Worship Services in the Early Apostolic Church

Worship in the Early/Apostolic church is an issue that receives much attention today because of the growth of the Emergent Church movement[1]. Unfortunately, much of the attention that is received is either unfairly negative (as a reaction against the Emergent Church) or so unflinchingly positive as to accept the PRACTICE of the early church as AUTHORITATIVE for today. These tendencies are wrong on multiple levels.

  • Practices instituted by mere men should never be regarded as ultimately authoritative/binding for all people for all time.
  • Many of the so-called "practices of the early church" are anachronistic impositions that were not part of the early church's practice at all. Examples:
    • Celtic Crosses
    • Candlelight services
    • Gregorian Chant (or chant of any kind)
  • There were problems/issues in the early church as well as now, and those problems should not be glossed over.
  • We really do not have enough information to base our entire ministry philosophies on the practice of the apostolic church even if we wanted to do so.

Despite these negative applications, the primary purpose of this article is to demonstrate the commonality our modern worship services share with those of the early apostolic church (i.e. before the corruption that later became the Roman Catholic Church began to take root). As we discussed above, human practice should not necessarily be normative in our churches, but it is affirming to see that our current "order of service" (adjusted for cultural and technological differences) is extremely similar to the format employed by the early church.

Justin Martyr's First Apology includes a section entitled "Weekly Worship of the Christians" (which I strongly suggest you read). This document explains the order of service of the church around 130 AD as consisting of public Scripture reading, verbal instruction/exhortation, prayer, the Lord's Supper, and collection of offerings. Notably absent is any mention of music, but other sources (biblical and extrabiblical) indicate that congregational singing was (as commanded by Paul) a regular facet of the weekly worship service then as well. It is unknown why music was not mentioned by Justin Martyr.

This topic serves as an important reminder of several facts about Church History:

  • Church History is a valuable tool that can be instructive in many respects, can affirm practice, and can serve as a guideline for many aspects of our lives and ministries.
  • Church History is not, in and of itself, authoritative.
  • Church History, like other disciplines, requires accuracy in order for it to be instructive and helpful.

 


[1] The Emergent Church often reveres "the golden age" of the church. For an introduction to the Emergent Church, see Al Molher's two-part article entitled "What Should We Think of the Emerging Church" for more information. http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2005-06-29 http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2005-06-30 Also see D.A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (partially reviewed in Mohler's articles).

 

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