Glenn W. Harrell
The further evangelical Christianity ventures into the world of “Modern and Contemporary Worship” for the sake of self-perpetuation, or simply to be modern, the greater is the temptation to swing the determined pendulum of extremism back towards an equal and opposite form of Christian community in liturgical worship expression.
“Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. –precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic. What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” — Rachael Evans http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/27/why-millennials-are-leaving-the-church/
This is where Justin Martyr’s invaluable picture comes into view for us.
Justin Martyr: Born 100 AD in Flavia Neapolis–Convert to Christianity in and around AD130. He suffered martyrdom while in Rome in AD 165
Excerpts from “First Apology” by Justin Martyr Christians in Worship and Community
“And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
[“We praise the Maker of the universe as much as we are able by the word of prayer and thanksgiving for all the things with which we are supplied.… Being thankful in word, we send up to him honors and hymns for our coming into existence, for all the means of health, for the various qualities of the different classes of things, and for the changes of the seasons, while making petitions for our coming into existence again in incorruption by reason of faith in him.”]
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.
For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.”
Justin was born within a few years of St. John’s death on the isle of Patmos. By the time he wrote this, at 30 years of age, the church was just emerging from infancy. He described a liturgy (form and content) that is simple and pure in its text and its context.
From his writings, we understand the core foundation and liturgy for the church that Christ died for and became her groom.
1- Body Dynamics. “We always keep together”. This was an effort for them just as any group today.
2- Benevolence. The needs (needy) of those within the congregation were met, voluntarily, in part, by the wealthier members.
“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” Matt. 25:40
3- Corporate Sunday Worship. City and country folks alike. Socio-economic dynamics at play but reduced to unity by the life and example of Jesus Christ and His disciples.
A LITURGY OF THE FIRST CHURCH:
GATHER TOGETHER – Meeting in homes and small buildings until wealthy converts began donating land. “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some…” Hebrews 10:24
READ THE WORD- The Word of God. In the form of Old Testament Scripture as well as the “memoirs” of the apostles. (New Testament)
“Everything in the scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. the scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds.” II Timothy 3:16-17
Read as a priority in time and placement (function) within the service proper.
“Until I arrive, be sure to keep on reading the Scriptures in worship, and don’t stop preaching and teaching.” I Timothy 4:13
SERMON- Instruction and Exhortation (preaching) by “the president” to the “imitation” of the new covenant content.
“When Christ Jesus comes as king, he will be the judge of everyone, whether they are living or dead. So with God and Christ as witnesses, I command you to preach God’s message. Do it willingly, even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. You must correct people and point out their sins. But also cheer them up, and when you instruct them, always be patient. The time is coming when people won’t listen to good teaching. Instead, they will look for teachers who will please them by telling them only what they are itching to hear. They will turn from the truth and eagerly listen to senseless stories. But you must stay calm and be willing to suffer. You must work hard to tell the good news and to do your job well.” II Timothy 4:1-5
COMMUNION-CONFESSION- Do This in Remembrance of Me. Prayer and the Lord’s Supper. Bread, wine and water. (No transubstantiation or mysteries as such) Frequency of observing the Lord’s Supper is not as important as the meaning and personal approach. While none of us will ever be worthy of partaking, we are directly encouraged to partake “in a worthy manner”.
“I have already told you what the Lord Jesus did on the night he was betrayed. And it came from the Lord himself. He took some bread in his hands.Then after he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This (not literally THAT bread) is my body, (not literally His body) which is given for you. Eat this and remember me.” (no cannibalism or hocus-pocus transubstantiation)
After the meal, Jesus took a cup of wine in his hands and said,
“This is my blood, (not literally that wine or His blood) and with it God makes his new agreement with you. Drink this and remember me.”
The Lord meant that when you eat this bread and drink from this cup, (no frequency mentioned) you tell about his death until he comes.But if you eat the bread and drink the wine in a way that isn’t worthy of the Lord, you sin against his body and blood. That’s why you must examine the way you eat and drink. If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink.That’s why many of you are sick and weak and why a lot of others have died. If we carefully judge ourselves, we won’t be punished. But when the Lord judges and punishes us, he does it to keep us from being condemned with the rest of the world. My dear friends, you should wait until everyone gets there before you start eating. If you really are hungry, you can eat at home. Then you won’t condemn yourselves when you meet together.
After I arrive, I will instruct you about the other matters.” I Corinthians 11:23-34
Distribution and thanksgiving. Deacons deliver the Lord’s supper to the absentees.
“If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth isn’t in our hearts. But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.” I John 1:8-9 Worship, both private and public, contain moments for reflection, communion of spirit and confession. This is how we prioritize our communion with the Father and the Saints. (All born again Christians are Saints)
PRAYER AND PRAISE- Rise together and pray with thanksgiving for all things supplied by God.
“Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.” Philippians 4:6-7
THANKSGIVING and SINGING TO GOD Music was but one of the liturgical elements and certainly not the most important.
“Don’t be stupid. Instead, find out what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t destroy yourself by getting drunk, but let the Spirit fill your life. When you meet together, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as you praise the Lord with all your heart. Always use the name of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to thank God the Father for everything.” Ephesians 5:15-20
BENEDICTION- Ascent with Amen!
“May God be kind to everyone who keeps on loving our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 6:24
Since Justin’s day, we have seen the church bob-and-weave through many hostile take-overs and blunders. Catholic popes, transubstantiation, Greek orthodox mysteries, and the like reflect mans need to be his own power, control and god. Greedy-salesmen and hoodwinking-shysters fill the gospel air waves and far too many pulpits in our land.
Many Evangelicals as of late, having grown weary of performance-driven, carnival-like shows for man–masquerading as worship, are abandoning evangelicalism for something deeper. They rightfully seek worship with simplicity, integrity and honor to God—for God. But they stop short in time.
Evangelicals who believe that worship is not about what entertains us, but what pleases God, in your quest, please don’t stop at first century Catholicism or Greek orthodoxy. Go on back further to AD 100, Justin’s day, when Christianity was led by elders, deacons, and a “priesthood of believers”-when salvation by faith alone and scripture alone was truth–why we had the Protestant Reformation in the first place. As priests, we have both privileges and responsibilities.
“Come to Jesus Christ. (not a church group, pope, man or institution) He is the living stone that people have rejected, but which God has chosen and highly honored. and now you are living stones that are being used to build a spiritual house. You are also a group of holy priests, and with the help of Jesus Christ you will offer sacrifices that please God…You are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation.” (I Peter 2:4-6,9)
Where your leaders are caught up in the trend of pleasing the world or practicing vain ancient repetitions with man-made, errant doctrines nowhere to be found in scripture—pray, speak up, and speak out. After all–You are priests!