One cannot consider the issue of corporate worship without first considering the question of why people worship at all. It would seem, in the words of Marva Dawn’s book, to be A Royal Waste of Time. Yet, the general existence of worship rituals in all known cultures testifies to the importance of worship to Mankind. Evelyn Underhill states that worship, in its simplest form, is “an acknowledgment of Transcendence; that is to say, of a Reality independent of the worshipper, which is always more or less deeply coloured by mystery, and which is there first.” The acknowledgement of this mysterious and independent reality has revealed itself in countless customs and rituals. Ronald Byars suggests that this natural craving for ritual is actually instinctive in humans.
No examination of a culture is complete apart from a study of that culture’s ritual patterns and ceremonies. Since Man is both spirit and flesh, there seems to be an innate drive to enflesh worship through the use of signs, symbols and ceremonies. The employment of these elements has by nature a social quality, thereby creating ritual, which Underhill defines as “an agreed pattern of ceremonial movement, sound or verbal formula, creating a framework in which corporate religious action can take place.”
Hebrew ritual, in particular, is well documented, with the lyrics to their music still preserved , giving a living glimpse into some of the various motivations and methods of their worship. In the Psalms we see processionals, liturgical responses, songs and prayers. The rituals of a particular people seem to reveal what they believe about their gods, and what their responsibilities are in light of that belief. Because Christianity is the fulfillment of the Jewish anticipation of a Messiah, Hebrew worship provides a natural foundation for the consideration of the essentials of Christian worship. As background for this study, I will briefly review four motivations for Jewish worship: covenant obligation; appropriate response; obedience to the command to praise; and, finally, the purpose of human existence.