The Biblical Story of Worship in less than 1,000 Words

by Daniel Collison



The starting point for most discussions about worship begins with last Sunday’s worship service. Meaning that, most of us define worship by the standards of our personal experience and traditions rather than a broader examination of the Biblical foundations of worship. Ironically, this is so because the biblical foundations of worship offer a broad framework or theology for worship, but not a single style or philosophy with which every Christian church is mandated to create its worship service orders.

Where in the Bible can you find exhortations to use or not use organs, drums, video clips, violins or electric guitars? Where in the Bible are you commanded to include or not include announcements, drama, responsive reading, events of the Christian calendar, or expository preaching?

Nonetheless, the Bible has a lot to say about worship and provides a vital groundwork for the worship philosophies and styles that we engage in our congregational life.  For instance, a simple historical overview of the Bible offers us six diagnostic questions to ask of our worship.


1. The Patriarchal Question (2230-1500 BC): What do we have to offer in worship?
Abraham and the patriarchs lived a nomadic existence. While they traveled, however, they fashioned altars and made offerings and sacrifices to God.

Examples: Genesis 15-An animal sacrifice by Abraham; Genesis 22-The sacrifice of Isaac; Genesis 28-Jacob and the dream of heaven, the altar at Bethel.

We are never to come to worship empty handed. So, we always ask the question: What do we have to offer in worship?
  

2. The Mosaic Question (1500-1200 BC): How are we involved in worship?
This period of Biblical history is marked by the institution and formalization of feasts, festivals, and specific rituals in worship.

Example: Passover feast (Exodus 12), Commitment to the Law (Exodus 20) New PLACE of worship (Exodus 25-33; Leviticus; Numbers) Ordination of priests, sacred holidays and assemblies.

The directive of God to Moses was “get involved”…and do it in meaningful ways. Don’t remain a spectator. So we now ask: How are we involved in our worship?


3. The Davidic Question (1010-970 BC): Is God’s presence manifest in our midst?
After the Exodus and Joshua, worship fell into disrepair. As king of Israel, David re-organized the worshipping community and initiated several changes.

Example: Instrumental music, round the clock worship leaders in the place of worship, non-sacrificial worship, focus on the presence of God in their midst. (i.e. Psalm 63) Passion and purity in worship drove him to a deeper experience of God.

So with David, we ask of our worship: Is God’s presence manifest in our midst? Is God tangibly experienced when we worship.


4. The Question of Solomon (970-586 BC): Is our worship focused on God?
Solomon was given the gift of wisdom at the peak of Israel’s power. In amazing grandeur the completed temple was dedicated to the glory of God. Then things started going wrong. Somehow the temple began to be regarded for its beauty and extravagance more than God for whom it was built. Foreign influences, lack of God’s vision, and poor decisions led to the destruction of the temple and the downfall of the nation of Israel.

Their experience leads us to the question that Solomon stopped asking: “Is our worship focused on God?”


5. The Exilic Question (586-0 BC): Is worship finding its way into our homes and communities?
The absence of the temple and homeland caused the faithful of Israel to renew their worship. Ezekiel 36: “I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Examples: The local synagogue began to be a worshipping tradition. These were (and are) community centers of faith. Places to worship, learn, and experience community. Also, homes were gathering places for followers of God.

The ability of people to find faith in the midst of exile and suffering teaches us to always ask the question: Is worship finding its way into our homes and communities?


6. The New Testament Question (0-100 AD): Are we continually shaping our worship with Jesus as the center?
Early Christians used the synagogue model to begin with but quickly began to form distinct Christian elements. Jesus became the center of worship and the focus of all present and future hopes and dreams. Even more there was a continual adaptation of the existing worship elements into new and innovative forms.

Example: New literature and writings, new organizational forms (1 Timothy 3:1-13) the emergence of creedal statements.

Their pioneering spirit leads us to ask the question: Are we continually shaping our worship with Jesus as the center? Are we willing to redesign our worship with every passing generation while still adhering to the time tested theology and expressions of the faith-Thereby making new out of the old?


To summarize: There are six major epochs of Biblical history in which we witness major shifts in the ways that worship was engaged. They are:

1. The Patriarchal Question (2230-1500 BC): What do we have to offer in worship?
2. The Mosaic Question (1500-1200 BC): How are we involved in worship?
3. The Davidic Question (1010-970 BC): Is God’s presence manifest in our midst?
4. The Question of Solomon (970-586 BC): Is our worship focused on God?
5. The Exilic Question (586-0 BC): Is worship finding its way into our homes and communities?
6. The New Testament Question (0-100 AD): Are we continually shaping our worship with Jesus as the center?

If we take these six questions (and their answers!) into our worship planning meetings we will reflect more of a well rounded biblical and historical approach to worship.