Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Early Worship as Described in the Didache - circa 60 A.D.

"Unity which is obtained by the sacrifice of truth is worth nothing. It is not the unity that pleases God. The Church of Rome boasts loudly of a unity which does not deserve the name. It is unity which is obtained by taking away the Bible from the people, by gagging private judgment, by encouraging ignorance, by forbidding men to think for themselves"

J.C. Ryle's 'The Fallibility of Ministers'

Last summer, while I was interviewing my former pastor, Christo Kulichev, for Christianity Today, he reflected: "The problem is, Protestants here in Bulgaria don't know their own history." I believe the same is true of Protestant Christians world-wide. While many of us know the Bible very well, Church history and the background of key doctrinal positions is often not a field many have studied (with notable exceptions....see Pyro's website for some excellent resources and apologetics recommendations).

Recently, I was accused elsewhere on the web of ignorance - both of biblical theology and history. (NOT ignorance of the latest i-phones, quadratic quations, or what's happening on daytime TV, mind you - all of which would have been fair charges. Ignorance of Church history and the Bible. I swear I am not making this up.) When I stopped laughing, it occurred to me that several times in perhaps the last 3-4 months, I have had a Catholic tell me that the Inquisitions never happened. As far as I know, this is not official Vatican doctrine, although the Inquisition archives were sealed until 2004. One may as well deny that the Holocaust occurred. Or claim that the Armenian Genocide was a myth. To deny the horrifying reality of the papist Inquisitions is to be intellectually dishonest. Although the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century and beyond is the best known, there were four distinct Inquisitions spearheaded by the RCC - ranging from the Medieval Inquisition beginning in Southern France in the 12th century, to the Roman Inquisition that began in 1542. I hope to have time to devote a blog series to this ugly chapter of history, as the post-modernists seem to have abandoned the truth.

I am fortunate to have been a student of modern and medieval history since my undergraduate days at a secular university. In fact, ironically enough, it was there that I became a Christian. Most of my post-graduate research has been in the apologetics field, focusing on Church history from a Christian perspective (not your average History Channel and PBS nonsense!).

To be a student of history is, indeed, to cease to be a Romanist. The following is an overview (provided by several sources) of worship in the early Church, and how they viewed the Lord's Supper. This is a key difference between Catholics and Protestants, the latter of whom follow Scripture and the example of the earliest Church in their understanding of the sacrament.

Thanks to Fundamental Christian at for some of the quotes.

The Roman Catholic church teaches that in the celebration of the Eucharist, the consecrated wafer and wine are miraculously changed into the actual body and blood of Jesus in a process they call transubstantiation. This doctrine was a fringe notion until the latter half of the 9th century, adamantly and specifically rejected by Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Eusebius, and unknown to the Church of the earliest centuries.

1413. By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity [cf. Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651.].” Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)

"The Roman church would have the world believe she is not an innovator but, rather, continues to observe the religious practices of the primitive church, modified only as a more clear understanding of God’s sacred Scriptures and holy Tradition are attained. Or something like that. Is that really the way things are?

The centerpiece of the Catholic Mass is the Eucharistic sacrifice, a bloodless re-presentation of Christ’s atonement on the cross. The Catholic priest, or “alter Christus” commands the Son of God to come down from Heaven and assume the physical characteristics of a cracker and a cup of wine, that He might be consumed by the priest and the faithful. Other studies offered by Christian scholars and myself have fully addressed the Jewish rejection of human sacrifice, cannibalism and the consumption of blood, all of which practices fly in the face of God’s clear proscriptions. It is not my intention here to resurrect those arguments. Instead, I hope to examine how the early Christian commemoration of the Lord’s Supper was corrupted into today’s present Catholic practice."

Ever since Eusebius wrote the first major history of the Christian church, (see Neil's blog for a great review), people have tended to idealize the primitive church as a monolithic structure with a uniform pattern of worship. Recent research has shown that was far from the case. Converts to Christianity were drawn from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Lacking a strong central governing body, the various congregations developed individual worship practices and emphasized different areas of theology. It wasn’t until the 2nd Century that we begin to see the incipient development of uniformity.

In the Book of Acts and in Paul’s writing to the Corinthian church, we can get some idea of how the earliest followers of Christ celebrated the Lord’s Supper, but neither source provides much detail. Fortunately, there are other written records which help us to flesh out the bare bones of the biblical record. One of them, the Didache, was rediscovered in 1873. The Didache is a manual for church order and Christian living, probably written in Syria around 60 AD. In it, we have the earliest look, outside the New Testament, of the Eucharist celebration.

The Didache, which recommends praying the Lord’s Prayer thrice daily, provides a clear picture of how early Christians would gather on the Lord’s Day to “break bread and give thanks” an activity in which only baptized believers were to participate. The first activity of the day involved confessing their sins and reconciling themselves with their neighbors in preparation for making a pure sacrifice to the Lord. The actual service, which followed orthodox Jewish forms for prayer before and after meals, began with thanksgiving over the cup and the loaf. When offering the cup, the worship leader would give thanks for the “holy vine of David,” likely a reference to the Messianic community (Psalm 80:8), following up with a doxology, "To you be glory forever". (Note: this is pretty similar to how we conduct monthly Communion services in my Evangelical church. We do so separately from the main worship service, which contains the sermon).

After the doxology, the worship leader would give thanks over the broken loaf, thanking God “for the life and knowledge You have revealed through Jesus, Your Child,” concluding with another doxology. That was followed by a community meal which, though not detailed in the Didache, likely was a precursor of the pot luck suppers we see in some modern churches.

Notice this early guidebook for Christian worship, sort of an early day Novus Ordo, makes no mention of either the body or the blood of Christ? The emphasis is on the gathering of the church body (1 Corinthians 10.17). The worship service as practiced by the first Christians was a “praise-celebration” of the congregation of God’s people, an event where prayers and thanksgiving, interwoven with doxologies, were offered to God. Rome claims the mythical apostolic succession to validate her high priest, the pope, and has developed all sorts of rules and practices to control who gets to officiate at her “Eucharistic sacrifice” but the Didache provides no specifics concerning what sort of church leader was to preside over the earliest Eucharistic celebration. Yet it does give clear instructions concerning prophets, whom it calls the church’s high priests, and how they were to be welcomed and validated.

One of the men Rome honors as an early church father, Justin Martyr, provided details of weekly Christian worship some decades later in his “First Apology,” written to the Roman Emperor about 155AD.

"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 succors 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. 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 Savior 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 Martyr, First Apology, Chap 67, quoted in A. Roberts and J Donaldson Edd., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1, Books For The Ages, AGES Software, Albany, OR, Version 2.0 © 1997, p. 343-4)

It was not until 637 A.D. when a friar named Anastatius rejected the symbolic language connected with Communion and came up with the literal "Real Presence" that the doctrine began to develop, further supported by Church Councils in the 8th and 9th centuries. (More on that later).

Part II - a look at the beginnings of the Roman interpretation of the Lord's Supper.


4simpsons said...

Excellent post, Marie. Looking forward to part II! That is fascinating looking into church history like that.

Some of those Catholic traditions seem harmless but some are wrong in serious ways. It is sad that they cling so hard to them.

I'm glad you were able to laugh off the accusations of Biblical and historical ignorance. Believe me, if we're playing Bible- or Christian history-trivia I want to be on your team!

lyn said...

Marie~ I second 4simpsons words, excellent post. I agree, I want to be on your team if ever we were to play bible history!
It is sad to see the cleaving to 'tradition', and 'salvation by works'...none of which save a lost soul. The true meaning of 'grace' and 'gift' are not clear within the man-made traditions of the RCC. They offer Christ up repeatedly in the form of a wafer, even though our Lord plainly said, 'It is finished'. It is this desire to have an outward form of worship that robs them of the true worship found in the hearts of God's own, where we worship in spirit and in truth. What a blessed difference this is!
Great post, may the Lord be praised!

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I can only add an "AMEN" to the previous comments. Good stuff.