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Human response to the perceived presence of the divine, a presence which transcends normal human activity and is holy. Thus, Jacob, fleeing away to Haran, perceived the presence of the Lord in a dream while sleeping at “a certain place,” and when he woke from his sleep, he said:

Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:16-17 NRSV).

Before the dream, the place had only been a stopping place reached by sunset (Genesis 18:11 ), but when he awoke it had become a holy place. The holy presence of God had penetrated into ordinary (profane) space in a way which had aroused acute awareness on the part of a human being. The sacred (holy) and profane are united in an experience of worship.

The consciousness of holy presence brings forth a response from those who perceived it. The response is worship and may take many forms. The response may be private and intensely personal, in the form of prayers, confessions, silence, and meditative experiences of various sorts. Jesus, leaving the disciples behind in a place called Gethsemane, went a ways from them to fall on the ground and pray alone to the Father (Mark 14:32-35 ). According to Matthew 26:39 (NRSV), he “threw himself on the ground and prayed”; according to Luke 22:41 , he “knelt down, and prayed” (NRSV). Each of these is a physical posture considered appropriate for worship in prayer.

Jacob's response was to take the stone he had used for a pillow and to set it up as a pillar, declaring that the stone pillar would be a house of God, apparently meaning that a temple/sanctuary would be built there. This would be a place where communication could occur between the divine-heavenly realm and the human-earthly realm. The messengers of God would be continually going up and down bearing the petitions of worshipers and the responses of God. Thus Jacob proposed that his personal experience of the presence of God be made available to others.

Worship in the Bible moves back and forth between personal experience and corporate experience. Personal worship may occur in very private circumstances or may be related to public worship. This is illustrated by the shifting back and forth from plural speakers to a singular speaker in the Psalms (for instance, Psalm 44:1 ). Personal worship and corporate worship are mutually interactive. Corporate worship is empowered by personal experience, but personal experience needs affirmation and interpretation in corporate worship. Thus, early Christians were warned not to neglect meeting together in worship, “as is the habit of some,” in order to encourage one another in the faith and in the spiritual life (Hebrews 10:25 NRSV). Assembling together in worship is an affirmation of what the worshipers believe and an opportunity for mutual response to the gracious actions of God.

Worship in the Bible appears in varied forms and types. Times and places are among the major factors. Worship, especially of the corporate type, normally takes place according to some sort of schedule and/or calendar. There are times and seasons for worship, even though in the Bible God is present with His people at anytime. Sharpened awareness of the divine presence may result from intensive exercises of worship during special times and at special places. These occasions and places are also the contexts for religious education and the development and enjoyment of fellowship among the worshipers. Thus in ancient Israel there was the divine comand that “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God,” and “Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me” (Exodus 23:17 ,Exodus 23:17,23:14 NRSV). See Day of Atonement; Festivals; Sabbath .

The Psalms with expressions of lament, confession, thanksgiving, praise, teaching, and celebration show the breadth of Old Testament worship. See Music; Psalms.

The followers of Jesus, who became known as Christians, received a rich heritage of worship from Judaism, but the new dynamics of their experience with Christ brought about major changes. The festivals of Passover and Pentecost were retained but in different forms. The Lord's Supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus are all closely related to the Passover celebration (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:17 ,Matthew 26:17,26:26-28 and parallels). The Christian Easter is a form of the Passover. According to Acts 2:1-42 , Pentecost was the occasion of a great filling and empowering of the disciples of Jesus by the Holy Spirit (interpreted as a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 ). Scattered references in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 16:8; Acts 20:16 ) indicate that the early Christians converted Pentecost into a Christian observance. It has continued to be observed as a part of the Christian calendar by many churches (seventh Sunday after Easter). Tabernacles/Booths has not been continued in Christian worship except in the related forms of thanksgiving observances and harvest festivals. The Day of Atonement is used theologically to interpret Christ's sacrifice in Hebrews 8-9 , but does not seem to have been a regular part of Christian worship, except in the form of penitential periods like Lent. For Christians the whole complex of Temple activities, priesthood, sacrifice, and sin-cleansing rituals either became obsolete or were reinterpreted in major ways (for instance, the church itself becomes the temple (1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:9 ). See Church Year .

Sabbath has been a major problem for Christian worship. The early Christians are said to have met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; compare 1 Corinthians 16:2; John 20:19 ,John 20:19,20:26 )—though attending the Temple together on a daily basis (Acts 2:46 ). The early Christian meetings seem to have been joyful occasions for teaching, prophesying, singing, praying, reading apostolic letters, and the “breaking of bread” in the Lord's Supper (Acts 2:42 ,Acts 2:42,2:46; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ). The explanation of the emergence of the Christian Sunday from these beginnings is plagued by a lack of precise information and by doctrinal disputes. It seems clear that the first day-of-the-week meetings of the early Christians were not sabbaths. The first-day celebration became “the Lord's day” (Revelation 1:10 ) with emphasis on the resurrection. In time, the Christian Sunday became the Christian sabbath for most Christians; though non-Sunday, sabbatarian groups have been very persistent in Christian history. It seems logical for Christians to observe both sabbath and Sunday, but in most cases this has been judged both impractical and unnecessary. The extent to which Sunday should be considered as sabbath is debated by Christians both in theory and in practice. One polar position is represented by a long tradition of puritanical sabbath observance on Sunday, with no works and a minimum of other activities apart from worship. The other pole gathers around it the conviction that sabbath was annulled by the work and teaching of Jesus (compare Galatians 4:10-11; Romans 14:5; Colossians 2:16-17 ) and that Christians are free from any sabbath observance on Sunday. Most Christians maintain a middle position of sabbath/Sunday observance, taking Sunday as a messianic continuation of the Jewish sabbath and believing that the loss of the sabbath theology of the Old Testament would be serious and unnecessary. The sabbath theology includes the archetypal testimonies of God's saving action in creation from chaos and in Exodus from slavery. Such fundamental aspects are essential for a life of faith and merge without conflict with the celebration of the resurrection and the lordship of Christ.

The discussion above indicates that worship in the biblical context in multifaceted and complex. Some elements seem to be of vital importance. Time and places have been referred to already. The New Testament and much Christian experience move away from rigid adherence to calendars and places, but they are still important in Christian practice. The awareness of divine presence, however symbolized and realized, is absolutely essential for worship. Like Jacob, every true worshiper becomes aware that “The Lord is in this place!” As in the case of Jacob, the sense of presence may come in private and personal experience. However, the most basic pattern is found in the promise of Jesus, according to Matthew 18:20 (NRSV): “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The heart of Christian worship is the power of Christ's presence in a gathered community of disciples (see John 14:12-14; Acts 2:43-47; Acts 4:9-12 ,Acts 4:9-12,4:32-37; 1 Corinthians 5:3-4; Revelation 2:1 ). According to the New Testament, the presence of Christ is especially manifest in the breaking of the bread at the Lord's Supper (compare Luke 24:28-32 ,Luke 24:28-32,24:35 ). However, the Presence is not limited to the Supper and may occur wherever and whenever “two or three are gathered” in the name of Jesus Christ.

Marvin E. Tate

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Worship'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​w/worship.html. 1991.
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