When it comes to Christian worship, no shortage of images come to mind. Scenes both somber and vibrant. Sounds that can range from choral melodies to enthusiastic folk rhythms, depending on the stream of Christian tradition. All of these can emerge when the Church gathers together for worship—and that’s just in regards to music, much less other worship practices. For me, all of this brings up a larger question: what exactly is worship?
This is a question that has received a variety of responses. Therefore, it isn’t too surprising to find Andrew McGowan explain in Ancient Christian Worship that worship often means different things to different people in many Christian churches today (2014, p.2). For some, it refers to things like “communal prayer and ritual,” while for others it expresses something more like a deeply personal feeling of belief and inward orientation towards life. For still others, worship basically denotes a kind of Christian music (p.2). Continue reading
First, a slightly provocative—and hopefully not completely unsubstantiated—claim: It seems to me that Andrew McGowan’s Ancient Christian Worship explicitly tells a story and implicitly makes an argument. In each of his colorful and well-written chapters, McGowan takes people on a trek through the different ways in which ancient Christians worshiped. He introduces readers to influential theologians like Augustine, Origen, and John Chrysostom, sharing ample examples from their writings on worship. McGowan also incorporates archeological research and makes use of fascinating early Christian documents like the Didache and the Apostolic Tradition, which give glimpses of how these ancient communities lived out (or sought to live out) their worship practices.
In other words, McGowan intentionally brings together multiple streams of academic research on early Christian worship in order to tell a coherent introductory narrative of how these worship practices originated and developed, while avoiding the tempting pitfalls of over-simplification and excessive generalization. He’s realistic about what is known, unknown, and unfortunately lost to history regarding how these early believers lived. Continue reading