If Christians from the first century world were to worship with us today on Sunday mornings, they would find those worship assemblies quite strange and unfamiliar. Christians of the first century would feel as uncomfortable and "out-of-place" in our worship assemblies as we would in theirs about 2000 years ago.

  1. Our four-part harmony in singing would be strange to them. As I understand it, having different parts and having what we regard as harmony among those parts is relatively a "new" development. Among Christians around 2000 thousand years ago, what we regard to be harmony did not exist. Many of us would not even find their songs melodious. To us it would sound more like a reading or even a prayer. While the sounds made in their music would be strange to our hearing, the sounds made in our music would sound strange to their ears. [Even were it all in English.]

    The focus and subjects of our songs compared to the focus and subjects of their songs are different. In the few songs we have from early churches, the focus is primarily on Christ and sometimes on God. Some of our favorite songs focus on us, our dreams, our hopes, our anticipations. Likely they would find that a strange focus.

    The purpose of our songs would be strange to them. To us, songs are primarily inspirational. To them, songs were a means of confessing their faith in Christ or teaching others about Christ.

  2. They would find our communion quite strange. Let's just say that the emphasis they placed on communion and the ways they took communion were likely quite different from our emphasis and the way we observe communion.

  3. They would find assembling in a church building quite strange. In the Roman empire, Christianity as a religion was illegal. In places where Christians were considered undesirable and dangerous, Christians of necessity had to be quite cautious about where they gathered. Where there was little or no opposition to them, they could be more open.

    They gathered in a variety of circumstances for worship. If you were converted from a Jewish background and history, you might gather in a Jewish home or in a synagogue. If you were a Christian converted with a pagan background and history, you might gather in a home, in a synagogue, or in a secretive place such as the catacombs.

    Since the major issue about Jesus among Jews was, "Is he the Messiah God promised?" and since the scriptures of the first century church were the Hebrew Bible [Old Testament to us], it was compatible for converts with a Jewish background [Jews, proselytes, God-bearers] to gather in synagogues since that would be the depository of scripture and the center of Jewish discussion about Jesus' identity.

To me, the bottom line is this: first century Christians would not feel like they had worshipped if they came to our worship assemblies, and we would not feel like we had worshipped if we attended their worship assemblies. The differences in each setting would distract the visiting group.

  1. There is a significant change between then and now that has a powerful influence on our perception of Christianity and Christian worship assemblies.
    1. Christians existed in the first century as an identifiable community who took care of each other.
      1. They fed the widows (Acts 6).
      2. They adopted widows for total care when they had no family to care for them (1 Timothy 5:8-12).
      3. They took care of orphans (James 1:27).
      4. They opened their homes to each other (2 John 9,10).
    2. That situation reminds me in many ways of the small rural church of my childhood.
      1. I can remember when several families pooled together their Sunday lunches and had their own "small group meetings" on Sunday afternoon.
      2. I can remember when we "were there" for each other, doing what we could to be of help in times of crisis.
      3. I can remember the strength of the bond that tied us together as a functioning community of Christians who cared about each other.

  2. If this sense of community with its bonding and closeness is to exist, at least two things must be true.
    1. The congregation must be a community, not an institution.
      1. We must know each other.
      2. We must care about each other.
      3. We must help each other.
      4. The bond of genuine love must be strong among us.
    2. As a congregation, we individually must maintain a strong relationship with God.
      1. We must feel a joyful dependence on God--and see our dependence as a good thing!
      2. We must want to be Christians--we are attracted to God's holiness!
      3. We are committed to being Jesus' disciples--we willingly let Jesus teach us who we are, how we live, and how we think.
      4. We as a people are committed to being a particular kind of people, not just doing certain things.
      5. Our highest priority in life must be to walk in God's paths, to behave like God's people.

  3. How does this relate to worship? We offer God worship in two basic ways.
    1. We worship God collectively, together, as a people.
      1. That obviously occurred in the New Testament among Christians.
      2. It began in Acts 2 and continued to be reflected in the epistles--groups of Christians met together to gladly praise God for His gift of Jesus Christ.
      3. For the sake of illustration, I call your attention to 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
        1. Read with me and note one thing--the importance of their sense of togetherness in taking the Lord's supper.
        2. Verse 17: the Corinthian Christians being together caused problems--their assemblies made Christians weaker, not stronger.
        3. Verse 18, 19--their worship actually emphasized and advanced their divisions.
        4. Verses 20, 21--instead of their being together affirming their commitment to each other and God, it only stressed their differences.
        5. Verse 22--their agenda in being together failed to emphasize their closeness as a people in Christ [despising the church of God is despising ourselves as Christ's body].
        6. The purpose is not to satisfy a physical need for food, but to affirm your sense of community as God's people.
        7. Verse 33--you cannot achieve God's objective in the Lord's supper if you do not care about each other being a part of the remembrance.
      4. Communion had two objectives:
        1. To remember what God and Jesus did for us in Jesus' death.
        2. To affirm our relationship with each other in Christ.
        3. The Lords' supper was to affirm a sense of belonging among ourselves, a sense of caring and togetherness, a sense of community in Christ.
    2. We as Christian persons worship God individually on a continuing, daily basis.
      1. Read with me Romans 12:1,2
        Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
      2. My personal understanding is this: they collectively were urged to accept a personal responsibility.
      3. This presentation of the physical body to God is to be on a daily basis--the injunctions that follow in Romans flows from this presentation.
      4. I make the presentation because I am moved by the enormity of God's mercy.
      5. I make my physical body a holy sacrifice--I consciously climb up on the altar to sacrifice myself every day.
      6. By my desire, God redefines who and what I am.
      7. He gives me a new way to think and His will becomes my priority.
      8. God helps me define what is good, what is acceptable, and what is "on target" in life (focuses life).
    3. Thus worship involves two considerations in a Christian's existence.
      1. It is a collective act in which I appreciatively declare my dependence on God and my oneness with God's people; it is my commitment to the community of Christians.
      2. It is a daily individual act in which I surrender myself to God.
        1. All my obedience flows from this surrender to the holy God.
        2. This worship defines who and what I am in all my relationships and all interactions with other people--those who are Christians, and those who are not.

There are two questions each of us should focus on as Christians:

  1. What do I declare in my group worship?

  2. Every day do I climb on the altar and surrender myself as a holy sacrifice to God?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 7 March 2004
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