What is Worship? An Answer from the Early Church

Here's a challenging question for modern Christians: What is worship? It seems that many of us are raising this question amidst the seeming performance-priority arising in the contemporary Church. When we use the word worship, is it healthy that our first thoughts focus on a Sunday morning music set?

We began with a look at the Old Testament and the foci of worship God himself established for His people:

In the end, Old Testament worship targeted five focal points:

  1. Relationship with (obedience to) God
  2. Relationship with one another
  3. Rest
  4. Giving and serving
  5. Remembering and praising

Now, we have already agreed that the zoo noises are no longer necessary. Animal sacrifices were made obsolete by Christ’s perfect sacrifice and the feasts are fascinating to us, but hardly a part of our personal practice. But who would argue that these purposes are no longer valid?

The Early Church wouldn’t make such a case. When we see them in action, it seems there is plenty of evidence that these same ideas guide their approaches to God. Take a look:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 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. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Once can make the case that while methods changed, their understanding of worship remained this “whole life” idea. You still see relationship with God and one another at the top of their lists. You still see giving and serving alongside remembering and praising. And while this particular paragraph doesn’t underscore rest or Sabbath, there’s still plenty of evidence that they were completely dependent on God.

So the point? Same list! Worship on both sides of the testamental divide centered on:

  1. Relationship with (obedience to) God
  2. Relationship with one another
  3. Rest
  4. Giving and serving
  5. Remembering and praising

Is that enough evidence to allow these priorities to rewrite our focus? Can we make a case that each of these are in our thinking and our practice when we shape our practices of worship? Those are the questions that we’ll tackle next.

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