A History of Worship – Part 4

Message Series: A History of Worship

Message: Part 4: From Synagogue to House

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.

2. God’s place for worship has changed locations several times through the Bible: started with rocks piled up to make an altar, then a portable tabernacle, then a fixed Temple in Jerusalem, then local synagogues in every town and city.

a. After the Book of Acts, Christians mostly met in houses, usually larger homes owned by wealthier believers.

i. Read Romans 16:3-5. Also mentioned in 1 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 Timothy and Philemon.

b. One of the oldest surviving house churches is Dura Europos in Syria – a structure originally built as a home but which was mainly used as a church by the 3rd century.

i. Like most larger homes of the time, it had a central courtyard surrounded by a large

gathering room and other rooms for prayer, eating meals, instructing converts.

ii. Dura Europos even has a room set aside for baptizing new believers, with walls covered with beautiful early Christian artwork and symbols.

c. Why houses? Two main reasons:

i. Persecution. Through the first two centuries, Christians often gathered and worshiped

illegally, out of the public eye, risking arrest and even death if discovered.

ii. Gentiles. As it spread into the larger world, the church was attracting more and more non-Jew believers; so worship began

moving away

from its synagogue roots and become more distinctly Christian.

d. God didn’t command Christians to go back to using altars, or to build a Temple in some city for everyone to go to.

i. God gave the church leeway to do what was most practical, and the freedom for some


ii. Maybe this was because Jesus taught that the people of God were now a missionary people bringing the gospel to the whole world. Some creativity was going to be needed to reach all these new people.

3. I think that worship occurs within a dynamic

tension between what is commanded and what can be creative.

a. Life is kind of like that. There are basic rules that apply pretty much anytime, anywhere. And there are things which are OK to do differently, depending on the situation.

b. It’s interesting to me that two Greek words were used for the church: Kyrios and Ekklesia.

i. Kyrios means “belonging to the Lord.” That’s the bottom-line. It’s not a club or a civic organization. The church belongs to Jesus and does His work.

ii. Ekklesia simply means “to gather people together.” In a cathedral, a warehouse, a school, a tent, or a house.

4. During the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s, breaking from the longstanding ceremonies and liturgies of the Roman Church, there was debate about how to reform worship.

a. Some believed that worship should be guided by the regulative principle: have only what is directly authorized in Scripture.

i. There was to be no ‘made up’ songs or prayers; only what came directly from the Bible, like the Psalms.

ii. Others thought the normative principle was better: creativity was OK as long as it didn’t push out or distract from the basics.

1. Martin Luther developed the concept of

“things indifferent:” songs, prayers and forms which the church could use or not, as it thought best.

b. What do you think should be regulative and normative about Christian worship?

i. Chances are, we have differences of opinion.

c. What’s Regulative for any Christian worship, anytime and anywhere, is a fairly short list. Most of what happens in worship at particular churches arises from what seems right for the particular time, place, people and mission field.

i. But human nature tends to make what’s right what’s normal, and to not want to stray from what’s normal.

ii. But what’s right changes, and eventually a new normal is needed from time to time to fulfill Jesus’ mission.

iii. We need to get creative. To me, the best Christian worship feels both the same and different every time it happens.

d. The Presbyterian Directory for Worship:

i. If a new normal is needed, we have freedom to explore as long as we are guided together by the Spirit and maintain the non-negotiables of worship.

5. So, what should you expect from worship?

a. Let’s go back to where the earliest churches met: in a house.

i. When you design a house, there are a few basic necessities to include: a place to eat, a place to sleep, a place to go.

ii. After that, it’s all a matter of your taste and what’s practical for you and your family.

iii. Yes, a man-cave and walk-in closet are NOT necessities!

b. The necessities for worship is a short list:

i. there must be praising and honoring God, there must be listening to His Word, there must be celebration of Jesus’ sacraments, it must equip for Jesus’ mission, it must be done together.

ii. It must be both reverent and joyful, because to know God through Jesus is to have both.

c. So the basic elements of worship is also a short list:


i. prayer, reading and interpreting the Bible, Sacraments, self-offering, gathering in & sending out

d. Everything else, we are free to use our creativity and discernment: style of music, instruments, technology, architecture, decoration, ordering of elements, artistic expression, language.

i. There’s a warning here for you, to not confuse what’s normal to you with what’s essential for Christian worship.

e. But there’s also an opportunity for you. The freedom and discernment God gives the church means YOU can play a key role in helping decide what happens in worship.

f. There’s room for your creativity. You can use your special gifts in worship. You can join our planning team and offer your ideas. You can give us feedback. You can look around and discover new ways to respond to our mission field.

i. One of our 5 Big Moves is finding out what the next generation of worship

looks like here, and making it happen. You can join that team at the ground level right now.

6. The key for all of us, though, is knowing and celebrating what’s always in Christian worship, and what doesn’t have to be.

7. We’ve also been seeing the evolution of music in Christian Worship, so Norilee is going to take us back to the time in the 1500’s and 1600’s when the only kind of music in Protestant churches throughout Europe was ‘metrical psalms.’


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