Evangelism and Worship in the Bible: A Survey

Featuring Daniel Collison Posted on October 13, 2008

Evangelism and Worship in the Bible: A Survey

The biblical story of worship includes a subplot that draws attention to the relationship between outsiders and the corporate worship experience. The Old Testament refers to outsiders or non-Hebrews as ‘strangers’. The call of Abraham in Genesis twelve includes God’s will for all people of the earth to worship him. Genesis 12:2-3 states "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." This passage and the affirmation of this passage by the Apostle Peter in Acts 3:25-26 leads one to conclude that it is God’s desire that everyone on the earth is drawn into a worshipping relationship with him.

The worship of God was never intended to be an exclusive activity for any one culture or people group. The Israelites continually struggled with this notion. Yet, it is interesting to note that as early as the time of Abraham the Israelites were aware of their own heritage of being that of strangers without rights in a foreign land (Genesis 23:4). However, after the settlement of Israel in Canaan the term ‘stranger’ acquired a more specialized meaning because Israel had become established. Harper’s Bible Dictionary details the Old Testament history of ‘strangers’ in the following way:

No doubt because the Israelites were keenly aware of their own heritage as strangers without rights in a foreign land, they developed specific laws governing the treatment of strangers (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Deut. 10:19). Since the temporary guest was protected by the rather strict conventions of Near Eastern hospitality (e.g., Gen. 18:1-8; cf. Heb. 13:2), the laws more directly affected the resident alien who had no inherited political rights. Strangers were to be treated with kindness and generosity (Lev. 19:10, 33-34; 23:22; Deut. 14:29). They were included in the Israelite legal system (Lev. 24:16, 22; Num. 35:15; Deut. 1:16) and were subject to most of the religious requirements, such as the laws of ritual cleanliness (Lev. 17:8-13; but cf. Deut. 14:21) and the keeping of the Sabbath and fast days (Exod. 20:8-10; Lev. 16:29). They could celebrate Passover if they were circumcised (Exod. 12:48-49) and could offer sacrifices (Num. 15:14-16, 29). Ezekiel even envisioned a time when they would be granted an inheritance in the land as a sign of full citizenship (Ezek. 47:22-23).
Author M. Daniel Caroll refers to the Old Testament concept of “stranger” as “sojourner”. He also describes how outsiders were assimilated into the religious patterns of the Hebrews:

Expectations and responsibilities were placed on sojourners as well. They were to be present at the periodic reading of the law (Deut. 31:10-13). This makes sense. It would be in listening to the law that sojourners could learn more about what it meant to be a member of that society. Listening together with the rest of the people at the Feast of Tabernacles would be a public demonstration of their solidarity with Israel and, in turn, Israel’s acceptance of them.
- M. Daniel Caroll, Christians at the Border

It was expected that outsiders choosing to live with the Jews would conform to the Jewish way of life with the exception of some dietary laws as described in Deuteronomy 14:21. The temple period initiated with the reign of King Solomon also understood provisions for strangers. As a part of Solomon’s dedication of the temple he prayed:

As for the foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel but have come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigners ask of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. (1 Kings 8:41-43)

Concern for outsiders continued into the exilic period. Zechariah served as a priest and prophet during the rebuilding phase of Jerusalem 520-480 BC. He made a bold prophecy describing the appeal of God’s people as thy gather to worship him:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, 'Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.' And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him. This is what the Lord Almighty says: "In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, 'Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you. (Zechariah 8:20-23)
In agreement with Zechariah the prophet Isaiah spoke for the Lord saying “My house will be called a house of prayer fore all nations” (Isaiah 56:7b). 

The New Testament Church continued the Old Testament usage of ‘foreigner’ (Luke 17:18; Acts 26:11). However, as alignment to Jewish nationality became less of a guide to religious affiliation, terms such as “foreigner’, ‘sojourner’, or ‘stranger’ developed a new theological identity. For instance, in Ephesians 2:19-20 the Apostle Paul wrote:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

The early Christian community, which began as a Jewish movement, was profoundly affected by the success of the Gentile missionary journeys by the apostle Paul and others. The Harper Bible Dictionary describes the expansion by stating:

The Jerusalem conference of about the year A.D. 49 determined that Gentile converts to Christianity did not have to become Jewish proselytes (Gal. 2:1-10; Acts 15:1-35), thus opening membership in the Christian community to those who might otherwise have remained ‘God-fearers.’ Paul fought efforts to distinguish between Jew and Gentile in the Christian community (Rom. 3:29-30; Gal. 2:11-21; 3:26-29). He was opposed by the Judaizers or ‘circumcision party’ (Gal. 2:12), Christians who insisted that Gentile converts become Jewish proselytes. Paul’s practice furthered the success of Christianity within the empire and led to its emergence as a distinct religion by the end of the first century.

The New Testament Church, more than any other time in biblical history, was a dynamic model of how worship, mission, and evangelism integrate. At the time of Jesus’ ascension there were about one hundred and twenty Christians in the church. (Acts 1:15) On the day of Pentecost about three thousand new Christians were added to the church in what appeared to be a fairly chaotic scene of preaching, conversions, and supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Integration of new believers into the faith community was understood as a daily occurrence (Acts 2:47) because the mission of Jesus Christ was unfettered by entrenched traditions, institutions and hierarchies.

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