As a Bible and Theology Major, I have been learning about church history and the Early Church in particular. By studying the Early Church, I have gained greater understanding of why and how Christians worship today. Not only has this helped me in my own walk with the Lord, but it has also answered many questions I had at the beginning of my faith.
How and where did Early Christians worship God? Early Christians worshiped God through scripture, prayer, hymns, spiritual songs, spiritual gifts, prayer, teaching, edification, and encouragement. Early Christians met in private in homes, or in the synagogue and temple.
In this blog, I am explaining how Early Christians worshiped and where they worshiped in greater detail. Additionally, I explain how the Early Church was first viewed and why there were so many negative connotations. By looking at false claims and the truth, we can get a better understanding of the history and growth of the church since the days of Christ and beyond.
How Early Christians Worshiped
Early Christian worship was confusing and appalling to many of the Jews and Romans around them. Early Christian worship was highly confused and construed by onlookers. For example, Jews were furious with Christians because they worshiped a man, Jesus. Jews believed that only God should be worshiped. For those who did not understand that Jesus was fully God and fully man, this concept was completely heretical.
The Romans were irritated by Christianity because it was private and secret. In Rome, good citizens worshiped the same gods and did so collectively. It was believed that these gods gave the Roman Empire its success and prosperity. By refusing to worship these gods, the Christians were putting Rome at risk of angering their gods.
Furthermore, Christianity was thought of as atheism. It was misunderstood as an evil practice that potentially partook in cannibalism and other horrific actions. All of these beliefs came because Chrinistiy greatly differed from the cultural norms. The Romans knew of Jewish belief and monotheism, but they did not understand this new Christianity.
Additionally, Christianity pledged its allegiance to its new King, Jesus. This was recognized as treason against the Roman empire. To the Jews, it was recognized as a substantial sin and claim again God. With all the rumors and different interpretations, what was Early Church worship really like?
The Early Church began as Jews who recognized that there is one God and one God alone. A crucial understanding that these new Jewish Christians had was that Jesus and God are one. Jews didn’t have to forsake their monotheist background or their belief and obedience to Yahweh. In fact, putting their faith in Jesus Christ was correct obedience to Yahweh.
Jewish Christians recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. The gospel account of Matthew is formatted in such a way to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the man greater than Moses that they were awaiting. Furthermore, the format lays out many of the Messianic prophecies in Jesus’ life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Gentile believers were grafted into the faith and became monotheistic instead of worshiping their many gods. These Christians forsook the worship of idols and chose to worship God the Father, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as one God.
In John 10:30, Jesus proclaims, “I and the Father are one.” The apostle Paul also addresses how the worship of Jesus and God is monotheistic. 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 states, “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”
Many of the meetings of Early Christians were private and only open to those who believed. Non-believers were not included in baptism or communion. Additionally, those who partook in continual and willful sin were kicked out if they had not repented on the bases of two to three witnesses or the church body.
One of the reasons that the Early Church met privately was because of the risk of persecution. Persecution came from Rome, as well as other Jews and religious leaders. Early Christians did not have the freedom to gather in large groups in public without being either imprisoned, brutely killed, shamed, or beaten.
The Use of Scripture
Additionally, the Early Church based its worship on Old Testament scriptures and new scriptures that were being written. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the apostle Paul explains, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Jesus brought in the New Covenant, but the Early Christians did not forsake all that God had done throughout their history. The Old Testament gave insight and revelation to Jesus the Messiah and led the people in the way of the Lord.
Furthermore, new scriptures circulated within the new church plants. These scriptures were written by Jesus’ disciples who were first-hand witnesses. The gospel accounts were written by different authors to reach specific audiences. Therefore, they are varied in their format and purpose.
The apostle Paul and other church leaders and apostles also wrote a letter of instruction, correction, and edification to the churches. Therefore, the churches formulated their worship around these documents. This caused many onlookers to believe that Christianity was more of a philosophy and less of a religion.
Hymns, Songs, Prayer & Spiritual Gifts
1 Corinthians 14:26 explains the structure of a church meeting. It instructs, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”
Worship in the Early Church included hymns, spiritual songs, prayer, teachings, scripture readings, instruction, edification, encouragement, correction, and the use of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 explains the various types of spiritual gifts and their purposes.
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
Where Early Christians Worshiped
Due to the growth of the Early Church and its newness, believers had to meet accordingly. They did not have their own churches built or any building plan to do so. With persecution on the rise, they wouldn’t have built churches as we see today.
In the book of Acts, it says that the Lord added to the church daily. Therefore, at the growth rate of the church, they wouldn’t have been able to build churches fast enough. The Early Church was a church planting movement.
One of the most common places for Early Church members to meet was within houses. Various church members would host the meetings within their homes or estates. This is why many reformers today believe that Western churches should resort back to the house church model.
It is not entirely known how large these house churches were. They varied in size and were located throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Christians ate meals together and lived life together. They met daily and encouraged one another in the work of the Lord. Together, they transformed their minds and actions from old practices to obedience to Christ and His teachings.
The Synagogue & Temple
The Early Church also met in the Synagogue. They didn’t participate in sacrifices but they preached the gospel of Christ. The apostle Paul was known to preach in the synagogues. Acts 9:19b-20 explains, “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” Believers also met in the temple courts and devoted themselves to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the many miracles that followed His proclamation.
Acts 2:42-47 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”