Church Services – For believers or unbelievers – Part 2?

Continuing on from the last blog we turn now to the New Testament and the Orthodox Study Bible has more surprises. In the article “Liturgy in the New Testament Church” it states:

“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” (Hebrews 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 [Greek. leitourgos, lit., “liturgist”] of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected (Hebrews 8:2). Christian worship on earth, to be fully Christian, must mirror the worship of Christ in heaven.”

These terms are not used without thought about what they are intended to relate to. Words have meanings and the words ‘priest’ and ‘liturgist’ clearly refer to liturgical functions. Why use them unless they mirrrored what was happening in worship here on earth and there was a continuity of understanding in the New Testament which was reflected in existing practice?

The article continues:

“Moreover, Christ is “Mediator of a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6). What is that covenant? In the words of the Lord, “This cup of the new covenant in My blood” (1 Corinthians 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 (Hebrews 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.”

New Covenant does not mean that the Old is old and obsolete in terms of its liturgical practice because at the heart of both is sacrifice. In the Old Testament – bulls, goats etc – in the New – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The article then deals with other texts which, given the Hebrews texts take on new meaning. Here are a few:

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.” (A shock to Pentecostals perhaps).
2. Acts 20:2: “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 the 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 on 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.

The point being made then is that the worship of the New Testament church was unashamedly liturgical, and complete with a priesthood (re-named presbyterate)  and overseen by Bishops and accompanied by deacons. But the question is, who was it all aimed at? For the answer to this see the next blog.

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