Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Early Church Worship

If you are interested in learning how the earliest Christians worshipped God (and ordered their services), please read this excellent article from the Orthodox Liturgica.com.

(HT: Tim Troutman)

It spells out the development of Christian worship practices from Jewish-synagogue roots, to attending both Jewish and Christian services, and finally to being excluded from Jewish practice, and left exclusively to Christian practice.

I was particularly interested in the dual practice of conducting an "Agape Meal" (or "Fellowship Meal") and Eucharistic celebration. I've read (from Reformed writings that I can't put my thumb on) the theory that the Agape meal was one and the same with communion. This has been used to justify children communing (paedocommunion), and to detract from stronger sacramental sentimentalities in the Lord's Supper.

The way one handles, interprets and applies the lessons of History has consequences.


Joseph said...

Sort of reminds me of the Baptist Mega-church services.

Thos said...

I'm not sure that I follow. The link describes services with a procession of the Bible, a Bishop sitting on his seat, an altar...

Unless you were being sarcastic. In which case I do understand (and feel stupid for not catching it).

Peace in Christ,

Joseph said...

Sorry, I was being sarcastic. I should've refrained from posting it, but I was in a sarcastic mood and was weak.

Forgive me.

Thos said...

Okay, no problem. My sarcast-o-meter was not properly tuned until I started listing the things that were in the link - and then it all finally came in clearly!

Would you agree that all Christian denominations would benefit in their worship (if not also in their doctrine) by trying to incorporate or at least appreciate the worship methods used by the early church?

Peace in Christ,

Joseph said...

I think if all Protestant denominations incorporated some of the Early Church liturgical practices in their worship services they may find themselves drifting back into the Catholic Church (or they may become Orthodox). Why? The summit of the Early Church worship was in the Eucharist (historical fact). They believed the bread and wine were truly the Body and Blood of Our Lord. No Protestant liturgy can provide this no matter how closely it imitates the original Church liturgy (since Apostolic Succession is a requirement of that). Until we are in communion with one another, the Protestant denominations will always lack the most important part of Christian worship as it has been passed down from the Apostles and their successors and given them by the Lord Himself.

So, the answer to your question is:
Yes, I absolutely think that all Protestant denominations would benefit from incorporating the worship methods of the Early Church into their services. I believe (or hope) that it would bring us closer to the unity that Our Lord desires.

Sorry for the jab at the Baptists. I don't know why I couldn't restrain myself.

Canadian said...

I am a liturgy, mystery and sacrament starved Baptist....and jabs are welcome. Maybe that's not fair to say because I would not be the recipient of such jabs but I myself am the giver of them myself to my Baptist brethren. In fact, I'm finding it nearly excruciating being Baptist right now.....we'll see what happens.

Thos, thanks for the link. I will read it later today.

Thos said...

Darrin (Canadian),

I just want to write to encourage you, since I can completely empathize. Be patient, and be intellectually demanding of yourself. In a way, I "checked out" of my praise band worship service (complete with drums). I hunger for liturgy and reverence for the sacraments. Actually, any reverence would do. But I work hard to keep these feelings in their proper place. I would hate to jump ship because I felt revolted by this or that, only to find myself feeling revolted at what lies beyond.

I know you know this, I just wanted to encourage you that Christ Jesus will lead you to the Truth as you seek him persistently and patiently (cf. 1 Thes. 5:17, "pray without ceasing").

Peace in Christ,

Canadian said...

Thanks for the reminder.
Ironically, I took my wife for the first time to Vespers at the local Orthodox mission tonight. The homily was about prayer for the dead and invocation of saints. My wife felt the service was like a funeral or a seance and was really disturbed about prayer to/for the dead. I understand the Orthodox rationale to some extent, as the dead and living in Christ are not entirely separated, but the whole thing seems all too creepy for her and confusing for me. We are in agreement in our frustration with evangelical Christianity as it stands, but it seems like there are some tough things you must swallow in order to accept either of the ancient churches. I feel offended in my church when we have the Lord's supper with our pathetic grape juice as a memorial only; or when a hymn will decry any creed as if it is satanic; or when every person's exegetical opinion is affirmed right along side 6 or 7 other interpretations; or when small groups are more important to many than Sunday service itself; on and on. And this is in a church where the preaching is excellent, the worship is quite conservative, programs are virtually non existant, reformed in soteriology, has one liturgical service a year (Maundy Thursday)--everything I wanted only a couple years ago....yet now I feel like a foreigner. Is this the faith of the Apostles? But is the Orthodox Church the faith of the Apostles? I don't know.
Anyway, your words are encouraging....thank you for taking the time to write them!
I guess I need to just cling to his feet and cry out Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Amen

Joseph said...


I understand your gripe with reverence in the Baptist services. I sincerely regret using the disparity between their services and the liturgy of the Early Church as the butt of a joke. I still have to shake the old "Seinfeld" type of humor that creates jokes at the expense of others. I wish I could say that I didn't mean what I said, but that would be false. I didn't say anything inaccurate, but I did it with a negative and sarcastic tone. Very bad. I apologize.

I am Catholic. It seems by your comments that you are more interested in the Eastern Orthodox Church. I will respect that.

I understand your desire for a reverent liturgy that reflects that of the Early Church.

You don't need any advice from me, for all I know we are on divergent (though not completely) paths. I would warn you not to be overcome with sensibilities. Yes, the liturgy is supposed to give us a sense, as close as possible and one that we can understand, of being in heaven with the Blessed Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, all the Saints, and the Church Militant celebrating Christ's salvific sacrifice. However, to desire only what is appealing to your senses can be dangerous as well. One can be easily tricked trusting in only the desire of their senses.

I think this was what was implied in Thos' response as well (correct me if I'm wrong Thos). We must combine what our senses detect with our mind, heart, and soul. We must also seek the Truth in all things and not be overcome with mere sensuality. If one is coming to the Catholic or Orthodox faith simply to appease their starving senses, they are doing so for the wrong reasons.

Instead, you must pray constantly (like Thos said). I don't mean superficially, either. I mean all of the time. It helps to recite the Jesus Prayer (used in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions) during the day. When you are at home, pray yearnfully for the answers you seek. Don't be afraid to prostrate yourself for long periods of time begging God for guidance and don't be afraid to begin adopting Catholic and Orthodox fasts in combination with your prayer. Fasting, combined with prayer and done for the right reasons with the grace of God, helps to corral your sensual desires. Read only materials that are good for your faith (Sacred Scripture, Fathers, Saints, Papal writings-if you aren't completely opposed to Catholicism). Stop using curse words and (hypocritically on my part) avoid using puns, sarcasm, and sexual references and innuendo in speech (St. John Chrysostom mentions that this the easiest and first thing Christians must do... when you utter evil words you pull yourself down and insert images that tear you away from God into your mind. It is also an occasion of sin because it can lead to the entertaining of sinful thoughts and acts).

I hope that you will eventually consider "Rome", as you call it, as a possibility for your journey's final stop. When inspecting both Churches, you must approach all matters without prejudice. Don't blind yourself by your own personal inclinations. I encourage you to investigate objectively and carefully.


Thos said...


"a hymn will decry any creed as if it is satanic"

There is a common expression from anti-Credal Christians: "no book but the Bible, no Creed but Christ." That statement is a Creed (I've probably made this observation before).

So to decry all creeds is to define any effort at stating truth. It is a battle cry for relativism.

That the vespers you visited stressed prayers for the dead, that it made you uncomfortable, is no accident. Maybe it was good to take you outside your comfort zone. Maybe it was to call you and your wife to explore matters of ecclesiology at the right pace. I've found that my own pace, even when I try to push it, is quite slow indeed. I've been going through culture shock just thinking in terms that question the sola Scriptura status quo. Pray through it all. God will lead you or hold you in truth.

Peace in Christ,