Monday, April 20, 2009

Liturgical Worship in the New Testament Church

I was reading another blog the other day, and in the comments section, I made a statement that liturgical worship is all over the New Testament. Someone name Arthur Sido retorted that this was not the case, and I wrote a reply in which I tried to pull together the information in the following article into my own words. That post got lost in cyberspace and never made it onto that particular blog comments thread.

And, in retrospect that's just as well. In order to do the subject justice, I have decided to quote that one-page article in full (found in the Orthodox Study Bible, on page 1720, Thomas Nelson, 2008).

Liturgy in the New Testament Church p. 1720 The Orthodox Study Bible

“Virtually all students of the Bible realize there was liturgical worship in Israel. Immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17), instructions for building the altar were set forth (Ex. 20:24-26). Then comes instruction concerning keeping the Sabbath (Ex. 23:10-13), the annual feasts (Ex. 23:14-19) and the various offerings and furnishings in the sanctuary (Ex. 25:1-40). Following this, chapters 26-30 deal with such matters as the design of the tabernacle, the altar, and the outer court, the priests’ vestments and their consecration, and instructions for daily offerings.

Liturgical worship is also found in heaven, which is to be expected, since God instructed Moses to make the earthly place of worship as a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5; see Ex. 25:40). Heavenly worship is revealed in such passages as Isaiah 6:1-8, where we see the prophet caught up to heaven for the liturgy, and Revelation 4, which records the apostle John’s vision of heaven’s liturgy.

The key to comprehending liturgy in the New Testament is to understand the work of the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ, who inaugurates the new covenant. Christ is a “priest forever” (Heb. 7:17, 21). It is unthinkable that He would be a priest but not serve liturgically: “forever” suggests He serves continually, without ceasing, in the heavenly tabernacle. Further, He is called not only a priest but a liturgist: “ a Minister [Gr. leitourgos, lit. “liturgist”) of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected” (Heb 8:2). Christian worship on earth, to be fully Christian, must mirror the worship of Christ in heaven.

Moreover, Christ is “Mediator of a better covenant” (Heb 8:6). What is that covenant? In the words of the Lord, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (1 Cor 11:25). Just as the blood of bulls and goats in the Old covenant prefigured Christ’s sacrifice to come, so the eucharistic feast brings to us the fullness of His new covenant offering, completed at the Cross and fulfilled in His Resurrection. This once for all offering of Himself (Heb.7:27) which He as High Priest presents at the heavenly altar is an offering in which we participate through the Divine Liturgy in the Church. This is the worship of the New Testament Church!

Given this biblical background, a number of New Testament passages take on new meaning.

1. Acts 13:2 “As they ministered to the Lord [lit., “as they were in the liturgy of the Lord”] and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul.’” We learn that (a) these two apostles were called by God during worship, and (b) the Holy Spirit speaks in a liturgical setting.
2. Acts 20:7 “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them.” Communion was held each Sunday.
3. Romans 16:16 “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” A kiss of greeting was common in this ancient culture. The “holy kiss,” however, was an element of the Christian liturgy that signified the people of God were reconciled to one another, so that they might receive the Body and Blood of Christ in peace.
4. Ephesians 5:14 “Awake, you who sleep, /Arise from the dead,/ And Christ will give you light.” This is an ancient baptismal hymn, already in use by the time Ephesians was written. Other examples of creeds and hymns of New Testament times are seen in 1 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13.
5. Hebrews 13:10 “We have an altar” reveals the continuation of the altar in New Testament worship.
6. Revelation 1:10: “I was in the Spirit of the Lord’s Day.” Many scholars believe John saw his vision of Christ during the Sunday liturgy, as the Lord appeared to him “in the midst of the seven lampstands” (Rev. 1:13). Lampstands would be found in the Christian sanctuary just as they were in the Hebrew temple.”

In addition, I would like to point you, my fair readers to a very good website on the subject. These are some program notes from a broadcast on Our Life in Christ, an Orthodox Christian Radio program. I recommend reading through these notes, as they are very interesting and informative regarding the reality of liturgical worship in the New Testament era of the Church, and continuing on until this day.

Think about it: if all the ancient branches of Chrisitanity are doing it...perhaps there's something to it. And for all the hue and cry against various heresies in the writings of the early fathers of the Church, if liturgical worship were an accretion, or something that was innovated after the ending of the persecutions by the Roman government, seems someone would have raised up a stink.

I'm just sayin'.


Xallanthia said...

Following my conversion to Orthodoxy, I was discussing the Emergent Church movement with a dear friend who is Jewish, because she asked about my brother, and that's what he's into. I explained the non-liturgical nature of their worship vs. Orthodox Liturgy and she said, "But, of course they had liturgy! They were Jews!"

Amber said...

Interesting and educational, as always. :)

Vaguely The Orthodox Study Bible an edition you'd recommend?

Alana said...

Yes, Amber, I would. The Old Testament is translated based on the Septuagint, which was the Bible of the first Christians (using the Masoretic text as a basis for the Old Testament was a Protestant development) and the messianic prophesies are much less clear in the Masoretic text (Hebrew OT that was edited by the Jews in the early medieval period). Incidentally the Greek Septuagint Old Testament text happens to be closer to the Dead Sea Scrolls that were uncovered, which would have been pre-Masoretic there ya have it.

Alana said...

Oh, and the notes in the Orthodox Study Bible are very informative of how the Orthodox read and interpret the Scriptures.

Amber said...


*totters off to buy it*

And all you said re: Septuagint v. Masoretic matches with what I'd read elsewhere, so yay!


LisaM said...

Thank you for posting the information and links!

Maria said...

Thanks for taking the time to type all this. Very helpful.