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Worship in Apostolic Times

'Worship' can be defined as "the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise or by deed done in such acknowledgement." [1] As such is it basically a matter of the heart and an expression of one's inner relationship with God. In response to God's self-revelation, the believer praises Him and serves Him through acts of service to his fellow believers.

In considering worship in apostolic times, I will look at 1) the open meeting, 2) believer priests, 3) "spiritual sacrifices", and 4) the Lord's Supper.


1. The open meeting

When believers meet together to worship God, they give public expression to a shared relationship with God. As service to God includes service to man, [4] believers should meet together to encourage one another. [5] The clearest single Scripture on the pattern of worship during an open meeting is the following: "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." [6] We see that everyone must participate in the meeting for the good of all.


A combination of other Scriptures on New Testament meetings yields the following activities: praise, [7] giving thanks, [8] psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, [9] prayer, [10] teaching and admonishing one another, [11] prophecy, [12] fasting, [13] and the breaking of bread. [14] Thus all believers worship God through praise activities and by means of service to each other. In addition, those in leadership read the Scriptures, [15]  preach, [16] teach, [17] correct, rebuke and encourage. [18]

As Jesus has promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name, [19] He meets with those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. [20] He reveals Himself to believers through Scripture and through the Holy Spirit "expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words." [21] He guides and encourages believers through the operation of spiritual gifts. [22] Believers in turn communicate with God through prayer and praise. In this situation of mutual communication, the open meeting exemplifies the relationship between Christ, as the Head of the church, and the body, the worshippers.


2. Believer priests

In the Old Testament Israel is God's 'ekklesia' (called-out ones, congregation, assembly or church) and referred to as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." [23] Christ has made the New Testament 'ekklesia' "a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father." [24] The two churches are essentially one in nature, although important changes resulted from the accomplished work of Jesus Christ. Paul states emphatically that God has not rejected Israel, [25] and warns against an arrogant attitude against her. [26] Because the church has not replaced Israel, Old Testament passages relating to Israel should not be spiritualised or forced out of context in an attempt to apply them to the New Testament church.

The priests of the Old Testament 'ekklesia' functioned as mediators between God and the people. However, New testament believers have Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men." [27] As a result of His atoning sacrifice, we now "have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place." [28] Having thus been "called ... out of darkness into His wonderful light," we have been constituted "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation." [29]


The duties of the Old Testament priests were to teach the people God's law and to offer sacrifices on His altar. Because Jesus has fulfilled every mediatorial role given the Old Testament priesthood, new Testament believer priests have God's laws written on their hearts, [30] and offer "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." [31]


3. "Spiritual sacrifices"

The Old Testament prophets condemned those of the Old Testament 'ekklesia' who supposed that God was concerned only with the form of worship, not with the heart of the worshipper. Twice Jesus challenged the Pharisees by quoting Hosea 6:6, "Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice." [32] God does not change, [33] and the greatest commandments have always been to love Him with all our hearts and our neighbour as ourselves. [34] Since Jesus' death on the cross, the ultimate "sacrifice of atonement," [35] no further physical sacrifices are required of us, but God still desires the same "spiritual" sacrifices.

"Spiritual sacrifices" have been defined as "the activities of the human spirit of man energized by the Holy Spirit," and these are offered upon "the altar of the consecrated heart of the believer." [36] It would seem then that "spiritual sacrifices" refer to everything the Holy Spirit empowers us to do in obedience to Jesus' teaching and out of love for Him. [37]

In the Old Testament we find the following mentioned as more pleasing to God than animal sacrifices: mercy, [38] justice, [39] righteousness, [40] obedience, [41] humility, [42] and a broken spirit. [43] In the New Testament, although the words "spiritual sacrifices" do not occur again, we find "a sacrifice of praise," [44] sacrifices of doing good and sharing with others, [45] the offer of our bodies as "living sacrifices," [46] and gifts as "acceptable sacrifices." [47]


4. The Lord's Supper

When Jesus instituted this supper, He broke the bread, gave it to His disciples to eat and said, "This is my body given for you." [48] The breaking of the bread symbolized the breaking of His body for the redemption of mankind, and the eating of it symbolized a spiritual appropriation of the body of Christ by faith. After supper he offered them the cup and said, "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." [49] These words point out that the blood of the old covenant [50] was only a type of the reality of the new covenant. The use of both the bread and the wine illustrates the death of Christ, in that flesh and blood were separated.

Jesus also said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life ..." [51] Therefore by partaking of the Lord's supper we symbolically appropriate the benefits secured by the sacrificial death of Christ. "The sacred mystery of the supper consists in two things: physical signs ... and spiritual truth. ... In the same way that bread and wine keep and sustain physical life ... our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ." [52]

Jesus' added words, "Do this in remembrance of me" [53] are amplified by Paul's "whenever you eat ... and drink ... you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." [54] Paul's words point to the second coming of Christ. Thus in the Lord's Supper, not only is the risen Lord present with His people in an act of remembrance of His death, but it is also a symbolic anticipation of His future coming.



1. Vine, p.1259
2. Romans 1:9
3. Acts 24:14; Philippians 3:3
4. Matthew 25:40
5. Hebrews 10:25
6. 1 Corinthians 14:26
7. Acts 2:47
8. Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17
9. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16
10. Acts 2:42
11. Colossians 3:16
12. 1 Corinthians 14:24
13. Acts 13:2
14. Acts 2:42; 20:7
15. 1 Timothy 4:13
16. 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:2
17. 1 Timothy 4:11; Acts 2:42
18. 2 Timothy 4:2
19. Matthew 18:20
20. John 4:23
21. 1 Corinthians 2:10-14
22. 1 Corinthians 12
23. Exodus 19:6
24. Revelation 1:6
25. Romans 11:1
26. Romans 11:18-21
27. 1 Timothy 2:5
28. Hebrews 10:19
29. 1 Peter 2:9
30. Hebrews 8:10
31. 1 Peter 2:5
32. Matthew 9:13; 12:7
33. Malachi 3:6
34. Mark 12:29-31
35. Romans 3:25
36. Wuest, p.53
37. John 14:23
38. Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8
39. Micah 6:8; Amos 5:24
40. Amos 5:24; Deuteronomy 33:19
41. 1 Samuel 15:22
42. Micah 6:8
43. Psalm 51:17
44. Hebrews 13:15
45. Hebrews 13:16
46. Romans 12:1
47. Philippians 4:18
48. Luke 22:19
49. Matthew 26:28
50. Exodus 24:8
51. John 6:54
52. Calvin, p.1370-1371
53. Luke 22:19
54. 1 Corinthians 11:26



1. Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1941.

2. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Philadelphia, U.S.A.: The Westminster Press, 1960.

3. Douglas, J.D. (ed.) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962.

4. Hammond, T.C. In Understanding be Men, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity press, 1968.

5. Richards, L.C. Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Michigan, U.S.A.: Regency Reference Library, 1985.

6. Vine, W.E. Expository Dictionary of NT Words, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, ?

7. Wuest, K.S. First Peter in the Greek NT, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970.


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Posted in: Bible by on April 18, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

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