j0289346In a recent Forbidden Bible Verses post on Matthew 13:50-53, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘The Power of Unbelief, Part 1’.

In that sermon, MacArthur describes Jesus’s return to the synagogue in Nazareth to teach the congregation. They were no more receptive than they were the first time, but at least they did not try to throw Him off a cliff again.

MacArthur described the ritual involved. The Church shares a few parallels.

Call to worship

Every Friday, there was the call to stop work for the Sabbath. The ancient Jews sounded:

two trumpet blasts. Those blasts would have come from the trumpet in the hands of the minister of the synagogue, who climbed up onto the roof of his house and just as the sun was beginning to set on Shabbat, Friday evening, he would blow two blasts to warn of the beginning of the Sabbath. A little time would intervene, and he would blow a second time, this time one blast. At that blast, all work halted. Then there would be a little space of time, and he would blow another single blast, and instantly put his trumpet down, lest he should defame and dishonor the Sabbath now that the third blast indicated it had begun. He would not defile the Sabbath.

Jesus would have heard the trumpet blasts and with the people, and gone to a place to partake in the Sabbath activity.

For Sabbath worship the following day, a synagogue leader used a shofar (translated as ‘trumpet’ in the Bible) to alert the congregation it was time to gather together. This would have been a long blast with one or two notes.

Churches have bells. In the Middle Ages, these were rung not only before Mass but at the time of the Elevation of the Host during the prayer of consecration, when everyone had to be at church. Some Christians used to wait for the second sound of the bells coming from the sanctuary, enter to hear the prayer, then leave afterwards. Many felt that it was sufficient to be present only at that point, as W D Maxwell explained in his 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form (p. 65).

Today’s bells, where used, generally are rung 15 minutes before the start of the service or Mass. They are still rung at the time of the consecration at Catholic Mass and some High Anglican services.

Assigned places

MacArthur says that everyone had an assigned seat in the synagogue:

They sat in a very prescribed manner in a very prescribed place; it was very routine, with familiar faces, activities, and events.

Until the mid-19th century, it was common in some Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian congregations to rent or purchase a pew for one’s family. Those who could not afford to do so were relegated to lesser pews — on the side, in back or upstairs. Because of pew allocations some churches only allowed in members of their congregation, effectively prohibiting outsiders from attending. As congregants’ disputes rose over pew designations and clergy realised that they were restricting other Christians’ ability to worship, the practice was abolished.

Standing for the readings

MacArthur tells us that the Jews of Jesus’s time stood to hear the readings:

The standing posture was indicative of the authority of the Word of God.

Christians also stand for the Scripture readings.

Sitting for teaching

When a rabbi or guest teacher, such as Jesus, gave an address, the congregation sat down to hear it:

lest the people think that man’s teaching had the same authority as God’s Word. They stood to read, and sat to teach.

Similarly, Christians sit to hear a sermon.

Our Christian services follow time-honoured and ancient traditions.

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