The Eternality of the Liturgy (part Three)

20 12 2010
Truth Matters Newsletters – December 2010 – Vol. 15 Issue 12 – The Eternality of the Liturgy (part Three) – By Rev. Robert Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

The Eternality of the Liturgy (part Three)

Rev. Bob Liichow

Truth matters to God. One revelation of His immutable nature is that of veracity or truth. Our God does not simply possess the truth, He is fount of truth, and truth is part of who God is. The following are just a few examples from both the Old and New Testaments demonstrating that God is truth:

God is true (John 3:33): he who sent me is true (John 7:28); let God be true though every man a liar (Rom. 3:4); he who sent me is true (John 8:26); O Lord, God of truth (Ps. 31:5); the God of truth (Isa. 65: 16); he who is true (Rev. 3:7); do not your eyes look for truth? (Jer. 5:3); I will be their God in truth and righteousness (Zech. 8:8); the Spirit of truth (John14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13); the Spirit is the truth (1 John 5:7); the only true God (John 17:3); Christ came to maintain the truth of God in fulfilling the promises (Rom. 15:8); to serve a living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9); his anointing is true and is no lie (1 John 2:27); grace, mercy and peace from God, in truth and love (2 John 3); the faithful and true witness (Rev. 3:14); O Lord, holy and true (Rev. 6:10); just and true are your ways (Rev. 16:7); his judgments are true and righteous (Rev.19:2); I am the truth (John 14:6); truth is in Jesus (Eph. 4:21); the Word, full of grace and truth (John 1:14); grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17); we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ (1John 5:20); I am the true vine (John 15:1); the authentic light that enlightens every man (John 1:9); the rider is called Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11). (1)

Having read the above passages our Lord’s statement perhaps takes on more importance of gravitas (to use a little political lingo):

You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:22-24

What an indictment! Jesus declares that these people are worshipping a Being that they did not really know. Undoubtedly these folks thought they were doing a fine job and really being of service to God, when in reality nothing was being accomplished apart from enthusiastic ignorance (and I am sure a “good time” was had by all in those services).

Our Master says quite emphatically about “truth” when He says that hour is coming when “true” worshipers (2) as opposed to the hypocrites and spiritual vagabonds will worship in spirit and truth. What is also interesting in what Jesus says is that the Father is SEEKING such a people, those who will worship Him in a manner that pleases Him (and isn’t that our point after all?). The Greek word for “seek” implies an aggressive purposeful search on the part of the seeker, which excites me because I know when the LORD seeks something or someone, He always finds it.

By the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry Jewish religious life had solidified into two major facets. The Jews had both temple and synagogue worship. The temple was the place God ordained to meet with His people, where they were to offer various sacrificial offerings, etc. All the people of the nation were commanded to come to the temple at specific times depending on the events in the Jewish liturgical calendar. The synagogues on the other hand were local places found within the villages and towns. The temple, its worship services, ministers, vestments, etc. were ordained by God, the synagogues were never established by God but were the Israelites response to the man-made legalism which developed. In Jesus’ lifetime worship had denigrated from God’s pattern into a humanistic system of works to such a degree that there was a synagogue in Harrods’s temple. Even though the presence of a synagogue was not in God’s original temple planning, it was the place where many of the people came to hear the Word of God proclaimed by various rabbis of that day:

Readers of the New Testament know what precious opportunities it offered for making known the Gospel. Its services were, indeed, singularly elastic. For the main object of the synagogue was the teaching of the people. The very idea of its institution, before and at the time of Ezra, explains and conveys this, and it is confirmed by the testimony of Josephus (Ag. Apion, ii, 157-172). But perhaps the ordinary reader of the New Testament may have failed to notice, how prominently this element in the synagogue is brought out in the gospel history. Yet the word “teaching” is used so frequently in connection with our Lord’s appearance in the synagogue, that its lesson is obvious (see Matt 4:23; Mk 1:21, 6:2; Lk 4:15, 6:6, 13:10; Jhn 6:59, 18:20). The “teaching” part of the service consisted mainly in reading a section from the law, with which the reading of a portion from the prophets, and a sermon, or address, were conjoined. Of course, the liturgical element could in such services never have been quite wanting, and it soon acquired considerable importance. It consisted of prayer and the pronouncing of the Aaronic blessing (Num 6:24-26) by priests—that is, of course, not by Rabbis, who were merely teachers of course, not Rabbis, who were merely teachers or doctors, but by lineal descendants of the house of Aaron.

There was no service of “praise” in the synagogues. (3)

Whether the synagogue was located in the temple precincts itself or in a small village the same worship format or liturgy was followed. The Jews were a “confessional” people in that they publically confessed their creedal beliefs and tried to live by them. The most famous prayer which Israel prays to this day is the “Shema”

Public worship * commenced on ordinary occasions with the so-called “Shema,” which was preceded in the morning and evening by two “benedictions,” and succeeded in the morning by one, and in the evening by two, benedictions; the second being, strictly speaking, an evening prayer. The “Shema” was a kind of “belief,” or “creed,” composed of these three passages of Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41. It obtained its name from the initial word “shema”: Hear, O Israel,” in Deuteronomy 6:4. From the Mishnah (Ber. 1:3) we learn, that this part of the service existed already before the time of our Lord: and we are told (Ber. Iii. 3) that all males were bound to repeat this belief twice every day; children and slaves, as well as women, being exempted from the obligation. There can be no reasonable doubt on the subject, as the Mishnah expressly mentions the three Scriptural sections of the “Shema,” the number of benedictions before and after it, and even the initial words of the closing benediction (Ber. Ii. 2, I. 4; Tamid, v. 1). We have, therefore, here certain prayers which our Lord Himself had not only heard, but in which He must have shared—to what extent will appear in the sequel. These prayers still exist in the synagogue, although with later additions, which, happily, it is not difficult to eliminate. Before transcribing them, it may be quoted as a mark of the value attached to them, that it was lawful to say this and the other daily prayers–to which we shall hereafter refer—and the “grace at meat,” not only in Hebrew, but in any other language, in order to secure a general understanding of the service (Sotah, vii. 1). At the same time, expressions are used which lead us to suppose that, while the liturgical formulae connected with the “Shema” were fixed, there were local variations, in the way of lengthening or shortening (Ber. i. 4) (4)

Even the wording of certain prayers was established prior to the time of Jesus. Temple and synagogues prayers were for the most part “scripted” and not uttered ex-cathedra (originating from the heart). For example the confession of the “Shema” involved passages before and after the text in Deut. 6:4-9. Without getting bogged down in minutiae of the prayers I hope you can see that even in the synagogue worship was not disorganized nor was it “Spirit-led.” (5)   The rabbis prayed aloud, opening and closing the services with biblical prayers that the people responded to with an “amen.” Whereas the synagogue liturgy was not as formalized as the temple worship it nonetheless existed and was well known and accepted by all the Jewish people.

The disciples of Jesus grew up in a liturgical format of worship and knew nothing else, because what they had was revealed to them by God (albeit marred by a few generations of sin). So it comes as no surprise that we see Jesus and His disciples continually in either the synagogues (see Mark 3:11; 6:2) or the Temple (see Mark 13:1; John 8:1).

After our Lord was resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven what do we see? We find the disciples worshipping God in the temple by attending one of the Jewish liturgical hours for prayer, “Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.” (Acts 3:1) The Apostle Paul’s practice was to visit the local synagogue first, for example; “And it came to pass in Iconium that they entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks believed.” (Acts 14:1)

The Christians, who were seen initially by the Romans as merely a sect of the Jews and as such were left alone. (6) The early Church worshipped in the temple and also met together in their homes to hear the Apostles:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and shared all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with al the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. Acts 2:42-27 (7)

The early Christian Church came into being as a liturgical

Naturally, worship has now taken on an entirely new meaning for these fledgling Christians (at this point the word had not even been coined) whereas before they had been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, now He has come and His flock await His return. The liturgy did not change, but the true underlying meaning behind the liturgy was now fully understood and thus it became more meaningful in the lives of the disciples.

Church because Jews worshipped liturgically. The New Testament records numerous instances of liturgical worship, which range from pure Jewish practices (such as Peter and John going to the Temple because it was the hour of prayer) to Christian liturgical worship (which confirms that the early Christians met and worshipped following Jewish liturgical practices, and added to them the rite of the Eucharist). (9)

The early disciples saw all the feasts and sacrifices fulfilled in Christ and could now fully celebrate these events in His light. Christ now is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) and He Himself established the liturgy for the Divine Service during the last supper (see Matt. 14) which now became the focus of worship.

Historically there is not a large amount of documentation we can refer to regarding the earliest Church practices due to persecution and much of the Church was underground until Constantine the Great. From what we do have recorded in the Book and a few other places the following statement is surely accurate:

Some elements of Jewish spirituality were undoubtedly part of the early Christian worship, such as the use of readings from Hebrew Scriptures and even the use of Hebrew words such as amen and alleluia. New Testament accounts in Luke 4:16-30 and Acts 13:15-16 indicate early Christians were familiar with Sabbath synagogue gatherings involving proclamation of Scripture and preaching. The Christian word service may also be connected with Jewish use of hymn singing and religious discourse associated with meals…Because of the sporadic persecutions, the Church was forced to gather in private homes for liturgical celebrations. Some of the churches in the city of Rome today still bear the names of the owners of the homes where the first Christians met, such as Clement. We also know that the language of worship used in Rome was Greek, since it was the common language used throughout the Roman empire at that time. Like churches in other parts of the world, the Roman Church used the Jewish Calendar to determine the date of the feast of Easter and the following 50-day period of celebration leading up to Pentecost. One point of distinction of the Roman Church is that it always began the Easter celebrations on the Sunday closest to 14 Nisan, unlike some other churches who celebrated Easter on this date, no matter what day of the week it occurred. (10)

Next time we will consider how the early Church worshipped and how that applies to our life of worship today. ¨ 

Copyright © 2010 Robert S. Liichow

End Notes

1. Logos international software, New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, 2010.

2. 1. LN 70.3 real, not imaginary (Jn 17:3); 2. LN 72.1 true, being in accordance with fact (Jn 19:35); 3, LN 73.2 genuine, sincere, true (Heb 10:22+; 1 Pe 1:22 v.r.), Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek New Testament.

3. Obtained from NavPress Bible Software, Quick Verse 2010, Sketches of Jewish Social Life Electronic Edition STEP files Copyright © 2001, Findex.com All rights reserved.

4. Ibid. Underlining and bold type added for emphasis.

5. In saying this I refer to today’s belief that “Spirit-led” means no planning just the unexpected thus unplanned for visitation of God.

6. Obviously this relationship changed once Christianity developed enough to be seen as it was, a “new” religion, one that captivated the allegiance of its followers from the human emperor to that of Jesus Christ and as such Christianity was seen as a danger to the state and persecuted until the coming of Constantine in approx. 312 A.D.

7. The Holy Bible: King James Version, 2009 (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version.) (Ac 2:42-47), Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. (all Bible unless cited otherwise come from Logos Research Systems.

8. Believers were first called “Christians” in Antioch see Acts 11:26

9. Quote obtained from http://www.liturgica.com/html/litEChLit.jsp on 11-30-10

10. Obtained from http://www.liturgica.com/html/litWLEarly.jsp 12/05/10 bold type added to honor the Scriptures cited.

I have received a few emails making mention of this latest pathetic attempt to keep a money-making revival machine in gear.

As a cat owner and lover I too urge a return to orthodox, Christian worship…Think of the Kittens!

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