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From the early centuries, Christian worship has seen a continuous process of development and change in response to theological and cultural factors. Although the basic elements—the service of the Word and of the Lord’s Table—have remained constant, their shape and setting have undergone modification from century to century, from region to region, and from Christian community to community within both the Eastern and Western branches of the church. The result of this process is the great variety of liturgical forms through which Christians worship the Lord across the world today. These entries begin with a survey of the evidence for Christian worship in the earliest centuries. This is followed by a description of the liturgical traditions of the Eastern churches and a discussion of the various regional rites of the Western (Catholic) church that culminated with the establishment of liturgy uniformity at the Council of Trent. Discussion of the worship in movements of the Protestant Reformation is followed by a survey of worship in the major movements and denominations that developed in the post-Reformation era. The section concludes by considering the impact of twentieth-century renewal movements on Christian liturgy. Our sources for the study of Christian worship in the early post-biblical period are not liturgical texts, such as missals or prayer books, or systematic treatments by theologians of the era. Instead, these sources usually make incidental references to Christian liturgy in writings devoted to other purposes, such as the defense of the Christian faith against pagan opposition, the refutation of false teachings within the Christian community, and the instruction of the faithful in scriptural exposition and sermons. It would be a mistake, however, to infer from the nature of our sources that the church’s liturgical practices during this period were informal, undeveloped, and without consistency. Even the documents of the New Testament reveal a worshiping community that practiced baptism and eucharistic celebration, and mention of these practices occur in the writings of the fathers of the church through the following centuries. The existence of the worshiping community is an underlying datum in this patristic literature, the ongoing evidence of the creation of a new covenant people through the death and resurrection of Christ, and the continued operation of the Holy Spirit to establish the Kingdom of God.

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