Summary: A description of New Testament Worship in the 1st Century Church



Two weeks ago we looked at the nature of worship in the early church. We saw from John 4:23-24 that their worship was in spirit and truth and from I Corinthians 14:40 that it was to be done decently and in order.

Today we will examine the acts of worship that the early church engaged in their worship with some observations about their spiritual nature in contrast with Old Testament worship.

I. Activities in the Worship of the Church

A. Singing

1. One of the distinctions of New Testament worship is the congregational acapella singing. This is in contrast with OT music in which mechanical instruments were used to accompany praise to God. There is no mention in the NT of instruments being used in worship.

2. There are two verses that refer to singing: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16

3. “...the first Christians were of too spiritual a fiber to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice.”—Catholic Encyclopedia

“Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from Judaism. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to Him.”—John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 539.

B. Prayer

1. Prayer is the avenue by which we communicate with God. As a congregation of the church, we pray together for common petitions of God.

2. Prayers were offered in the assemblies of the early church as indicated in I Corinthians 14:15-17 and Acts 12:5, 12.

C. The Lord’s Supper

1. The early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week. I Corinthians 11:23-29

2. Instituted by Christ himself in Luke 22:14-20.

3. It is a memorial feast. The emblems represent Christ’s body and his blood in the sacrifice for our sins upon the cross.

4. There is a connection between the Passover feast and the Lord’s Supper. We are saved by the blood of the lamb.

D. Giving

1. The early church gave of their means to help those in need and to support the work of the apostles. Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32-35, Acts 11:27-30

2. A weekly collection was established for convenience: 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

3. Principles of Giving

a. “as he may prosper” 1 Corinthians 16:2

b. whatever is given with a willing mind 2 Corinthians 8:12

c. According to what one has 2 Corinthians 8:12-13

d. As he purposes (plans) in his heart 2 Corinthians 9:7

e. Whatever one can give cheerfully, not grudgingly or out of necessity 2 Corinthians 9:7

f. Keeping in mind the principle of sowing and reaping 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

4. Tithing vs. Giving. The OT law required tithing. This was 10% of not only income, but also crops, produce, clothing, property value, etc. NT law requires that we purpose in our heart what to give and to give cheerfully and willingly. It inspires us to go beyond the letter of the law and to give out of our love for God and our fellow man.

E. Preaching and Teaching

1. The early church listened to the word of God. Acts 2:42 tells us they continued in the apostles’ doctrine. 1 Corinthians 14:27 and 1 Thess. 2: 13.

2. The epistles or letters from the apostles were read in the assemblies and circulated among the various congregations.

II. Contrasting other elements of Worship

A The OT required: a physical tabernacle or temple, a separate priesthood, special garments, burning of incense, and elaborate ceremonies and special feast days.

B. The NT says the temple is the people of God 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Ephesians 2:20-22; ALL Christians are priests 1 Peter 2:5, 9; that we adorn ourselves with Christ Galatians 3:27, Colossians 3:5-14; that our prayers are as incense Revelation 5:8; an dthat observance of feast days was a cause of concern Galatians 4:10-11, Colossians 2:16-17


The worship of the early church was simple and it was spiritual, especially in contrast with the worship of the old covenant. It is designed to encourage the worship of God with the inner man, not to make an impression on the outer man. (Worship is also for our enjoyment, but the primary focus should be on pleasing God).

Sadly, many think we must change the way we worship in order to be more “spiritual”. I suggest to you that we will be more spiritual in our worship if we remain true to the pattern of worship set forth by Christ through the apostles in the New Testament.