The Imperial Church — The Impact of the New Order

The History of Christianity #88

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is John 4:24 which reads: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Paul David Tripp. He said: “Corporate worship is a regular gracious reminder that it’s not about you. You’ve been born into a life that is a celebration of another.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Imperial Church – The Impact of the New Order” (Part 2) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Until Constantine’s time, Christian worship had been relatively simple. At first, Christians gathered to worship in private homes. Then they began to gather in cemeteries, such as the Roman catacombs. By the third century there were structures set aside for worship such as the house in Dura-Europos (duh-ra-yoo-roh-pos).

After Constantine’s conversion, Christian worship began to be influenced by imperial protocol. Incense, which was used as a sign of respect for the emperor, began appearing in Christian churches. Officiating ministers, who until then had worn everyday clothes, began dressing in more luxurious garments – and soon were called “priests,” in imitation of their pagan counterparts, while the communion table became an “altar” – in opposition to the instructions found earlier in the Didache (dide-ki). Likewise, a number of gestures indicating respect, which were normally made before the emperor, now became part of Christian worship. An interesting example of this had to do with prayer on Sunday. At an earlier time, the practice was not to kneel for prayer on Sundays, for that is the day of our adoption, when we approach the throne of the Most High as children and heirs to the Great King. Now, after Constantine, one always knelt for prayer, as petitioners usually knelt before the emperor. The custom was also introduced of beginning services with a professional. Choirs were developed, partly in order to give body to that procession. Eventually, the congregation came to have a less active role in worship.

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