary. Despite this, the concept of sacrifice was still incorporated into the early church. The early church recognized sacrifice as the things that they gave up and risked for Jesus and the new life they had in Him.
They began to live a life of sacrifice. They were willing to leave behind money, status, family, friends, comfort, their own selfish desires, and even their lives. Additionally, they sacrificed the desires of the flesh and chose to walk in the spirit.
- Matthew 10:45 compares, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- Matthew 16:24-26 declares, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
- Romans 12:1 states, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
The early church took obedience very seriously, just as the Nation of Israel did. Jesus Himself taught about the importance of obedience. The apostles also exhorted the churches to live a life of obedience. Without obedience to Jesus’ teachings, people are not true followers or disciples. Additionally, living in holiness was a priority to the early church. They recognized that grace was not a license to sin.
- John 14:23 declares, “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
- Romans 6:13 says, “Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”
- Romans 6:15 urges, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!”
- James 1:22 states, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Connected to Christ
Additionally, the early church recognized the need to remain in Christ and how this is a way of true worship. Remaining within Christ is what allows them to please God and stay connected to Him. Furthermore, bearing fruit is an act of worship that can only be accomplished through this connection. It is honoring to God when His people come near to Him in holiness, purity, love, and action.
- John 15:5-8 states, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
- Colossians 1:10 explains, “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”
- James 4:8, says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
Fellowship of Believers
Another act of worship was the gathering of believers. The early church wasn’t formated in the way that we have church today. The fellowship often took place in small groups, typically within houses, because the persecution was too great for large gatherings. However, in the book of Acts, believers also met in the Temple. These meetings were a place of congregated worship in song, scripture, edification, Spiritual gifts, and encouragement.
- Acts 2:44-47 shows, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
- Hebrews 10:24-26 explains, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The Shift in the Church
The early church faced heavy persecution, which sifted serious followers from those who were not genuine. Those who were willing to endure suffering marked the church with genuine worship and devotion. The followers who were not dedicated quickly left. For this reason, the early church was extremely strong and serious. However, this changed when the church became a political and social aspect of society.
An emperor named Constantine declared that the religion of his country would be Christian. Due to this, the church became a regular part of society. Those who were once persecuted were now highly esteemed and honored. The church leaders gained power, comfort, and position.
Therefore, true worship was flooded and overtaken by businessmen, political leaders, and those who desired power. In fact, being a part of the church was a social requirement. Consequently, the Christian church lost the power of its initial intention. Tradition and manmade laws and ideas took over the church.
This is where we get many of the hierarchal ideals and customary acts. This time in history took the purpose of God’s church and tainted it with the purpose of men. Worship became more of a duty or way of gaining prestige. Worship shifted from the gospel and became a personal and selfish affair. Discipleship also declined because those who were genuine struggled to find others who would lead them in the way of truth.
Furthermore, since the church became a vessel of political power, men would declare their ideas as God’s will, thus creating an undeniable setting. In the name of God, many atrocious and unBiblical events occurred, such as the Crusades and other political agendas.
Today the church has reformed in many aspects and areas. The church tends to be a larger gathering, especially in the United States of America. European churches still are working through the issues listed earlier. However, there are numerous evangelical church plants that function without the common traditionality of Europe.
A church planting movement has been spreading rapidly in the African continent, the middle east, and the Asian world. Due to persecution, these churches function similarily to the early church. They are small gatherings of devoted believers.
In contrast, the megachurch faces many issues of power, pride, and complacency that the later church faced. Many traditional aspects have been left behind, as the evangelical church is on the rise. There are still many distinctions in denomination, interpretation of scripture, and manmade concepts that are being held onto.
The church is neither perfect nor complete in any location. All have their downfalls and areas to improve upon. However, worldwide, we are seeing a movement of God in many spheres of society, religion, and political aspects. The global church is on the rise.
Worship in today’s churches mirrors and reflects the concepts of worship that the early apostles and believers held to. The American church is most challenged in the area of sacrifice and taking up their cross. Yet, we do see many believers who encompass all areas, or most areas well.
Worship is a consistent choice and dedication. Today’s worship should reflect that of the early church. The global church does not have to hold to the method of the nation of Israel, although it can learn from it. Additionally, the church does not have to hold to the concepts of worship that have been added to the faith. The church should continuously refine and edify itself with truth from the word of God.