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History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100.
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§ 53. The Several Parts of Worship.


The several parts of public worship in the time of the apostles were as follows:

1. The Preaching of the gospel. This appears in the first period mostly in the form of a missionary address to the unconverted; that is, a simple, living presentation of the main facts of the life of Jesus, with practical exhortation to repentance and conversion. Christ crucified and risen was the luminous centre, whence a sanctifying light was shed on all the relations of life. Gushing forth from a full heart, this preaching went to the heart; and springing from an inward life, it kindled life—a new, divine life—in the susceptible hearers. It was revival preaching in the purest sense. Of this primitive Christian testimony several examples from Peter and Paul are preserved in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Epistles also may be regarded in the wider sense as sermons, addressed, however, to believers, and designed to nourish the Christian life already planted.

2. The Reading of portions of the Old Testament,663663    The Parashioth and Haphtaroth, as they were called. with practical exposition and application; transferred from the Jewish synagogue into the Christian church.664664    Comp. Acts 13:15; 15:21. To these were added in due time lessons from the New Testament; that is, from the canonical Gospels and the apostolic Epistles, most of which were addressed to whole congregations and originally intended for public use.665665    1 Thess. 5:27; Col. 4:16. After the death of the apostles their writings became doubly important to the church, as a substitute for their oral instruction and exhortation, and were much more used in worship than the Old Testament.

3. Prayer, in its various forms of petition, intercession, and thanksgiving. This descended likewise from Judaism, and in fact belongs essentially even to all heathen religions; but now it began to be offered in childlike confidence to a reconciled Father in the name of Jesus, and for all classes and conditions, even for enemies and persecutors. The first Christians accompanied every important act of their public and private life with this holy rite, and Paul exhorts his readers to "pray without ceasing." On solemn occasions they joined fasting with prayer, as a help to devotion, though it is nowhere directly enjoined in the New Testament.666666    Comp. Matt. 9:15; Acts 13:3; 14:23; 1 Cor. 7:5. They prayed freely from the heart, as they were moved by the Spirit, according to special needs and circumstances. We have an example in the fourth chapter of Acts. There is no trace of a uniform and exclusive liturgy; it would be inconsistent with the vitality and liberty of the apostolic churches. At the same time the frequent use of psalms and short forms of devotion, as the Lord’s Prayer, may be inferred with certainty from the Jewish custom, from the Lord’s direction respecting his model prayer,667667    Matt. 6:9;Luke 11:1, 2. The Didache, ch. 8, gives the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew, with a brief doxology (comp. 1 Cor. 29:11), and the direction to pray it three times a day. See Schaff on the Did., p. 188 sq. from the strong sense of fellowship among the first Christians, and finally from the liturgical spirit of the ancient church, which could not have so generally prevailed both in the East and the West without some apostolic and post-apostolic precedent. The oldest forms are the eucharistic prayers of the Didache, and the petition for rulers in the first Epistle of Clement, which contrasts most beautifully with the cruel hostility of Nero and Domitian.668668    Didache chs. 8 –10; Clement, Ad Cor., chs. 59 –61. See vol. II. 226.

4. The Song, a form of prayer, in the festive dress of poetry and the elevated language of inspiration, raising the congregation to the highest pitch of devotion, and giving it a part in the heavenly harmonies of the saints. This passed immediately, with the psalms of the Old Testament, those inexhaustible treasures of spiritual experience, edification, and comfort, from the temple and the synagogue into the Christian church. The Lord himself inaugurated psalmody into the new covenant at the institution of the holy Supper,669669    Comp. Matt. 26:30; Mark 14: 26. and Paul expressly enjoined the singing of "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," as a means of social edification.670670    Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16. But to this precious inheritance from the past, whose full value was now for the first time understood in the light of the New Testament revelation, the church, in the enthusiasm of her first love, added original, specifically Christian psalms, hymns, doxologies, and benedictions, which afforded the richest material for Sacred poetry and music in succeeding centuries; the song of the heavenly hosts, for example, at the birth of the Saviour;671671    The "Gloria,"Luke 2:14. the "Nunc dimittis" of Simeon;672672    Luke 2:29. the "Magnificat" of the Virgin Mary;673673    Luke 1:46 sqq. the "Benedictus" of Zacharias;674674    Luke 1:68 sqq. the thanksgiving of Peter after his miraculous deliverance;675675    Acts 4:24-30. Comp. Ps. 2. the speaking with tongues in the apostolic churches, which, whether song or prayer, was always in the elevated language of enthusiasm; the fragments of hymns scattered through the Epistles;676676    Eph. 5:14; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 3:10-12. The quotation is introduced by διὸ λέγει and πιστὸς ὁ λόγος . The rhythmical arrangement and adjustment in these passages, especially the first two, is obvious, and Westcott and Hort have marked it in their Greek Testament as follows:
   Ἔγειρε, ὁ καθεύδων,

   καὶ ἀνάστα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν,

   καὶ ἐπιφαύσει σοι ὁ χριστός

   —Eph. 5:14

   Ὃς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί,

   ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι,

   ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις,

   ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἕθνεσιν,

   ἐπιστεύθη ἐν κόσμῳ,

   ἀνελημφθη ἐν δόξῃ.

   —1 Tim. 3:16.

   The last passage is undoubtedly a quotation. The received reading, Gr.464 qeov" , is justly rejected by critical editors and exchanged for ὅς, which refers to God or Christ. Some manuscripts read the neuter which would refer to μυστήριον 1 Pet. 3:10-12, which reads like a psalm, is likewise metrically arranged by Westcott and Hort. James 1:17, though probably not a quotation, is a complete hexameter:

   πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τελεῖον.

   Liddon (Lectures on the Divinity of Christ, p. 328) adds to the hymnological fragments the passage Tit. 3:4-7, as "a hymn on the way of salvation," and several other passages which seem to me doubtful.
and the lyrical and liturgical passages, the doxologies and antiphonies of the Apocalypse.677677    Apoc. 1:5-8; 3:7, 14; 5:9, 12, 13; 11:15, 17, 19; 15:4; 19:6-8, and other passages. They lack the Hebrew parallelism, but are nevertheless poetical, and are printed in uncial type by Westcott and Hort.

5. Confession Of Faith. All the above-mentioned acts of worship are also acts of faith. The first express confession of faith is the testimony of Peter, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The next is the trinitarian baptismal formula. Out of this gradually grew the so-called Apostles’ Creed, which is also trinitarian in structure, but gives the confession of Christ the central and largest place. Though not traceable in its present shape above the fourth century, and found in the second and third in different longer or shorter forms, it is in substance altogether apostolic, and exhibits an incomparable summary of the leading facts in the revelation of the triune God from the creation of the world to the resurrection of the body; and that in a form intelligible to all, and admirably suited for public worship and catechetical use. We shall return to it more fully in the second period.

6. Finally, the administration of the Sacraments, or sacred rites instituted by Christ, by which, under appropriate symbols and visible signs, spiritual gifts and invisible grace are represented, sealed, and applied to the worthy participators.

The two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the antitypes of circumcision and the passover under the Old Testament, were instituted by Christ as efficacious signs, pledges, and means of the grace of the new covenant. They are related to each other as regeneration and sanctification, or as the beginning and the growth of the Christian life. The other religious rites mentioned in the New Testament, as confirmation and ordination, cannot be ranked in dignity with the sacraments, as they are not commanded by Christ.


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