The History of Christianity #69
Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Acts 4:33 which reads: “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from N. T. Wright. He said: “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Christian Life” (Part 6) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Christian Worship (Part 4)
Another consequence of the growth of congregations was that it soon became impossible for all Christians in a particular city to gather together for worship. Yet the unity of the body of Christ was so important that it seemed that something was lost when in a single city there were several congregations. In order to preserve and symbolize the bond of unity, the custom arose in some places to send a piece of bread from the communion service in the bishop’s church – the fragmentum (frag-muhn-tum) – to be added to the bread to be used in other churches in the same city. Also, in order to preserve and symbolize the unity of Christians all over the world, each church had a list of bishops of other churches, both near and far, for whom prayer was to be made during communion. These lists were usually written on two writing tablets hinged or strung together, as was then customary for such notes and for some official communications. These sets of tablets were called “diptychs,” and at a later date the depletion of someone’s name from a church’s diptychs became a matter of grave importance. Just as the bond of unity was sealed by the inclusion of a name, that bond was broken by deleting a name.
At the beginning, the Christian calendar was rather simple and was basically a weekly calendar. Every Sunday was a sort of Easter, and a day of joy; and every Friday was a day of penance, fasting, and sorrow. Rather early, for reasons that are not altogether clear, Wednesday also became a day of fasting. There was a very special Sunday, once a year, the day of resurrection, the greatest of Christian celebrations. Unfortunately, Christians were not in agreement as to when the great day was to be celebrated, for some thought it should be set in accordance with the Jewish Passover, while others believed that it should always be celebrated on a Sunday. By the second century there were bitter debates about the matter. To this day, although for other reasons, not all churches agree on the manner in which the date of Easter Sunday is to be determined.
Part of what took place at Easter was the baptism of new converts and their being added to the congregation. Justin tells us that “once those who have believed have been washed and joined us, we take them to where those who are called brothers and sisters are gathered, in order to offer fervent prayers for ourselves, for the recently illumined, and for all others all over the world…Then there is the kiss of peace, the president is given bread and a cup of wine and water…,” and the Eucharist is celebrated.
In preparation for these events, that usually took place at Easter, there was a time of fasting and penance. This is the origin of our present-day Lent. Pentecost, a feast of Jewish origin, was also celebrated by Christians from a very early date.
The earliest feast day in connection with the birth of Jesus was January 6, Epiphany, the day of his manifestation. This was originally the celebration of the birth itself. Later, particularly in some areas of the Latin-speaking West, December 25 began to take its place. This latter date was actually a pagan festival which, after the time of Constantine (the fourth century), was preempted by the celebration of Christmas.
Next time, we will continue looking at Christian Worship in Christian Life.