History and Development of Contemporary Worship Research Paper

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Christian Worship

The History and Development of Contemporary Worship

Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship

The New Testament is, in many ways, the ultimate expression of Christian worship because the Gospels detail the life and teachings of Jesus Christ within the context and community of individuals who believed in Christ even in the midst of persecution. However, to understand the biblical foundations of Christian worship, it is important to first examine the Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible contains the most fundamental "norms of worship," for Christians, even if different churches develop unique patterns of worship consistent with their interpretations of scripture (Segler and Bradley 2006,11).[footnoteRef:1] [1: Segler, Franklin M. And C. Randall Bradley. 2006. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice. B&H Publishing Group, p. 11]

Old Testament worship was primarily concerned with differentiating Jewish worship from pagan and polytheistic worship (Segler and Bradley).[footnoteRef:2] Worship is the primary way believers assert and avow their faith in God, and keep their covenant with God. The God of the Old Testament not only solicits but demands worship as proof of special faith that distinguishes the faithful from the pagan. Worshipping God by eschewing other gods proves one is holy and righteous: "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me," (Exodus 20:5).[footnoteRef:3] [2: Segler, Franklin M. And C. Randall Bradley. 2006. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice. ] [3: Bible: Exodus 20:5]

The various and often complex practices, rites, and rituals that comprise Jewish worship evolved over time and were not static (Segler and Bradley; Bradshaw and Hoffman).[footnoteRef:4] The Old Testament frames worship as communication with God, and engaging in an ongoing relationship with God. For example, Genesis describes the two-way communication between God and Adam; between God and Cain; between God and Noah. As Segler and Bradley put it, an "atmosphere of worship pervades the whole Pentateuch," through heavy use of religious symbolism and specific responses such as building altars and dedicating both objects and places to the Lord (13).[footnoteRef:5] The story of Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac represents the culmination of worship in the Old Testament: "When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son," (Genesis 22:9-10).[footnoteRef:6] [4: Bradshaw, Paul F. And Lawrence A. Hoffman. 1996. Life Cycles in Jewish and Christian Worship. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press.] [5: Segler, Franklin M. And C. Randall Bradley. 2006. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 11] [6: Bible: Genesis 22:9-10]

Although there are plentiful references in the Old Testament about personal or individual worship, there are also ample references to collective and communal worship. Exodus 25, for example, details God's wishes for the construction of the Tabernacle and Arc of the Covenant, which are central for communal worship. The construction of the Temple of Solomon represented the "climax" of Jewish public worship, which is one reason why the destruction of the second Temple was such a momentous period in Jewish history and led to the diaspora (Segler and Bradley).[footnoteRef:7] [7: Segler, Franklin M. And C. Randall Bradley. 2006. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 12.]

After the destruction of the second Temple, Jewish worship shifted to smaller and simpler spaces known as synagogues. Gathering in synagogues would characterize Jewish worship subsequent to the destruction of the temple. Moreover, synagogues as gathering places provided the model for Christian worship. Synagogues were the gathering places for early Christians, as Jesus too worshipped and taught in synagogues, which were traditional domains of spiritual teaching. "On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,'" (Luke 4:16; 20-21).[footnoteRef:8] [8: Bible: Luke 4:16; 20-21]

When Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem was in full swing, forms of worship included "music, solos, anthems, shouting, dancing, processions, playing instruments, preaching…sacred recitations of the stories of Israel…interspersed with petitions, prayers, vows, promises…and washings," (Segler and Bradley 2006,16).[footnoteRef:9] Sacrifice was, during the Old Testament period, "a necessary condition of effective worship," (Segler and Bradley 2006, 16).[footnoteRef:10] Such practices, and other elements of worship discussed in the Hebrew Bible, would be change with the coming of Christ. The elaborate and ritualistic forms of worship were occasionally criticized as being "empty," even before the coming of Christ (Segler and Bradley, 16). When synagogues replaced worship in the central Temple, Jewish worship also changed from elaborate rituals reserved for the high priesthood to more casual, participatory, and didactic forms of communal worship (Segler and Bradley).[footnoteRef:11] [9: Segler, Franklin M. And C. Randall Bradley. 2006. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 16] [10: Segler, Franklin M. And C. Randall Bradley. 2006. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 16] [11: Segler, Franklin M. And C. Randall Bradley. 2006. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice.]

Early Christian worship was most certainly rooted in the Old Testament and the Jewish practices. Rites of passage and life cycle rituals present in Christian worship were initially borrowed from their Jewish predecessors. Christian worship therefore began as Jewish worship, and gradually transformed gradually into something different. For example, Christian worship stressed the importance of baptism as well as Holy Communion to commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ. Scripture evolved to include the canon of New Testament writings from the epistles and gospels, and emphasis was shifted from the Pentateuch to the Gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Christ. Christian worship changed in concrete ways, such as shifting the day of the Sabbath to the first day of the week.

Lathrop notes that Christian worship has been centered on Gospel reading and study "for a long time," and is similarly structured around the world (1).[footnoteRef:12] The four Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- provide a "kind of pillar," a "reliably recurring ritual," and a "principle locus for meaning," in Christian worship (Lathrop p. 1).[footnoteRef:13] New hymns were added to the canon of psalms in the Old Testament (Segler and Bradley).[footnoteRef:14] Lathrop suggests that the development of the codex, which evolved into the modern book format of pages bound together, arose out of the need to collectively encounter the gospel as a form of early Christian worship. Thus, the act of Christian worship gave rise to the book format of scripture. [12: Lathrop, Gordon W. 2012. The Four Gospels on Sunday. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press.] [13: Lathrop, Gordon W. 2012. The Four Gospels on Sunday. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press.] [14: Segler, Franklin M. And C. Randall Bradley. 2006. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice]

Jesus shifted the perspective of worship as He created a new covenant with God to supersede the old covenant. As Jesus describes the new form of worship in John 4:21: "a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem."[footnoteRef:15] Christian worship removes itself formally from the trappings of Old Testament ritual. As Ott, Strauss and Tennent put it, "Jesus decentralizes and deterritorializes the worship of God," (p. 27).[footnoteRef:16] Instead of there being a central place of worship, there was a central Person around whom worship of God could occur. This decentralization was particularly important after the destruction of the Second Temple and during the formative years of Christianity as it spread north through the Greek-speaking territories. [15: Bible: John 4:21] [16: Ott, Craig and Stephen J. Strauss. 2010. Encountering Theology of Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 27.]

The New Testament also offers some concrete methods of worship that are incorporated into Christian practice. Worship is to be achieved in part by spreading the word of the gospel by preaching and soliciting new believers. Acts 1:8 states that Christians express their worship by spreading the gospel "to the ends of the earth."[footnoteRef:17] Music and hymns are parts of Christian worship that are substantiated by Biblical evidence. "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," (Colossians 3:16).[footnoteRef:18] Reading from scripture is one of the most universal aspects of Christian worship, which is also rooted in the Bible. " I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters," (Thessalonians 5:27).[footnoteRef:19] Jesus outlines highly specific methods of prayer, a key component of religious worship. The most obvious instructional and formal prayer is offered in Matthew 6:9-13, which is known as the Lord's Prayer.[footnoteRef:20] [17: Bible: Acts 1:8] [18: Bible: Colossians 3:16] [19: Bible: Thessalonians 5:27] [20: Bible: Matthew 6:9-13]

There is some disagreement…

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