The History of Christianity #67
Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is 1 Corinthians 11:26 which reads: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from John Calvin. He said: “The Lord has given us a table at which to feast, not an altar on which a victim is to be offered; He has not consecrated priests to make sacrifice, but servants to distribute the sacred feast.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Christian Life” (Part 4) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Christian Worship (Part 2)
Two of the earliest witnesses we have regarding Christian worship come from Governor Pliny the Younger of Bythinia and from Justin Martyr – both already mentioned in the context of the persecutions of the second century. What Justin says about worship is rather brief:
“The day that is commonly called Sunday all those (believers) who live in the cities or the fields gather, and in their meetings as much as time allows is read from the memoirs of the apostles or from the writings of the prophets. Then, once the reader is through, the one presiding offers a verbal exhortation, urging us to follow these beautiful examples. Immediately after this, we all stand as one and raise our prayers, after which – as I have already said – bread, wine, and water are offered, and the president, as he is able, also sends to God his prayers and thanksgiving, and all the people respond, “Amen.” Now follows the distribution and partaking of the nourishment that has been consecrated by thanksgiving, and they are sent by means of the deacons to those who are not present. Those who can and will, freely give what seems best to them, and the offering is given to the president. With this he helps orphans and widows, those who are in need because of illness or any other reason, those who are in prison, sojourners, and, in short, the president provides for any who are in need. We hold this general gathering on Sunday, because it is the first day, in which God, transforming darkness and matter, created the world, and also the day in which Jesus Christ, our Savior, rose from the dead.”
From these and other sources we know that at least since the second century there were two main parts in a communion service. First there were readings of scripture and commentaries on them, with prayers and hymn singing. Since at that time it was almost impossible for an individual Christians to possess a copy of scripture, this first part of the service was often the only way in which believers came to know the Bible, and therefore this part of the service was rather extensive – sometimes lasting for hours. Then, after dismissing those who were not baptized with a prayer and blessing, came the second part of the service, communion proper, which opened with the kiss of peace. After the kiss, the bread and wine were brought forth and presented to the one presiding, who then offered a prayer over the elements. In this prayer, often lengthy, the saving acts of God were usually recounted, and the power of the Holy Spirit was invoked over the bread and the wine. Then the bread was broken and shared, the communion cup was passed, and the meeting ended with a benediction. This service was also the occasion for the sharing with those in need, for whom an offering was collected. Elsewhere, Justin says that “whatever we have we make common, and this we share with those who are in need.”