Continuity of Worship

Jewish worship was liturgical. There was a specific order of service to be followed, and deviation from that order of service was a serious matter (as Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu quickly discovered) (Le 10:1-2). The twice daily sacrifices were accompanied by choirs singing psalms, and accompanied by instruments (2 Chron 5:12-14).

A remarkable continuity of worship practice exists between the Old Testament and the New, between Jewish worship and that of Christians. It is clear from the book of Acts that the earliest Christians were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46). Moreover, the lame man was healed as “Peter and John about to go into the temple” (Acts 3:3). And again, Luke says of the early church, that “were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch” (Acts 5:12). After the apostles were miraculously released from prison, the report was made to the “captain of the temple and the chief priests”: “Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people” (Acts 5:25). After they had been beaten and released, it is said of the apostles: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:42).

Following the Babylonian captivity (and perhaps even before then), the Jews had two centers of worship. The most important center of worship was Jerusalem, which was were the temple was, and were the twice daily sacrifices were held. But those who could not be present at the temple gathered at the synagogue, which had its own liturgical style. This was the center of worship for the diaspora, and was where Paul went first on his missionary journeys (Acts 13:14-15; 14:1; 17:1-3; 18:4-6). Even in the book of Acts, it is clear that there was a particular order of worship, with an exhortation following the reading of the law and the prophets. W. O. E. Oesterley, in his book “The Jewish Background of the Christian Liturgy”, writes that basic form of Jewish Liturgy was 1) the reading of Scripture, and 2) prayer. The reading of Scripture included some sort of homily or exhortation; the prayers were varied in form, but followed an over all structure. The prayers tended to focus more on praise, thanksgiving, and confession of sins; intercessory prayers and supplications were secondary. The singing of psalms was interspersed throughout the services, binding the individual elements of the service together.

Christian Community House

Christian Community House

The apostles, those with them in the upper room, and the converts following the feast of Pentecost were all Jews, and all familiar with liturgical worship. They continued in that worship in the temple, but also went from house to house celebrating the eucharist. It would be quite unexpected for Jews, used to liturgical worship, to conduct their services in any other way.

Gabe Martini, in his “On Behalf of All” blog, notes how church architecture has followed, and continues to follow, the architectural model bequeathed to us from the Jews. There is a remarkable continuity of worship between the Old and New Testaments.

You can read more here: Remaking the Temple of the Lord