Let us devote our attention then to public worship. In the study of public worship, the Bible is the best text-book. The teachings there are usually indirect, and the method is that of example rather than instruction. The Scriptures are filled with examples of how to sing and to pray to God. The Scriptures are part of every liturgy, and the inspiration for the hymns. One could say that in Christian worship, what is not Biblical should not be there.
A study of the Old Testament would show that worship is the oldest element and the most persistent element in our religion. Man ever cries out to God and established ways of worship are his answer to this cry. Without making a grand study of worship in the Old Testament we can divide it into three divisions.
The first of these divisions i the first five books, or the historical division. At first, in Genesis, worship is about the individual and the family. There is almost nothing about public worship. In Exodus and Leviticus, there is a great deal about public worship, as if the Scriptures are trying to show a child like people only recently freed from idolatrous owners how they should worship the true God. There are five characteristics o the public worship taught in this section of the Bible. The first is that almost everything is closely prescribed. An interesting point to observe here is that among all the requirements, only one prescribed prayer. Everywhere in the Hebrew scriptures there is much emphasis on prayer, but no prescribed prayers except this one benediction. The second characteristic is that Hebrew worship was above all sacrificial and all but one were blood sacrifices. Here is the background for many of the Roman Catholic ideas about mass. The third characteristic is the prominence of the priest. The Hebrew idea of the priest is essentially the same as the Roman Catholic. The fourth is the prominence of the place of worship. The worship centered around the Temple, and again we have a close analogy between Hebrew and Catholic ideas. The last characteristic was the prominence of the year, for there were five chief events of the year.
The second division of the Old Testament brings us to the book of Psalms. The Psalms, of course, were the hymns of the Hebrews, just as many of them are set to music and used as hymns today. However, the Hebrew idea of music in worship is similar to the idea of many churches today. There was a music leader, choral singing, sometimes musical instruments, choirs, so that the Hebrews were a singing people.
The third division of the Old Testament consists of the books of the Prophets. At first glance, it would seem that the books of the prophets contain very little about public worship. The preachings of the prophets would seem to follow those churches of today which have no set forms. Isaiah spent much of his time and energy in the vain attempt to reform the ways of public worship in Jerusalem. Jeremiah and other prophets tried in vain to prevent the disintegration of the grand old Hebrew ideals of public worship. While the Hebrews did not live up to their lofty ideals any more than we live up to ours, these ideals are of concern to us because many of them carry over into the Christian church. According to these ideals the two dominant notes in public worship are 1. the forgiveness of sins, and 2. joy in the Lord, and they always come in that order.