During the period of the tabernacle of David, regular psalmic worship was offered at the tent on Zion that housed the ark of the covenant. (The Mosaic sanctuary with its sacrifices remained at Gibeon.) There are no biblical rubrics for this worship, as there are for the sacrificial cult. The structure of the Zion festivals and the worshiper’s acts must be inferred from the relevant Psalms and historical accounts, such as 1 Chronicles 16. These materials reflect a festival celebrating the Lord’s ascension as King and the renewal of the covenant.
During the Davidic era the tabernacle of Moses and its worship were moved to Gibeon. In addition, David set up a worship center in Zion—a tent of meeting, also known as David’s tabernacle—and instituted a non-sacrificial worship of praise and thanksgiving.
The legislation in the Pentateuch assigned numerous duties to the Hebrew priests and Levites. Chief among them were maintaining and transporting the tabernacle (Num. 3–4) and performing the rituals and liturgies associated with Israelite worship in the sanctuary (Exod. 28–29). It is likely that some of these duties were determined by lot and discharged on a rotating basis (cf. 1 Chron. 23–24).
The central theme of the Mosaic tabernacle is the dwelling of God in the midst of Israel. The actualization of God’s dwelling is expressed in every aspect of the tabernacle, including its structure, materials, courts, sanctuaries, and furnishings including the altars, the lampstand, and the ark of the covenant.
Though the elements of Christian worship are the same as those in the Old Testament, there are two new factors at the very heart of the New Testament that bring about a decisive reorientation. First, Christian worship is through God the Son; second, it is worship in the Holy Spirit.
Though the New Testament does not give any detailed information on the structure of the first Christian services, it leaves little room for doubt concerning the basic elements of primitive worship: prayer, praise, confession of sin, confession of faith, Scripture reading and preaching, the Lord’s Supper, and the collection. Early descriptions of Christian worship, such as that in Justin’s Apology, reveal a close similarity to the practice of the synagogue. Even without the synagogue model, however, the fundamental elements would surely have found a place, and distinctive Christian features would have their own origin.
The book of Acts and the Epistles reflect continuing involvement of Christians with the institutions of Jewish worship. However, with the Gentile mission and increasing separation from the temple and synagogues, the churches had to develop their own forms of common worship. Even Jewish Christians came under increasing pressure as persistent evangelism aroused the hostility of the ecclesiastical authorities.
The Gospels presuppose the forms of worship native to Palestinian Judaism in the early first century A.D. The Gospels record Jesus’ involvement with both the temple and the synagogue and his example of individual piety.
Prior to the first Christian century, Judaism began to develop traditional interpretations of the Law that would eventually be written down to regulate Jewish life and worship. Judaism was influenced by Greek culture, resulting in the rise of a class of scribes and segments of the Jewish community which was more thoroughly Hellenized. The groupings formed during this period set the stage for the various sectarian movements within Judaism of the early Christian era.
The return of Israel after the Exile brought renewed interest in worship; the temple was rebuilt and sacrifices were reinstated. The synagogue, originated during the Exile, now became the focal point of a non-sacrificial worship.