Cornerstone: a Church that lives the Gospel. What does that mean for our worship?

WORSHIP: A very brief biblical overview


Worship in the Old Testament

Ì Worship before the Tabernacle/Temple

  • Not priest
  • They made sacrifices
  • They built altars
  • They also prayed, circumcised and tithed [giving].


Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not limited by time, location or method.

The key word was flexibility. They were not restricted by rules about special places, people, rituals and days.


Ì Worship in the Tabernacle/Temple

Worship became much more formal, specific and structured. God designated certain things for certain uses in worship. Under the Mosaic Law there were:

Holy places – holy people  – holy animals – holy rituals – holy times. [Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy]


Psalm 150 points out a variety of worship methods: “Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Homogenous worship: one ethnic group, one culture, one history one tradition.

There were also contradictions and external influences from other religions and cultures

Ì Synagogue

After the Temple was destroyed and Jews were scattered throughout the Middle East, a new format for worship was developed in the Synagogue. In the Synagogue the focus was on Scripture, not on sacrifices and it was a much simpler format.

  • Synagogue services typically began with praises and prayers.
  • There were standard prayers and benedictions, some of them used every week.
  • The Scriptures would be read, translated when necessary, and explained in some sort of sermon [e.g. Nehemiah 8]


Even though the Temple was eventually rebuilt, the public reading of Scripture in synagogues continued to be an important part of Jewish worship. Most Jews could not go to the temple every week. But with a synagogue, they could gather for worship every Sabbath, with prayers, songs, and Scripture.

Laymen had a greater role in worship – they could do every portion of the synagogue service. People could worship without a temple, without priests, and without sacrifices.

Worship in the New Testament

Ì Worship and Jesus

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” —John 4:23-24 (NIV)

“Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  But the temple he had spoken of was his body”. —John 2:19-21(NIV)

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” I Corinthians 3:16

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit…”1 Corinthians 6:19

“And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? —Mark 11:17 (NIV)


Ì Pentecost / Worship in the Book of Acts

“When the day of Pentecost came… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” —Acts 2: 1a and 4


  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
  • All the believers were together and had everything in common.
  • They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
  • They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.


Ì Worship in the early church

Paul’s letters to the different churches give us an insight about all the good and bad things that were happening with the worshiping in the early communities. The cultural differences between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles created many frictions and division. The high point of this [cultural/religious] conflict was the fallout between Peter [keep the culture of Jewish tradition] and Paul [Embrace the diversity of other cultures]

Acts 15 and 21; Galatians 2.


As you can see worship and diverse cultural diversity is not a new debate among the people of God.



  • Worship is God’s people intentional response [openness, thanksgiving and surrender] to God’s presence and being.
  • Worship is relational and holistic [body, mind and soul].
  • Worship can be personal and corporative [public].
  • Worship is expressed by the congregation’s own cultural terms through words [liturgy/prayers] gestures/movements, silence, music and others.


If Christ the Cornerstone is worshiping community from ‘all the corners of the earth’

Let’simagine how worship will look, feel and  sound in our community



The place of music in worship

  • Music in the Old Testament
  • No recorded music or musical notation to know how this might have sounded.
  • Evidence form Hebrew Scriptures and archaeology
  • Instruments: many of them, mainly played by the priests and Levites, wind instruments, lyres, cymbals, drums, flutes, bells and the Shophar – goat or ram’s horn. blown on special occasions. After the destruction of Herod’s temple AD 70, limited to when Sanhedrin was meeting. Use increased as playing of other instruments was banned after the destruction of the Temple.
  • 1 Chronicles describes music when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to king Solomon’s temple.
  • Levite musicians reorganised by King Hezekiah ( 2 Kings 18:4-5)- sung liturgy
  • Following the Exile, the Second temple was built and temple worship recommenced. The lists of returning Jews in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah include huge choirs of singers and grand orchestras. ( Ezra 2:41,65; Nehemiah 7:44,67; 12:27-43)
  • Singing
  • Choir of the Jewish Temple – a minimum of 12 male singers aged between 30 and 50 with some Levite boys. Singers had 5 year training before being admitted to the choir.
  • Musical performance by Levites
  • Some Call and Response singing with congregation- particularly with the Psalms.
  • Psalms sung with particular musical instructions


  • Music in the New Testament
  • Fewer instruments
  • music prohibited in synagogue worship after the destruction of the temple
  • chanting became more widespread- solo singer
  • Singing in Christian church became more widespread- songs of joy and praise – psalms and hymns (Acts 2:1-13; 3:8; 5:41-42) Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16:24-25)
  • For first 3 centuries church unrecognised and persecuted – believers met in secret- so not much elaborate music making.
  • Early church influences from Jewish but also other worship traditions- particularly Greek
  • Ancient Greek and Jewish music- no harmonies, but improvisation.
  • Mainly Psalms sung but also introduction of sung ‘faith statements’ eg Magnificat, Benedictus.

and liturgical texts which have subsequently been turned into the hymns that we recognise

By 2nd century- distinctively Christian hymns.  Worship in Corinth (1 Cor.14:26), Colossae and Ephesus (Col.3:16, Eph. 5:19-20) ‘Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.’ Spontaneous praise evolving into more formalised worship.

  • Instruments mentioned in N.T. but probably not used in Christian worship.



Music in worship in the history of the Church

  • 3rd Century hymn to Trinity earliest fragment of Christian Church music discovered.
  • 4th Century – recognition of Church by the Roman Empire- worship, including music became public.
  • More influences from surrounding cultures and increasing controversy about what was and was not appropriate in worship. Psalms still had central place. Too much melody criticised.
  • Hymns and songs used in 4th Century to promote doctrinal positions
  • Greek tradition of congregational singing introduced in late 4th Early hymn writers influenced liturgical development in the Western church.
  • Late 4th century- church choirs became more common. Most singing unaccompanied. Often only accepted by those specially trained
  • AD 395, split in Roman Empire and split in the church. Musical traditions developed separately.
  • Medieval Western church –still mainly chanting; still mainly by specialists or in monasteries. Chants began to be elaborated – but still mainly psalms and liturgical music based on the development of the Mass.
  • 11th century- harmony began to be developed. Opposed by some Popes and Bishops as entertainment, not worship. Music became more and more creative.
  • Renaissance in Europe- more development in church music. More instruments introduced.
  • Organ music becoming more popular despite church edicts against it
  • 16th Century – increasing number of composers writing religious works- William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Taverner)
  • Lutheran Reformation- folk tunes and semi religious songs. Congregations encouraged t be more involved. Increasing number of hymns written for congregational singing.  Again this was controversial.
  • Anglican tradition – 16th, 17th Choral music and anthems- again mainly psalms or liturgical anthems.  After Civil war all music except metrical psalms banned. Revived with Restoration in 1660.
  • 18th Century Development on hymn writing and congregational singing.  Explosion of hymn writing in 18th and 19th  Popular folk tunes used, particularly with Salvation Army influence.  Many of the most influential European composers of the 18th and 19th Century introduced a great deal of religious music.
  • Church of England did not officially approve hymn singing in worship until 1820.
  • Latin America- development of Cathedral music following Spanish and Portuguese involvement. meeting together of cultures to produce a new kind of music reflecting both European and indigenous elements.
  • Influence of American Gospel tradition from 19th Century
  • Christian music in Africa- in North Africa from very early on- but in many countries- Western patterns introduced with missionary movement has gradually come together with the more traditional forms of music. Independent churches in many countries now using indigenous instruments and forms to create a new music, with influences from across the world.
  • New hymns and praise songs- a further explosion of new songs through late 20th and 21st century- many biblical and using contemporary musical expression.
  • Music in Christian worship has always adapted and brought together traditional and contemporary forms. There has always been controversy about whether choirs and worship bands are truly leading worship, or performing.  The question of what is done by ‘specialists’ ( Priests, musicians) and what is done by everyone is an ongoing one.  The history of the church shows that worship is enriched when different cultural influences come together.



Conversation about Music. – The Question

  • Cornerstone is a church in Central Milton Keynes with a vision to live the Gospel; to be a place and a people where God’s love and justice is known and made known.
  • We come from many cultures; many church traditions and none. We span different ages and lifestyles.
  • Our mission is to recognise and release the God given potential in individuals and communities.
  • In all our conversations about our mission, worship has been seen as a priority.

So the question is:

Bearing in mind all that we know about the development of music in worship though the Bible and the history of the church:

  • How does our use of music, of all kinds, in worship, reflect and support our mission?
  • Can we imagine ways in which we could develop this further?


Please pray, think, discuss this- both in the opportunities during the services on Sunday 22nd November and at other times.  We would like your responses to these questions, in email or written form.  Everyone is included in the conversation.  Everyone’s responses matter. 


On Sunday 29th Novemember,  Advent Sunday, we shall be looking at other aspects of our worship together.