Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Second Century Church Service

The following is a quote in which church father Justin Martyr is explaining Christianity to the Roman emperor, making the case that Christianity should not be illegal. In the course of his First Apology (ca. AD 150), he describes a typical church service in the middle of the second century.

On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president [pastor] in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the ‘Amen.’ A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.

For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

Such a quote silences a lot of speculative talk about how Church should be "done." We get a pretty good idea of what a church service looked like within only 60 years of the apostolic age.

  1. All the people in a given locale gathered together on Sunday.
  2. Someone read from the Scriptures. Sometimes they read from the New Testament -- the "memoirs of the apostles," as Justin calls them -- and the Old Testament -- called "the writings of the prophets."
  3. The pastor preached a sermon, exhorting the people to obey the things they just heard read from the Word of God.
  4. They had congregational prayer.
  5. They celebrated the Lord's Table.
  6. They had pastoral prayer.
  7. They sang in worship.
  8. They received an offering to meet the needs of those around them.
  9. And Justin again makes the point that they worshiped on Sunday.

Love the Church, dear friends.

O Yahweh, I love the habitation of Your house
And the place where Your glory dwells.
Do not take my soul away along with sinners,
Nor my life with men of bloodshed,
In whose hands is a wicked scheme,
And whose right hand is full of bribes.
But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
Redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands on a level place;
In the congregations I shall bless Yahweh.
- Psalm 26:8-12 -


Arthur Sido said...

Interesting that the offering was taken up for the poor and widows, not for the maintenance of buildings or paying a pastoral salary.

Mike Riccardi said...

How do you think a 2nd century pastor was supported, Arthur?