As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’—2 Corinthians 8:15, see also Exodus 16:18
I know that “pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall,” but I can’t help but be proud of my congregation this week (Proverbs 16:18). This past Sunday, we held a “One Worship” event, combining our contemporary and traditional service. After worship, we had a time for fellowship, a shared lunch, and then on to a service project for a local outreach ministry. The reason I am proud is that our church re-created what the early church would do every Sunday that it gathered.
Justin Martyr (circa 100–165 AD) records in chapter 67 of his First Apology that Christians would gather “on the day called Sunday” in one place and read Scripture and the letters of the apostles. The “president” of the assembly would instruct the hearers on what the readings meant and how Christians ought to live. The assembly would then rise to pray, share in Communion, offer more prayers and thanksgivings, and then share the bread and the wine together. Those who weren’t present were sent portions by the deacons, and a collection of food and alms was taken up according to what each giver “thinks fit.”
The president as well as those gathered would then take those collections and distribute them both inside and outside the community to those who had need. Widows and orphans were fed from the hands of believers who wanted to represent in the streets of the communities from which they came the Christ they had just worshipped. The sick and “the strangers sojourning among us” were given a portion they might otherwise never receive, and the community took “care of all who were in need.”
If I may sum it up this way, our earliest accounts of worship involved what we call worship proper, fellowship and communal sharing, and mission to the surrounding community, all on the same day! Worship necessarily spilled over into mission, and mission was seen as an extension of worship. While we still have a tendency in the modern church to treat each of these acts as distinct, our church reversed course this past Sunday and embraced a more ancient expression of Christian identity.
If I may be so bold, it has never been about the music, the effectiveness or style of the preacher, or particular practices around and beliefs about the table that made Christian worship truly Christian. The presence of Christ’s love in the assembled community, and from there and in us, out into the world is how Christ dwells among us. True worship is God gathering us, inhaling, or breathing us in together as one body, and then exhaling us out into the world to bear fruitful witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
For me, it was a high point of ministry to see a glimpse of that this past Sunday as we worshipped, fellowshipped, broke bread, and served together in Christ’s name. I can’t wait to do it again. May all of it be to the glory of God!