Early Christian Worship – What did it look like?

Have you ever wondered what early Christian worship looked like? Many Christians today want to find a Christian denomination that tries to live out their faith like the early Christians did. They try and recreate the Church found in the “Book of Acts.” But what would someone find if they really wanted to taylor their Sunday worship to that of the early Christians? I dare say it would have very little resemblance to many Protestant services found today.

For me personally, I would have to ask myself if it resembled the Catholic Mass or the large Southern Baptist church I attended at one point in my life before I returned to the Church? Well, in the Baptist church and many other Protestant denominations, it might look something like this: “While carrying my Bible under my arm, I would open the door of my local Baptist church and enter. As I walk in, I heard the chatter of friendly voices and the organ or piano playing in the background to set the mood. As everyone began to take their places in the pews, the pastor would get on the microphone and welcome everyone. We then stood and he began the service with a prayer and then we were asked to get our hymnal out. After singing, usually we would sit or stand and listen to the choir sing. Leading up to the preaching, there would be the announcements, some praise and worship songs and then a collection plate passed around while a soloist sang. Then we would be treated to an enriching sermon by the pastor that lasted around 30 minutes. We would have our Bibles open and flip from one end to the other. Most of the time he would point out one verse of Scripture at a time, not ever a reading that was of great length. If it were a thematic study, he would use verses out of context from one passage to the other, depending on what he wanted to convey. At the conclusion of the sermon, there was always an altar call. That is when someone would come forward and receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Then came the closing prayer and the final hymn to be sung.” So, does this sound like a worship service from the year 100 AD.? Would a first or second century Christian feel comfortable in this type of worship experience?

Christians have been coming together for 2000 years to worship on Sundays. Jesus and his Apostles handed on to their immediate disciples a manner of worship that we still see today. So, other than the book of Acts and St. Paul’s epistles, did the early Christians leave a record of what they did on Sundays? Yes, they did leave a record of what they did, as taught by the Apostles. So, who can provide us with the most accurate practice of worship then? Well, it would be those who were taught by the Apostles.

th[9]All we have to do is look to Justin Martr (c. 100 – 165AD), who was a pagan philosopher who converted to Christianity. He died as a martr in Rome while defending the Christian faith in 165AD. He tried to explain to the emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius at the time, what the Christians believed and practiced.

He wrote these words to the emperor:
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
“Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.

He goes on to say:
“And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins [water baptism], and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body…(Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. [1997]. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 [185 / 186])”

So, what did the early Christians do on Sunday mornings? Well, they did what the Catholic Church still does today. We might dress differently, use a different language, use different types of instruments while singing, and another style of building, but the structure is the same. The “blueprint” if you will, and the structure of the liturgy is the same. Also, the teaching and the belief in the Eucharistic mystery (the real presence of Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity) are the same. The Catholic Church is ancient, but represents the body of Christ throughout time, along with the Sunday worship at Mass.

Until next time, God bless.

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