A History of Worship – Part 3

From Temple to Synagogue

Scripture Text: Acts 13:13-16, 42-44

1. We’re in a series on the history of our worship.

a. We invest a lot in this time on Sunday morning. You make an effort to get here.

i. Why it’s important is something we’ll spend six weeks trying to uncover.

b. Knowing the origins of the synagogue in the Jewish history of worship is key to understanding the Christian worship we experience every Sunday.

2. To help us know more, Pastor John is going to lead us in some examples of synagogue worship, including a blessing for the reading of the Word of God.

a. Pastor John’s blessing prayer

b. Read Acts 13:13-16 and 42-44

3. We’ve been tracking the evolution of

worship in the Old Testament from the beginning, when it was basically a person or a family piling up rocks into an altar for sacrificing and praying to God.

a. As time goes on, worship gets more formal and communal. God raises up special groups, the Priests and Levites, to supervise worship.


i. God instructs Moses to build a tabernacle as a portable place for all Israel to worship the Lord, wherever their wanderings take them.

ii. When the Israelites settle in the

Promised Land, the tabernacle becomes a fixed location and is eventually replaced by a huge, ornate Temple in Jerusalem.

b. Beginning around the time of the Babylonian Captivity, after the Temple was destroyed, exiled Jews continued to gather in small, local assemblies.

i. The word synagogue is Greek,

and simply means a gathering of people.

ii. The Hebrew words are bet kenesset (house of assembly) or bet tefilla (house of prayer). The Yiddish word for the synagogue is shul, similar to ‘school’ a place of teaching.

iii. By the time of Jesus, synagogues could be found throughout the Mediterranean world, North Africa and Europe – wherever there was a community of Jews.

c. For centuries, synagogue worship continued with a few basic elements: prayer, reading of scripture, and a sermon explaining the message. Synagogue officials were responsible for leading worship but laypeople were encouraged to take part. Visiting teachers could give the sermon, and a new class of religious leaders, rabbis, were recognized as trained interpreters of the scriptures.

i. The Temple focused on the rituals and ceremonies embodied in the sacrifices and maintaining the symbols of God’s presence with his people.

1. But it also came to be seen as institutional, far off, detached from people’s daily walk of faith.

ii. The synagogue was a place where Jews got together, cared for each other, gathered around the Word of God, and equipped each other to live out their faith in the world.


4. The evolution of Christian Worship begins in the synagogue, as we see from the passage I read earlier.

a. Most 1st Christians were Jewish. Some synagogues transitioned to places which proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. Early churches used the same format for worship as the synagogue: prayers spoken and sung, scriptures, a sermon, personal


b. But as with Judaism and the Temple, Christian worship began to become more formal; more complex, ceremonial and ornate.

i. Local churches were everywhere, but seemed only a part of a huge machine controlled by powerful authorities sitting

in fancy cathedrals in far off cities.

c. This continued and grew for 15 centuries until churchmen, lay people, and scholars

wondered if the church had wandered too far from its synagogue roots.

i. People like Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and many others studied the New Testament and saw small gatherings of believers gathering to pray, read scripture and listen to a sermon.

d. The Protestant Reformation wanted to lead the church back to the basics.

i. In places like Germany, Switzerland, Britain, Scotland and others, fancy


artwork, gilding, statues of saints, altars and decorations were removed from sanctuaries, along with complicated liturgies and rituals.

ii. The Priesthood was replaced by the Pastorate, combining the roles of the synagogue leader and rabbi: both caring for the spiritual health of the people and educated to interpret the scriptures rightly.

5. Today, the worship here at 1stPres is more synagogue than Temple, more church than


a. We’ve allowed some decoration and a little ritual back in over the years! But it’s still the basics of prayer and gathering around the Word of God.

b. So how can you come each Sunday ready for worship?

6. To help us know how to do synagogue-style worship we have a

leader of an actual synagogue. (Interview with Pastor John)

a. Tell us about what happens at a typical Synagogue service

b. What’s your role as the pastor in synagogue worship?

c. What do synagogue worshipers need to do to take full advantage of worship?

i. Talk about dress

ii. Talk about physicality in worship

iii. Talk about being ready to engage the Word of God

iv. In the synagogue, what is the value of symbols and rituals but also the risk of getting too caught up in ceremony and ritual?

7. We’ve also been seeing the evolution of music in Christian Worship, so the team from Beth

Shalom is here to teach us some of the music which is central to synagogue worship.

a. See if you can see similarities with how we use music in our weekly Sunday worship.


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