What were early church services like?
Some have used the term 'liturgy' to describe what happens in church services.
Here is a definition of liturgy from the Cambridge Dictionary:
(a particular set of) the words, music, and actions used in ceremonies in some religions, especially Christianity
While many are familiar with the typical weekly liturgy of the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and various Protestant demoninations, the question is what was the original liturgy of the Christian church?
Is the weekly liturgy of the Continuing Church of God (which is NOT Protestant) more consistent with original Christian practices?
Sone mainstream scholar have tended to not understand what the original liturgy was.
For example, notice something from the Oxford Research Encyclopedia:
Those attempting to discover what the worship of Christians was like in the first few hundred years of the church’s history face the problem that very few extant liturgical texts as such exist prior to the 8th century. (Bradshaw PF. Early Christian Worship. Oxford Research Encyclopedia. Online Publication Date: Mar 2015. http://religion.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-2 accessed 01/01/17)
But we do have clues.
The New Testament provides basic information about the liturgical practices of early Christians.
Notice some information about the Apostle Paul:
1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." (Acts 17:1-3, NKJV throughout unless otherwise specified)
So we see that the Apostle Paul would visit synagogues and speak based upon the Bible. In time, though, the Jews did not allow Christians to do this.
But the pattern of assembling with others remained. Notice:
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Paul spoke when he visited Christians:
13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. (1 Timothy 4:13)
And this would seem to be a reference to a church service.
Paul also wanted his writings read, presumably at church:
27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren. (1 Thessalonians 5:27)
16 Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:16)
Apprently after prayer, the word 'Amen' was apparently spoken by congregants:
16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? (1 Corinthians 14:16, NIV)
16 Otherwise, if you praise God only with your spirit, how can outsiders say "Amen!" to your prayer of thanksgiving? They don't know what you're saying. (1 Corinthians 14:16, GWT)
16 Otherwise, if you say your blessing only with the spirit, how is the uninitiated person going to answer 'Amen' to your thanksgiving, without understanding what you are saying? 1 Corinthians 14:16, NJB)
Psalms and other spiritual songs were sung:
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, (1 Corinthians 14:26)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)
18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:18-21)
12 Saying: 'I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.' (Hebrews 2:12)
The liturgy would have been in the languages that people understood. Initially Hebrew, then others like Greek. The original liturgy was NOT in Latin.
The noted historian K.S. Latourette observed:
From a very early date, perhaps from the beginning, Christians employed in their services the psalms found in the Jewish Scriptures, the Christian Old Testament. Since the first Christians were predominantly Greek-speaking, these psalms were in a Greek translation. We hear of at least one form of service in which, after the reading from the Old Testament, the "hymns of David" were sung...Until the end of the fourth century, in the services of the Catholic Church only the Old Testament Psalms and the hymns or canticles from the New Testament were sung...Gradually there were prepared versical paraphrases (Latourette K.S. A History of Christianity, Volume 1: Beginnings to 1500. Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1975, pp. 206,207).
Because of fears of gnostic influence, Christians did not add outside poetic phrases or non-biblical lyrics until well after the second century (Ibid).
True Christian weekly worship services were not liturgical, nor sacramental in nature.
Nor did the worship leaders have any special dress or vestments.
One modern historian described the early practices this way:
Much early Christian worship was taken over from Jewish synagogue worship.
1. Unlike pagan practices of worship, Christians had no sacred statues, temples, or rituals of sacrifices.
2. Like Jews of the second and third centuries, Christians in their worship service stressed the reading and exposition of Scripture, prayer, confession, exhortation, the singing of psalms and hymns (Ehrman B. From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Part 2. The Teaching Company, Chantilly (VA), 2004, p. 35).
I would add here that the songs were almost exclusively Psalms (more information can be found in the article Praises to Jesus Christ or Biblical Hymns: Which Should Christians Primarily Sing?).
Here is something related to an early second century source:
Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, gave this account of interrogations he conducted with certain lapsed Christians:
They stated that the sum total of their error or misjudgment, had been coming to a meeting on a given day before dawn, and singing responsively a hymn to Christ as to God, swearing with a holy oath not to commit any crime, never to steal or commit robbery, commit adultery, fail a sworn agreement or refuse to return a sum left in trust. When all this was finished, it was their custom to go their separate ways, and later re-assemble to take food of an ordinary and simple kind. But after my edict which forbids all political societies, they did in fact give this up (Epistle 96).
This account, extracted from informants who had abandoned their Christian faith as long as twenty years previously (that is, in the early 90s), indicates two forms of Christian gathering. First, in the early morning there was some sort of service for prayer and moral instruction. Second, the church re-convened in the evening for a communal meal. It is likely that the first meeting took place early on the Sabbath. ... The pre-dawn meeting may well have been patterned on the Jewish synagogue service. (Pursiful DJ. Traces of the Earliest Christian Liturgy. https://pursiful.com/2008/03/20/traces-of-the-earliest-christian-liturgy/ accessed 01/01/17)
We also have some information related to the faithful, like Polycarp of Smyrna.
Irenaeus of Lyon c. 170 wrote in his letter to Florinus related to the Church of God leader, Polycarp of Smyrna:
5. For when I was a boy, I saw you in lower Asia with Polycarp, moving in splendor in the royal court, and endeavoring to gain his approbation. 6. I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the 'Word of life,' Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures.
7. These things being told me by the mercy of God, I listened to them attentively, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart. And continually, through God's grace, I recall them faithfully. . (Eusebius. The History of the Church. Book V, Chapter XX, verses 5-8. Digireads, Stilwel (KS), p. 112).
So, we can see that Polycarp taught according to the scriptures. Notice something him and his teachings:
For he would extend his discourse to great length on diverse subjects, and from the actual Scripture which was read he would furnish edification with all demonstration and conviction (Chapter 18). ...
And on the sabbath, when prayer had been made long time on bended knee, he, as was his custom, got up to read; and every eye was fixed upon him. Now the lesson was the Epistles of Paul to Timothy and to Titus, in which he says what manner of man a bishop ought to be. And he was so well fitted for the office that the hearers said one to another that he lacked none of those qualities which Paul requires in one who has the care of a church. When then, after the reading and the instruction of the bishops and the discourses of the presbyters, the deacons were sent to the laity to enquire whom they would have, they said with one accord, 'Let Polycarp be our pastor and teacher' (Chapter 22). ...
And on the following sabbath he said; 'Hear ye my exhortation, beloved children of God. I adjured you when the bishops were present, and now again I exhort you all to walk decorously and worthily in the way of the Lord...Watch ye, and again Be ye ready, Let not your hearts be weighed down, the new commandment concerning love one towards another, His advent suddenly manifest as of rapid lightning, the great judgment by fire, the eternal life, His immortal kingdom. And all things whatsoever being taught of God ye know, when ye search the inspired Scriptures, engrave with the pen of the Holy Spirit on your hearts, that the commandments may abide in you indelible.' (Life of Polycarp, Chapter 24. (1889) from J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, pp. 488-506)
So, Polycarp taught using actual scriptures taught on the Sabbath (Saturday). This included the Kingdom of God..
In his Homily on the Passover Melito said:
1. First of all, the Scripture about the Hebrew Exodus has been read and the words of the mystery have been explained as to how the sheep was sacrificed and the people were saved.
This is of liturgical interest as it shows that the Old Testament was being read, and that Melito may not have been the only speaker and that church services included more than one subject. This is consistent with the Continuing Church of God practice of having a sermonette and sermon or two "split-sermons' as part of weekly church services.
Melito's message was highly-based upon scripture. As was the message of what has been called "the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived" (Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 102). This ancient 'Christian' Sermon was also scripturally-focused. It was not an emotional appeal to somehow bring down the Holy Spirit. It was not sacramental nor as short as the type of messages that the Roman Catholic priests tend to give. The style of referring to many scriptures is something that the Continuing Church of God. Messages like that often are not what many want today.
Yet consider that the Bible teaches:
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
Many do not want scriptural and fact-based sermons. They have itching ears. Many want entertainment, emotional feelings, and/or rituals that scriptural messages do not alway provide. But true Christians are to exorted to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
Notice some comments from a Roman Catholic writer:
If you could travel in time and attend a Christian worship service in the first century, what would it be like? Would a Presbyterian feel at home? How about a Catholic? The following is a re-recording of a lecture I gave to a group in Charlotte, NC last year on the subject of “liturgy in the first century.” With the current lead article on Holy Orders and the nature of the priesthood, it is relevant to explore the subject of early Christian worship. To determine what sort of leaders the early Christians had, it helps to understand what sort of action the early Christians understood as right worship. The historical evidence bears witness that the early Christian liturgy was not compatible with Protestant theology ...
The primary points of contact for our knowledge of the first century liturgy lie on one end with the Jewish liturgies, and the little data which can be gleaned from the New Testament, and the far later, but well documented, fourth century liturgies. We do have a few texts, reliable but vague, from the second and third century that help us piece together the puzzle. But ultimately our study lies in drawing on what we know from these ends, and reconstructing the development in-between. ...
The Judeo-Centricity of Early Christianity
- For about the first 10 years of Christianity, it was almost exclusively composed of Jewish converts.
- The early Christians were in the habit of attending temple ..
- The early Christians continued celebrating in the Synagogues alongside the Jews on the Sabbath for several years in some places.
- Up to nineteen years after Christ’s resurrection, new converts to Christianity, generally speaking, had to convert to Judaism before becoming Christian. Namely, they were to be circumcised, to eat Kosher, and to follow the Mosaic Law...
‘Synaxis‘ is the Greek word meaning “meeting” and is the organic continuity of the Saturday Synagogue worship. When the Christians were no longer allowed in the synagogues, they continued celebrating approximately the same rite with added Christian developments and themes. The original liturgies would have been held, like the synagogue service, in Hebrew, and some of the words, like “amen” and “hallelujah,” survive to this day. In the early part of the first century, it is unlikely that the Synaxis would have be recognizably different from the Synagogue service except for the setting. ...
- Greeting and Response (The Lord be with you – or Peace be unto you)
- Lections & Psalmody (The Jews read in order of descending importance, starting with the Pentateuch. The early Christian kept the original order of the Synagogue, but as Christian Scripture became available, it was tacked on at the end. Thus the order of importance became reversed for Christians. They read in ascending order of importance)
i. Old Testament Reading
ii. Pslamody (or chanted Psalm)
iii. New Testament Reading (sometimes included non-canonical books like 1 Clement)
v. Gospel Reading
- Homily (Bishop delivers while seated)
- Dismissal of Catechumens by Deacon
- Intercessory Prayers of the Faithful
- Dismissal of the Faithful
Occasionally a collection would be taken for the poor at the end. ...
By the end of the first century, the standard Christian liturgical observations would be as follows. On Saturday, you would attend the Synaxis. (Troutman TA. Christian Worship in the First Century. June 17, 2010. © 2017 Called to Communion. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/christian-worship-in-the-first-century/#footnote_2_5127 accessed 01/01/17)
Notice what The Catholic Encycopedia teaches:
Liturgy (leitourgia) is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. Its elements are leitos (from leos = laos, people) meaning public, and ergo (obsolete in the present stem, used in future erxo, etc.), to do. From this we have leitourgos, "a man who performs a public duty", "a public servant", often used as equivalent to the Roman lictor; then leitourgeo, "to do such a duty", leitourgema, its performance, and leitourgia, the public duty itself.
,,, it must be said that an Apostolic Liturgy in the sense of an arrangement of prayers and ceremonies, like our present ritual of the Mass, did not exist. ...
But we find much more than this essential nucleus in use in every Church from the first century... first a synagogue service Christianized, in which the holy books were read, psalms were sung, prayers said by the bishop in the name of all (the people answering "Amen" in Hebrew, as had their Jewish forefathers), and homilies, explanations of what had been read, were made by the bishop or priests, just as they had been made in the synagogues by the learned men and elders (e.g., Luke 4:16-27). ...
For the first period we have of course no complete description. ,,,
From about the fourth century our knowledge of the Liturgy increases enormously. We are no longer dependent on casual references to it: we have definite rites fully developed. ...
Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch are the old patriarchal cities. As the other bishops accepted the jurisdiction of these three patriarchs, so did they imitate their services. The Liturgy, as it crystallized in these centres, became the type for the other Churches of their patriarchates. Only Gaul and northwest Europe generally, though part of the Roman Patriarchate, kept its own rite till the seventh and eighth centuries.
Alexandria and Antioch are the starting-points of the two original Eastern rites. The earliest form of the Antiochene Rite is that of the "Apostolic Constitutions" written down in the early fifth century. ,,,
In any case the old Roman Rite is not exactly that now used. Our Roman Missal has received considerable additions from Gallican sources. The original rite was simpler, more austere, had practically no ritual beyond the most necessary actions (see Bishop, "The Genius of the Roman Rite" in "Essays on Ceremonial", edited by Vernon Staley, London, 1904, pp. 283-307). ...
- The original Roman Rite, not now used.
( "Liturgy." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910)
So, it is clearly taught that what the Church of Rome now practices as liturgy was NOT the original as it is admitted that "our present ritual of the Mass, did not exist." Essentially, compromises with semi-Gnostics, apostates like Justin Martyr and Marcus, and the adoption of various practices that were associated with Mithraism. ended up with the type of liturgies that many are now familiar with.
Notice something from a Russian Orthodox source:
The core of liturgics is not just beautiful music or awe-inspiring ritual, rather it is a commitment to origins. Two concepts need to be kept in mind as one considers the "why" of liturgical worship and practice: origin and changelessness. Remember, first and foremost, that the Apostles and the first Christian disciples were Jews. That is, they were Jews who recognized and accepted Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. From their heritage with its history of liturgical interaction with God, came the Jewish form of biblical worship, the basic structure, the "origin" of Christian worship. For this reason, we see in Church history a highly developed Christian liturgical order in use even by the end of the first century — that is, within sixty years of Christ?s resurrection.
The second concept is "changelessness." Perhaps one of the most striking and unique things about much Christian liturgical worship, especially that of the Eastern Orthodox Church in this age of rapid change, and even change for its own sake, is its permanence and changelessness. ...
The early Christian Church came into being as a liturgical church because Jews worshipped liturgically. The New Testament records numerous instances of liturgical worship, which range from pure Jewish practices (such as Peter and John going to the Temple because it was the hour of prayer) to Christian liturgical worship (which confirms that the early Christians met and worshipped following Jewish liturgical practices, and added to them the rite of the Eucharist). ...
Early Christian worship had an origin: Jewish worship form and practice. The early disciples did not create new worship practices any more than did Jesus Christ. They all prayed as Jews and worshipped as Jews. The earliest Christians were Jews who recognized and accepted Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, and the worship that they practiced was liturgical because Jewish worship was liturgical. For this reason we see in the New Testament that the early Christians continued their Jewish worship practices, even while they added some uniquely Christian components. ... The musical forms of early Christian worship were initially Jewish, such as the chanting of Psalms. (Early Christian Liturgics. Holy Trinity Mission, Holy Trinity Orthodox School, La Canada, California. http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/early_christian_liturgics.htm accessed 01/01/17
Over the course of the last millennia there has been change in liturgical worship. ... Within a hundred years, as the Church spread across the Roman Empire and most of its members were Gentiles who spoke Greek and lived in a Greek culture, most of the musical style and theory had become Greek. It still retained some Jewish form and content such as chanting. After the legalization of Christianity in the early 4th century, this music form and style developed into Byzantine music, the Church’s first formal music form. Byzantine music was very broadly and consistently used throughout the Church through the seventh and eighth centuries. (Early Christian Liturgics. Holy Trinity Mission, Holy Trinity Orthodox School, La Canada, California. http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/early_christian_liturgics.htm accessed 01/01/17
The Encyclopædia Britannica states:
The liturgy of the Yasna was a remarkable anticipation of the mass in Christianity...The Mithraic sacramental banquet was derived from the Yasna ceremony, wine taking the place of the haoma and Mithra that of Ahura Mazdā. (James EO. Sacramental ideas and practices in the Indo-Iranian world. Encyclopædia Britannica. ©2013 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/515366/sacrament/66288/Sacramental-ideas-and-practices-in-the-Indo-Iranian-world viewed 12/06/13)
It appears that during the second century that the Greco-Roman faiths adopted a 'communion' liturgy that pagans and apostates used and many use that to this day (see Marcus, the Marcosians, & Mithraism: Developers of the Eucharist?).
Was there special dress for various services?
Well, if there is there is no record of it in the Bible nor early Christian writings.
Currently, what the Church of Rome uses is not original to Christianity.
Early Christian leaders basically dressed like the general public did.
Early leaders/elders/priest did not have liturgical vestments as the Catholic/Orthodox priests and others now wear, as they did not exist before the fourth century.
Notice that The Catholic Encyclopedia admits this:
Stephen 1...it is generally believed that he was consecrated 12 May, 254, and that he died 2 August, 257...In his days the vestments worn by the clergy at Mass and other church services did not differ in shape or material from those ordinarily worn by the laity (Mann H. Transcribed by Kenneth M. Caldwell. Pope St. Stephen I. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
The liturgical vestments have by no means remained the same from the founding of the Church until the present day. There is as great a difference between the vestments worn at the Holy Sacrifice in the pre-Constantinian period, and even in the following centuries, and those now customary at the services of the Church, as between the rite of the early Church and that of modern times...Four main periods may be distinguished in the development of the Christian priestly dress. The first embraces the era before Constantine. In that period the priestly dress did not yet differ from the secular costume in form and ornament. The dress of daily life was worn at the offices of the Church. In times of peace and under normal conditions better garments were probably used...The second period embraces the time from about the fourth to the ninth century. It is the most important epoch in the history of liturgical vestments, the epoch in which not merely a priestly dress in a special sense was created, but one which at the same time determined the chief vestments of the present liturgical dress (Joseph Braun. Transcribed by Michael T. Barrett. Vestments. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
It is impossible to indicate exactly when the pallium was first introduced. According to the "Liber Pontificalis", it was first used in the first half of the fourth century. ("Pallium." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 20 Oct. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11427a.htm>)
In other words, up until at least the fourth century, even Catholic leaders did not dress differently than members.
Jesus did not wear distinctive clothing else Judas would not have had to point Him out:
Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him." Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him (Matthew 26:48-49).
Paul did not wear distinctive clothing or he would not have been misidentified:
Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, "May I speak to you?" He replied, "Can you speak Greek? Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?" (Acts 21:37-38).
There is no record in the New Testament of any instruction for the clergy/ministry to dress differently than the lay members. The true leaders from Jesus to Paul to Polycarp to beyond simply did not dress in special vestments. Nor is there any indication from the Bible or tradition that the Apostle Peter did either. Thus there was no biblical reason to consider special vestments, etc. as necessary (or even desirable).
The ministry of the various COGs wear clothing appropriate for their respective cultures. There is no clear distinction in dress for the ministry compared to the laity.
Actually, because of persecution, it would have been dangerous for elders/presbyters/bishops to adopt the type of dress they now wear in the days of early Christianity. It should be noted that early leaders/elders/priest did not have liturgical vestments as the Catholic/Orthodox priests and others now wear, as they did not exist that early. This is a minor, but noticeable, physical example of how the COG is more faithful to the original practices of the Christian church than many churches are.
Early Christian leaders also did NOT wear the type of head coverings that the Greco-Roman clergy currently does. More on dress and headcoverings can be found in the article: Were the Early Duties of Elders/Pastors Mainly Sacramental? What was their Dress?
So, in the 21st century, what does the Continuing Church of God do?
Well, we have services very similar to those of the early Christians.
Our leaders dress in normal garb and give messages based upon the scriptures.
Each week, in our Letter to the Brethren, we have a suggested church service, including links to messages, for our scattered brethren who cannot attend regular services.
Here is an excerpt from one such letter:
Thus, it is liturgy very much like those that the original Christians would have been used to. Our hymns are almost all psalms and other biblical passages set to music (they can be found here: The Bible Hymnal).
In our services, we teach as well as actually "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
That is consistent with what Jesus' early true followers did.
Thiel B. What was the Liturgy of the Early Church? COGwriter (c) http://www.cogwriter.com/liturgy.htm 2017