The History of Christianity #66
Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Psalm 95:6 which reads: “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from C. S. Lewis. He said: “It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Christian Life” (Part 3) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Worship was one point at which Christians of all social classes had a common experience. As we reconstruct that experience, we must rely mostly on documents left behind by Christian leaders. But, since common Christians partook of the same services, here we have a rare glimpse at the life of all Christians.
We are told in the book of Acts that from the very beginning the early church had the custom of gathering on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread — the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. The reason for gathering on the first day of the week was that this was the day of the resurrection of the Lord. Therefore, the main purpose of this service of worship was not to call the faithful to repentance, or to make them aware of the magnitude of their sins, but rather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the promises of which that resurrection was the seal. For this reason, Acts describes those gatherings as happy occasions: they “ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” Those early communion services did not focus their attention on the events of Good Friday, but rather on those of Easter. A new reality had dawned, and Christians gathered to celebrate that dawning and to be participants in it.
From that time, and throughout most of its history, the Christian church has seen in communion its normal and highest act of worship. Only after the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century — and in many cases much later — did it become common practice in many Protestant churches to focus their worship on preaching rather than on communion.
Besides the well-known but scant data offered by the New Testament, it is possible to reconstruct early Christian worship by piecing together information from a number of extant documents. Although these writings come from different times and places, and therefore there are differences and inconsistencies in what they tell us, it is possible to draw from them a general picture of the typical service of communion.
The most remarkable characteristic of those early communion services was that they were celebrations. The tone was one of joy and gratitude, rather than sorrow and repentance. In the beginning, communion was part of an entire meal. Believers brought what they could, and after the common meal there were special prayers over the bread and wine. However, by the beginning of the second century the common meal was being set aside, perhaps for fear of persecution, or in order to quell the rumors about orgiastic “love feasts,” or perhaps simply because the growing number of believers made it necessary. But even then, the original tone of joy remained.
Next time, we will continue looking at Christian Worship in Christian Life.