The community of faith is a place of worship. In worship, unity and healing recur as the church remembers that the community was born of a divine act of deliverance. As the church experiences community, it is renewed by that same gracious act.
In the exodus event, God created a people and brought them into a covenant relationship. The covenant specified that Israelite worshipers display loyalty and faithfulness both to Yahweh, the King of the covenant, and to their fellow Israelites covenanted to that same King. In a corresponding way, God has created a people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; these people are bound together with him and with one another in a new covenant community. Jesus’ commandment for this community, or church, is that they love him with their entire being, and their covenant brothers as themselves. It is out of this relationship with God and one’s fellow believers that worship arises. Biblical worship is intended as a corporate expression of the covenant relationship.
Whereas in the psalms of petition the focus is often on the worshiper and his needs, in the psalms of celebration the emphasis is on the dominion and authority of the Great King, the grantor and guarantor of the covenant.
The covenant between the Lord and his people, represented especially by the Davidic king, is the governing theological concept in psalmic worship. The covenant is the basis for the worshiper’s appeal to the Lord, and covenant terminology supplies themes and motifs that are prominent especially in the psalms of petition.
By far the most important of the fine arts in Israel and the early church was the field of literature. The Bible itself is the result of the sensitivity of literary artists to the Spirit of God. Each of the many forms of biblical literature contributes to our understanding of the philosophy of the worship arts.
As the framework of God’s relationship with his people, the biblical covenant finds expression in the worship arts. Worship celebrates the distinctive themes of the covenant: the kingship of the Lord; his leadership and protection in warfare; his covenant promises and the story of his great deeds of deliverance; his laws and precepts, in the observance of which the worshiper maintains his place in the covenant; and his judgments against violation of the relationship, as expressed in prophetic psalm or song uttered during the assemblies of the people.
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.
Central to biblical worship is the covenant or agreement between God and the people of God. The covenant regulates worship and provides much of its structure, rationale, and vocabulary.
The concept of the “name” is an important one in biblical worship. In fact, a synonym for “worship” in the Scriptures is the expression “call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 26:25; Pss. 80:18; 99:6; 105:1; 116:13, 17). Often we hear the summons to praise, bless, or exalt his name (Pss. 34:3; 96:2; 100:4; 135:3; 148:13; 149:3) or to ascribe glory to his name (Pss. 29:2; 66:2; 96:8; 115:1). The worshiper may speak of lifting his or her hands to the name of the Lord (Ps. 63:4) in the universal ancient gesture of homage.
It is significant that the New Testament authors apply words and images from Israelite worship to Jesus Christ. In so doing, they show how the church sought to interpret Jesus, whom it recognized to be the Christ.