[Jubilee columns] Unfolding Praise: 3. The History of Praise in Christian Worship: Tracing the Development and Influences



Praise has always been an essential component of Christian worship throughout history. It is a way to express our love, adoration, and gratitude to God. In this column, I will explore how praise in Christian worship has developed throughout history, from early biblical times to contemporary church practices, and how various cultural, theological, and musical influences have shaped the expression of praise in worship.

Tracing the development of praise from early Christian worship

The origins of praise in Christian worship can be traced back to biblical times, where elements of praise were adapted from the Old and New Testaments. Early Christian worship practices often included the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as a way to worship and give thanks to God. These musical compositions laid the foundation for the development of praise in Christian liturgy, reflecting the faith and commitment of the believers.

Psalms are poetic prayers that express various emotions and themes, such as lament, joy, trust, and praise. They were originally sung by the Israelites in their temple worship and later adopted by the early Christians as part of their daily prayers and communal gatherings. Psalms are still widely used in Christian worship today, as they provide a rich source of inspiration and guidance for believers.

Hymns are songs of praise that celebrate God’s attributes, works, and salvation. They were composed by various authors and influenced by both Hebrew and Greek traditions. Some of the earliest hymns were attributed to apostles, such as Paul and John, who incorporated hymnic material into their epistles (Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:6-11; Revelation 4:8-11). Hymns were also written by church fathers, such as Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, who used them to teach doctrine and exhort the faithful.

Spiritual songs are songs that express personal or communal experiences of faith, such as conversion, devotion, or testimony. They were often spontaneous and improvised, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Some examples of spiritual songs are found in the book of Acts, where the believers sang in tongues or praised God for his deliverance. Spiritual songs were also composed by charismatic leaders, such as Montanus and Tertullian, who claimed to have prophetic gifts.

Changes in praise during the Medieval and Protestant periods

As Christianity spread and evolved over the centuries, praise in worship evolved as well. Medieval Christians developed hymns that borrowed from both Hebrew and Greek traditions. Moreover, the Protestant Reformation played a significant role in introducing new ways to express praise in worship. Leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin helped transform the worship landscape through the creation of hymns that communicated the doctrines of salvation and God’s sovereignty.

Luther was a prolific hymn writer who composed about 40 hymns in his lifetime. He used hymns as a tool for catechesis, evangelism, and reformation. He translated some Latin hymns into German, such as “Veni Creator Spiritus” (“Come Creator Spirit”) and “Veni Redemptor Gentium” (“Savior of the Nations Come”). He also wrote original hymns based on psalms or biblical passages, such as “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”) and “Christ lag in Todesbanden” (“Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”). He also encouraged congregational singing and introduced chorales, which are simple tunes that can be sung by everyone.

Calvin was also a reformer who advocated for biblical worship and congregational singing. He preferred to use psalms as the main source of praise in worship, as he believed they were divinely inspired and suitable for all occasions. He commissioned several poets and musicians to produce metrical psalms in French, which were later known as the Genevan Psalter. He also introduced psalm tunes that were easy to learn and remember, some of which are still sung today.

Praise in contemporary church worship

In recent times, the praise and worship movement has revitalized the expression of praise in church worship. Modern praise songs center on the themes of God’s grace, love, and presence, reflecting various cultural, theological, and musical influences.

Contemporary praise music has ushered in new styles, blending traditional hymns with contemporary sounds to create a diverse offering of worship songs across various cultures. These modern praise songs provide a unique way to connect with God and engage the congregation in meaningful worship experiences.

Some examples of contemporary praise songs are:

  • “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman, which is based on Psalm 103 and expresses gratitude for God’s blessings.
  • “This Is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham, which celebrates God’s grace and power in saving us through Christ.
  • “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United, which expresses trust and surrender to God’s will and guidance.
  • “How Great Is Our God” by Chris Tomlin, which magnifies God’s greatness and majesty.
  • “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury, which describes God’s unconditional and relentless love for us


Throughout the history of Christian worship, praise has remained a vital component in expressing love, gratitude, and adoration to God. By understanding the historical development of praise and the cultural, theological, and musical influences that have shaped it, we, as believers, can continue to engage in authentic and transformative worship experiences that honor God and strengthen our faith.