Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, March 3rd, 2024
the Third Sunday of Lent
There are 28 days til Easter!
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Worship (2)
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

It has been well said that ‘for St. Paul and the member of the early Christian brotherhood the whole of life was a continuous worship, and the one great feature of that worship was prayer.’* If we use the word ‘prayer’ in the widest sense, as including praise as well as petition and intercession, the words agree with the opinion of Döllinger: ‘When the attention of a thinking heathen was directed to the new religion which was spreading in the Roman Empire, the thing to strike him as extraordinary would be that a religion of prayer was superseding the religion of ceremonies and invocations of gods; that it encouraged all, even the humblest and the most uneducated, to pray, or, in other words, to meditate and exercise the mind in self-scrutiny and contemplation of God.’† In that age many men who showed respect for the externals of worship doubted their efficacy and the very existence of the gods. The calm confidence of Christian believers in their faith, unseared by the superstitions which had brought them to scepticism, could not fail to impress thoughtful men. Inquiry revealed to them forms of worship in the Christian Church austere in their simplicity, but hallowed alike by their association with the sacred traditions of Jewish worship and by the vivid consciousness of the presence of God to whom they could draw near as their Father through Jesus Christ, their Saviour, in the power of His Holy Spirit poured out upon all flesh.

1. History of Christian worship.-The worship of the Apostolic Church followed the precedents both of the Temple and of the Synagogue. At first the Apostles were diligent in their attendance at the Temple (Acts 2:46), and the keen desire of St. Paul to keep the Feast at Jerusalem (Acts 20:6) shows that the services of Christian assemblies were as yet regarded as supplementary to the central worship at the shrine of Jewish devotion. From the Temple came eventually the gradual evolution of the liturgy which summed up in a central service the profound thought of the Epistle to the Hebrews on the sacrifice of Christ as fulfilling all the types of Jewish sacrifice. The visions of the Apocalypse fill in the picture of Christian worship in the Eucharist as the representation on earth of the worship of heaven.

‘These thoughts, though found in these books themselves, did not find expression till a later age.’* ‘Clement of Rome has the idea of Christ as “the high-priest of our offerings,” but the ideas of the heavenly Priesthood of our Lord, and the “Lamb standing as slain” of the Apocalypse, found only very isolated expression in liturgical prayers before the 4th century. Irenaeus has the “heavenly altar” (iv. 18, 6) and Origen dwells on the High Priesthood of Christ (de Oratione, 10), but the Eucharist of pre-Nicene times moved rather in a simpler circle of ideas. It is in Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, and (in the West) Ambrose that we find these ideas developed. The earlier ideas seem derived not from the Temple and its associations but from the primitive idea of the “thankoffering” (e.g. εὐχαριστήσας of the Institution and the εὐχαριστία of Ignatius, Clement, and the Didache), together with the thought of the One Body of St. Paul; cf. again the Didache prayers. The “thankoffering” idea was expanded into the glorious eucharistic prayer found in its largest and fullest range in the liturgy of the Apostolic Constitutions. The idea of the One Body explains the emphasis and concentration of thought in the pre-Nicene prayers on “communion,” as opposed to worship of the Lamb standing as slain, which is the feature of the Greek liturgy from the time of Cyril of Jerusalem. And this “hieratic” clement in Christian liturgy is much more marked in Greek-speaking lands than in the West.’

This somewhat lengthy quotation seems necessary to show how the ideas in the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse were eventually expanded. The immediate purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews was on another line. When the blow fell and the Temple at Jerusalem was destroyed, the mind of the Jewish Christian Church was prepared for the catastrophe. In the meantime, development had taken place in the worship both of Jewish and of Gentile Christians in the house-churches to which their assemblies were of necessity confined.

We can distinguish two lines of development: (i.) meetings for edification; (ii.) for the Supper of the Lord, the breaking of bread, in which, at first, the Eucharist was combined with the Agape or ‘Love Feast’ (Judges 1:12; cf. also 2 Peter 2:13). But, as Srawley points out, ‘the use of the term Agape, and the distinction between the Agape and the Eucharist, as applied to the conditions described in Acts and 1 Corinthians, are possibly anachronisms. As yet there was no sharp distinction between the two parts of the meal, such as took place when the specially eucharistic features assumed a more developed liturgical form.’*

Lindsay has described in a graphic way the meeting for edification in one of the Gentile churches founded by St. Paul.

‘The brethren fill the body of the hall, the women sitting together, in all probability on the one side, and the men on the other; behind them are the inquirers; and behind them, clustering round the door, unbelievers, whom curiosity or some other motive has attracted, and who are welcomed to this meeting “for the Word.”

‘The service, and probably each part of the service, began with the benediction: “Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” which was followed by an invocation of Jesus and the confession that He is Lord. One of the brethren began to pray; then another and another; one began the Lord’s Prayer, and all joined; each prayer was followed by a hearty and fervent “Amen.” Then a hymn was sung; then another and another, for several of the brethren have composed or selected hymns at home which they wish to be sung by the congregation.…

‘After the hymns came reading from the Old Testament Scriptures,† and readings or recitations concerning the life and death, the sayings and deeds of Jesus. Then came the “instruction”-sober words for edification, based on what had been read, and coming either from the gift, of “wisdom,” or from that intuitive power of seeing into the heart of spiritual things which the apostle calls “knowledge.” Then came the moment of greatest expectancy. It was the time for the prophets, men who believed themselves and were believed by their brethren to be specially taught by the Holy Spirit, to take part. They started forward, the gifted men, so eager to impart what had been given them, that sometimes two or more rose at once and spoke together;‡ and sometimes when one was speaking the message came to another, and he leapt to his feet,§ increasing the emotion and taking from the edification. When the prophets were silent, first one, then another, and sometimes two at once, began strange ejaculatory prayers, in sentences so rugged and disjointed that the audience for the most part could not understand, and had to wait till some of their number, who could follow the strange utterances, were ready to translate them into intelligible language.║ Then followed the benediction; “The Grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all”; the “kiss of peace”; and the congregation dispersed. Sometimes during the meeting, at some part of the services, but oftenest when the prophets were speaking, there was a stir at the back of the room, and a heathen, who had been listening in careless curiosity or in barely concealed scorn, suddenly felt the sinful secrets of his own heart revealed to him, and pushing forward fell down at the feet of the speaker and made his confession, while the assembly raised the doxology: “Blessed be God, the Father of the Lord Jesus, for evermore. Amen.” ’¶

The elements of such worship-prayer and praise and instruction-combined to make what Duchesne in a happy phrase calls ‘a Liturgy of the Holy Ghost after the Liturgy of Christ, a true liturgy with a Real Presence and communion.’** In one form or another they passed into the later offices, beginning with vigil services, then morning services, which combined to make what was known in later days as the Divine Office. These had their roots in the Synagogue services, but were distinguished by the new fervour which the gift of the Holy Spirit stamped upon them, so that while the keynote of the Synagogue service was instruction the new keynote was praise.

We may trace the same trend of thought in the Epistle to the Ephesians, regarded as a circular letter eminently calculated to raise the whole tone of worship. It is written from a point of view at which the Apostle feels free to pass away from the warnings needed by local churches and to rise into a higher region of emotion and thanksgiving.††

2. The Eucharist.-In 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 the Eucharist seems to have followed the Agape. St. Paul writes of it as a well-known service (1 Corinthians 10:16). Putting together the scattered hints in the Epistles along with the references in Clement of Rome and Justin Martyr, we may suppose that it followed a service such as that described above and that it always included the following elements: a prayer of thanksgiving (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Corinthians 14:16, 1 Timothy 2:1); the blessing of the bread and wine, with the recital of the words of Institution (1 Corinthians 10:16, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23);* prayers, remembering Christ’s death (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 11:25-26); the people eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine (Matthew 26:26-27, Mark 14:22-23, 1 Corinthians 11:28-29). The evidence of the Didache is still in dispute. Some suppose that it contains prayers for the Agape rather than the Eucharist. In either case they are of interest and may be quoted here.

‘Every Sunday of the Lord, having assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having confessed your sins, that your sacrifice be pure’ (xiv. 1).

‘Concerning the Thanksgiving, give thanks thus. First, for the cup: We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the holy vine of thy servant David, which thou hast shown us through thy servant Jesus. Glory to thee for ever. But for the broken (bread): We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou hast shown us through thy servant Jesus. Glory to thee for ever. As this broken bread was scattered over the mountains, and has been gathered together and made one, so may thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom; for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever. But none is to eat or drink of your Thanksgiving except those who are baptized into the name of the Lord; for because of this the Lord said: Do not give the holy thing to dogs’ (ix.).

‘After ye are filled give thanks thus: We give thanks to thee, holy Father, for thy holy name which thou hast made to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which thou hast shown us through thy servant Jesus. Glory to thee for ever. Thou, Almighty Lord, hast created all things for thy name’s sake and thou hast given food and drink to men for enjoyment that they might give thanks to thee. Above all we thank thee because thou art mighty.… Glory to thee for ever. Remember, O Lord, thy Church to free her from all evil and make her perfect in thy love; gather her from the four winds and make her holy in thy kingdom which thou hast prepared for her; for thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come and let this world perish. Hosanna to the God of David. If any one be holy let him draw nigh; if any one be not, let him repent. Maran atha. Amen. But let the prophets give thanks as much as they will’ (x.).

If the early date is allowed, we find here anticipation of the great thanksgiving of the later liturgies, mention of God’s work in creation and in redemption, a thanksgiving after Communion and prayer for the Church with the germ of the act of praise which grew into the Gloria in excelsis.

The Epistle of Clement of Rome has references to the order observed for the worship of God, e.g. ch. 40:

‘Now the offerings and ministrations He commanded to be performed with care, and not to be done rashly or in disorder, but at fixed times and seasons.’

It contains also quotations from a wonderful prayer of intercession and thanksgiving (qq.v. ), and a close parallel to the later Sanctus.

Ch. 34: ‘For the Scripture saith; Ten thousands of ten thousands stood by Him, and thousands of thousands ministered unto Him: and they cried aloud, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Sabaoth; all creation is full of His glory. Yea, and let us ourselves then, being gathered together in concord with intentness of heart, cry unto Him as from one mouth earnestly that we may he made partakers of His great and glorious promises.’

The Epistles of Ignatius contain many liturgical phrases but no further hints as to the form of worship beyond the maxim, ‘Do nothing without the bishop and the presbyters’ and such general exhortation as the following:

ad Magn. 7: ‘And attempt not to think anything right for yourselves apart from others: but let there be one prayer in common, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy unblameable, which is Jesus Christ, than whom there is nothing better. Hasten to come together all of you, as to one temple, even God; as to one altar; even to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from One Father, and is with One and departed unto One.’

Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan, important as it is from other points of view, does not fill in any details for us in the scheme of worship. Pliny asserts that the Christiana were ‘accustomed on a certain day to meet together before daybreak and to sing a hymn alternately to Christ as a god’ (Ep. xcvi. 7). He continues that, having bound themselves by an oath to commit no crime, they dispersed but met again to eat food-a hint of the separation of the Agape from the Eucharist.

The testimony of Justin Martyr in his First Apology is much more definite, and must be quoted in full:

Ch. 65: ‘But we [Christians], after that we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented [to our teaching], lead him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the illuminated [i.e. baptised] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. Bread and a cup of wine mingled with water are then brought to the president of the brethren: and he, taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the Universe, through the Name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayer and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying, “Amen.” … And when the president has given thanks and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give each of those present the bread and wine mixed with water, over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and they carry away a portion to those who are not present.’

66: ‘And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but he who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ hath enjoined. For we do not receive these [elements] as common bread and common drink, but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the word of God, bad both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of the word which comes from Him, and from which our blood and flesh are nourished by transmutation, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.’

Justin goes on to quote the words of Institution from the Gospels, and in ch. 67, repeating his account of the Eucharist, emphasizes the fact that it is celebrated on Sunday, and adds that the Gospels are read ‘or the writings of the Prophets, as long as time permits.’

‘And the well-to-do and the willing give what each person thinks fit, and the collection is deposited with the president, who succours orphans and widows, and those who are in want through sickness or any other cause, and those who are in prison, and the strangers sojourning among us, and, in a word, he takes care of all who are in any need.’

3. Principles.-From these scattered hints, from which we may endeavour to reconstitute the form of worship in the Apostolic Church, we must now turn to the principles. In the evolution of the primitive liturgy we can discern a close adherence to the apostolic combination of prayer and praise with instruction and intercession leading up to the gift of sacramental grace. At the same time we note the constant loyalty to the principle on which Hooker lays such stress-that sacraments are ‘not physical but moral instruments of salvation, duties of service and worship, which unless we perform as the Author of grace requireth, they are unprofitable.’*

This finds emphasis in the constant teaching of the need of purification for participation in holy rites. This is expressed in Hebrews 10:22 : ‘Let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water.’ In other words, devotion must be sincere and not formal, faith must be enlightened and firmly held. The writer goes on to refer to the confession made at baptism (v. 23); ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not.’ Other references could be multiplied, but it may suffice to quote 1 Peter 1:16-17, where the exhortation to holiness of life accompanies reference to ‘calling on the Father,’ The thought is summarized in the ancient proclamation by the bishop to the people, ‘Holy things to holy persons.’

Again we find that the primary characteristic of apostolic worship was to offer to the Lord the honour due unto His name in holy worship (Psalms 29:2). The desire of the Psalmist was fulfilled. The Church met to give as well as to receive.

This thought leads straight up into the high region of speculation entered by Freeman when he traces back the ultimate principle of the Eucharist and of the Divine Office to the fundamental doctrines of the Incarnation and the Perpetual Priesthood of Christ. The Incarnation is linked up with the foundation truth of sacrifice. ‘Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.’* All Christian worship is enriched by that thought. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Under the conditions of human sinfulness the incarnate life of Christ was necessarily consecrated by suffering, which found its culmination in the Cross of Calvary, His Passion being the perfecting of His Priesthood. So it is the privilege of the Church in the Eucharist to show the Lord’s death till He come, to offer in this memorial sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving ‘the one true pure immortal sacrifice.’

The Divine Office of a later age, which traces its roots to the simple congregational meetings for edification, allied, as we have seen, to the Synagogue services, is based on the thought of the Perpetual Priesthood of Christ. Constant reference to the mediation of Christ in the familiar ending of prayers ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ kept this ever in mind.

Literature.-L. Duchesne, Christian Worship2, Eng. tr. , London, 1904; A. Edersheim, The Temple: its Ministry and Services, do., 1874; A. Fortescue. The Mass, do., 1912; P. Freeman, The Principles of Divine Service, Oxford. 1863; T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, London, 1902; J. H. Srawley, The Early History of the Liturgy, Cambridge, 1913; F. E. Warren, Liturgy and Ritual the Ante-Nicene Church, London, 1897.

A. E. Burn.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Worship'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​w/worship.html. 1906-1918.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile