The Origins and History of Worship

So where does this idea of worshiping God come from? Of course in the very beginning, there was a perfect relationship between God and man. This was broken by sin, and though the first promise of a restoration is seen even as God was cursing the serpent, the fully restored state of connection with God yet awaits an eternal future.

But man can still be connected to God. Directions were given to the first family, soon ignored by Cain who fell out of favor with the Lord. More directions were given over time, including specifics about sacrifices that pictured the principle of the innocent taking the place of the guilty.

The first mention of the word worship occurs with Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis 24:4-6 we read …

24:4 – On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.

There are so many qualifiers of this compelling scene: faith, obedience, sacrifice, and the foreshadowing of the true and better Issac who would carry the wood for the ultimate sacrifice to the same location 2,000 years later … in the form of a cross.

In the time of Moses, direction was given for the construction of a Tabernacle, a sort of portable Temple as the meeting place between man and God. The Temple, the first of several being built by David, was a permanent meeting place with the same elements. Here the priests served and temple musicians were a part of the worship experience.

In both cases it was a bloody, bloody place … the sacrifices screaming of the mess that sin had made and the broken relationship with a holy God. The most holy place was the actual presence of God in the camp or in the nation. Only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year. The ark contained the broken law over which the blood was sprinkled to make atonement.

Everything about the holy place cried out with a warning that man should stay away from entrance into God’s presence. But a great difference was realized after the cross and the curtain being opened to God’s very presence … literally ripping in the Temple at the moment of the death of Christ. This opened access to God’s presence through the Spirit, as the book of Hebrews says we are welcome to come boldly into his presence in Christ.

The Jewish world at the time of Christ was filled with synagogues. These were localized places of Jewish worship and gathering (the meaning of the word). This was the weekly experience of the vast majority of Jewish people, including Jesus himself. It was a place of praise, prayer and instruction … in that order. Songs (Psalms) were sung, a variety of prayers were offered, Scriptures were read in an orderly and inclusive structure to systematically cover the Old Testament texts, and a person was selected to give an explanatory talk upon the passage heard.

A synagogue service is what we read about in Luke 4 …

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[from Isaiah 61]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All of the above would be the heritage and history of the earliest Christians, and when it came to meeting to worship Christ as savior, they put all of this together with the new truths they had come to experience in what we know as the gospel.

A summary statement would be to say that Christian worship arose as the fusion of the synagogue service with the truths of the Upper Room experience.

And a summary statement would also be to say that in every era of worship, it anticipated an active engagement by the worshipper himself. There is no place ever where people came to be a spectator about what was happening, just watching it take place and measuring its success by how enjoyable was the experience. Worship is not ever a spectator sport.

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This entry was posted in Why Church and tagged , by Randy Buchman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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