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John F MacArthurThe John MacArthur sermon I cited for my post on Acts 20:7-12 has some interesting information about rituals in the early years of the Church.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Worshipping on the Lord’s Day

MacArthur explains that the Lord’s Day — Sunday — became the day of Christian public worship to commemorate Christ’s Resurrection:

First of all, when did they come together? The first day of the week. Now that became the meeting time for the Church. You say, “Didn’t they meet every day?” Sure they did. They met, from Acts 2, “Daily, from house to house.” And listen. Christianity is not a one day a week thing, is it? It’s an everyday thing. And that little church, wherever it was, in whatever little town, those Christians were together usually during the week. There were Bible studies in home. They were breaking bread in homes. They were sharing the Lord’s table, perhaps, in home. So it was not uncommon for the Church to meet on a daily basis in its early years.

But together, the church came on the first day of the week. And you say, “Why did they do that?” Well, you go back to John 20, just to refresh your memory. Verse 19. This was immediately after the Resurrection, “The same day, at evening, being the first day of the week.” Do you know when the first day of the week started in the Jewish calendar? Saturday night, right? After the sun went down, the Sabbath ended. The days were counted from sunset to sunset. And so it was on Saturday night, literally, but it was the first day of the week. So then it was Sunday.

We don’t prefer to call it Sunday. It’s all right if you want to call it Sunday, but that represents the sun god. But that’s okay, because there is no sun god anyway, so you can call it Sunday without feeling bad. But I prefer to call it the Lord’s Day. That’s Revelation 1:10. John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” That’s why in your bulletin you’ll find that we call it the Lord’s Day.

Now they met together here in John 20:19 on the first day of the week, and who appeared to them? Jesus did. Eight days later, verse 26 says, “The next time the first day of the week came, they were meeting together, and the Lord appeared.” Well, you see what happened? They were together on the first day. That was Resurrection, commemoration day. The Lord appeared both times, so He had risen on the first day, appeared on the first day, appeared again on the first day, and they just took the first day and ran with it. That became Resurrection Day, the Lord’s Day.

And so the early Church celebrated its fellowship and its worship and its teaching together on Sunday. And let me hasten to add that I think such meeting together of the Church is strictly important. In Hebrews 10:25 it says, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, and much the more as you see the day approaching.” That means you ought to come together with the believers and not forsake that.

Now notice that it is not the Sabbath Day anymore. Sunday is not the Sabbath. You hear people talk about going to church on the Sabbath. This is not the Sabbath. The Sabbath was yesterday. And the Sabbath is a dead issue, friends.

You know, I was on the radio in Honolulu. They have a talk station, like KABC. It’s the number two rated station in Hawaii. And they give three hours Sunday afternoon to a Christian kind of dialogue. And so I was the three-hour answer man on Honolulu radio station, KORL. And it was really interesting just to sit there, you know, and be on the grill with all these people. You know how talk radio goes. You do have that little button, however, you know, that you can just say, “I’m sorry, ma’am.” Boing, you know, and it’s all over.

But anyway, people called in, and one fellow asked me a question at the very beginning. He said, “What day is the church supposed to meet?” And you know, I didn’t realize I was being baited, but I was, apparently, because I went into this long, lengthy answer about the meaning of the Lord’s Day and the whole thing and everything. Got all done, and the lines went bananas. And I realized there’s a tremendous contingent of Seventh Day Adventists in Honolulu. And all of a sudden, I had opened up Pandora’s box, and they couldn’t handle the calls, and everything was going, and it was amazing, all the calls that were going on.

Through all of this, I simply maintained, in answering these various questions, that the only way you can allow for the – to worship on Saturday is, one, to ignore the history of the Church; two, to assume that the old covenant is still in vogue; three, to reject the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Well, they didn’t take too kindly to all of those junctions, but I supported them by Scripture. In Colossians 2:16, it says, “Let no man therefore condemn you in food -” That is, if you don’t eat like Jewish people used to eat. “In drink, or in respect of a Feast Day,” if you don’t keep the Passover or the Sabbath, “or of the new moon, or of a Sabbath, which are a shadow of things to come.” And once the thing comes, you don’t need the shadow anymore. So don’t let anybody [try to influence] you in those things.

So we went on and on about that. It’s clear to me that the Lord’s Day historically and biblically became the time when the Church met together. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul just assumes it. He says, “When you come together on the first day of the week, that’s the time to bring your offerings.” Right? The Church should meet on the first day. If you want to meet on the Sabbath and you want to buy the Sabbath, then you’re going to have to buy the whole old covenant and you’re going to be saved by works, and that’s what we got into on the radio.

And I finally just turned the tables and I asked the question, I said, “Well, let me ask you about your doctrine. You’ve asked me about mine.” So I said to some guy who was giving me this long argument, I said, “Why is it that you say that the only covenant people are the ones who worship on the Sabbath, and that the mark of the beast is on everybody who worships on Sunday? That’s in your theology.” And there was a long silence. And then he admitted that that was true, that the mark of the beast is on those who worship on Sunday. And ultimately, what they were saying was you’re saved by works, keeping the whole covenant. Obeying the law. And we got into all kinds of legalism, and it became a tremendous thing because I’m so fresh in Galatians that, you know –

You know, the Lord has a way of just arranging things. Somebody must have thought, “Man, he’s got all that stuff down, you know?” That’s why it’s good to study the Word of God. You know, I’ve found that in my life. You study a certain passage, and the Lord will give you opportunity to use it.

The Church met then on the Lord’s Day, and at the beginning, they met on a daily basis, and pretty soon it became a kind of thing where they would continue to meet in small groups, in homes. But on the time that the Lord’s Day came around, the first day of the week, they would congregate together [e]n mass[e]. I don’t believe for a minute that the Church is just to be little groups scattered all over town. I think the Church is to come together.

Worshipping as a congregation

The earliest Christians eventually had to leave the synagogue environment and worship in people’s houses. Then, congregations grew to the point where churches were built. It is important that believers come together to worship publicly:

I don’t believe for a minute that the Church is just to be little groups scattered all over town. I think the Church is to come together.

Now where did the Early Church meet? Well, look here. It says in verse 8 they met in an upper chamber. They met everywhere. First, they met in the temple, didn’t they? And you imagine how popular that was. Boy, that must have been interesting. And then after that, they started meeting in synagogues. You know, Paul would go to a town. A bunch of people would get saved in the synagogue, and they’d keep coming to the synagogue and having their meetings there.

But eventually, it just didn’t work in the temple and it just didn’t work in the synagogue, and so they began to pull out and establish their own Christian assemblies. And the natural place to go, first of all, was to homes. Right? So the Church began in homes. And they must have been some very substantial homes. Some very large homes, to accommodate the many Christians that existed in those early years.

By the – oh, I’d say between the middle and the end of the second century, they began to build their own buildings to accommodate all of the Christians. But here, they were still meeting in an upper room, in a home. And when Paul wrote Colossians 4:15, he referred to the Church in the home. When he wrote Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19, he referred to the Church in the home, Aquila and Priscilla and Philemon too, refers to the Church that met in the home. And so there was a very common occurrence in the Early Church, and that was to meet in homes. And then later on, buildings were built.

Just all of that to say this. It’s important for the Church to come together someplace. We cannot exist in isolation, can we? We need the fellowship, the unity of the body. And so this little pattern here that we see gives us an example of how the Early Church met. On the first day of the week, verse 7, “When the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart the next day, and continued to speak until midnight, and there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.”

The love feast

MacArthur explains, scripturally, how the love feast came into being and how it disappeared. Centuries later, with the Reformation, Pietist communities in various countries revived it, and certain Christian sects still hold a love feast of some sort today, even if it involves only a non-alcoholic beverage and a piece of cake.

MacArthur doesn’t go into the revival of the love feast, however, he tells us that Paul told the Corinthians not to hold any more, because they were being selfish about the dishes they brought to the love feast:

You say, “What was the love feast?” Well, the love feast was like a potluck meal, and it was for the purpose of sharing. You had – one of the very basic things of the Christian Church is fellowship, isn’t it? And love. And so the poor people would come, and they couldn’t bring anything, and the people who could would bring enough for the poor people, and they would all share as an expression of love. It was a beautiful sharing. The common meal. And it was followed immediately by the breaking of bread and the celebration of the Lord’s Day. This was the breaking of bread for the Early Church. The agape love feast and communion.

You know, it’s a sad thing to think about, but the agape love feast kind of faded from the scene. You know why? Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Do you know what he said to them in chapter 11? He said, “You really messed up the love feast.” 1 Corinthians 11. Let me just read you a couple of verses. And this is what happened to the love feast. It just deteriorated. He says in verse 20, 1 Corinthians 11, “When you come together therefore into one place, this is not the Lord’s Supper which you eat.” In other words, “You think you’re coming together for the Lord’s Supper, but you’re not. You polluted it. It isn’t His supper.” “For in eating, everyone takes before the other his own supper.”

Can you imagine going to a potluck and have everybody sit in their own corner and eat their own potluck? It’s what was happening. And some of the hungry people who had nothing were coming, and they were going away hungry. And so he says, “One is hungry and another is drunk.” In other words, the people who come and have nothing get nothing. The people who come and have a lot overindulge.

He says, and I think this is important. He says, “Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in?” If that’s all you’re going to do, go home. “Or despise you the Church of God and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. You have literally despised the unity of the Church.” And so that’s what happened, and the whole beautiful commonness of the love feast just faded historically.

Communion

MacArthur takes issue with the way Holy Communion has evolved over the centuries:

… communion also got hit in history. The Catholic Church moved in, and when the Catholic Church dominated the world, before the Reformation, communion stopped being a natural, informal, warm sharing together in the memory of Christ, and it became a mystical priestly ceremony that’s now continuing to go on, known as the mass. And somehow, Protestantism sprang out of that, and we got a little closer to the truth, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. We still think of communion as something that’s performed by a whole lot of ministers, and it has to be done with little silver trays and little – and walking up and down aisles, and organs playing. And I think that’s wrong, too. I think that’s one way to do it, but I think communion is something we all ought to do much more frequently than we do.

Often people will say, “You know, John, I’d like to participate in communion, but I can’t come on Wednesday nights.” That’s no excuse. That’s no excuse.

Communion at home

I’m still digesting MacArthur’s suggestion for home Communion, which follows on from people saying they’re unable to attend his church’s Communion service, but then I come from a theological background wherein a Real Presence is part of consecrated bread and wine.

For MacArthur, Communion seems to be a symbol of the Last Supper, therefore, he says to hold one’s own Communion ceremonies at home:

You can have communion any time you want. The best place I think to teach your children communion is in your home. Teach them the meaning of breaking of bread. You know, some people just go crazy when you talk like this, because they say, “Only ordained ministers can do that.” You can’t find that in the Bible. You can share around the Lord’s Table any time you want, and you should. Jesus said, “Do this until I come, and do it with you in the kingdom.” It’s your responsibility.

There are plenty of occasions. You know, can you imagine when you get together – have you ever gotten together with other Christians and gone home after evening and said, “What a wasted evening. We could have talked about the Lord, and all we did was fool around and talk about Aunt Mary and Mrs. So and So, and how we don’t like this guy and this girl.” Have you ever done that? Sure. And you had a whole _____ thing. How about if you came together three or four couples, and just started out by breaking bread. I think that might change the pattern of your evening. It might even change where you go after you got done, or what you talk about, for sure.

And so I think we need to remember that this is part of the Early Church. It was a common and easy and a natural and a flowing thing, right out of the life that they had and their love for the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s just what they did when they came together. And that’s the way it should be with us. But unfortunately, I think we’ve been victimized by those who have told us that all of these things are to be performed in some kind of a formal, ritualistic manner as well.

Then he says that, along with this, comes edifying, instructive conversation. That I can get on board with:

But the disciples came together to break bread, and here’s the second thing that I want you to notice about the time they met together. Paul preached unto them. They came together for teaching. Whenever the Early Church came together, this was primarily the purpose. Sometimes it was to break bread, and there is no command here as to how frequently. It’s just to be done often. And this time when they came together, they did that. But Paul preached unto them. This became the priority when they met, was preaching and teaching. And the word preaching here is not to preach the Gospel. You don’t need to preach the Gospel at a service of breaking of bread, because everybody’s already a Christian.

Paul taught them, and the word preaching here has to do with dialogue. He answered questions, and there was feedback, and he shared with them. Teaching. That was the priority. The Apostles had earlier said, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word,” Acts 6:4. And Acts 6:7 says, “And the Word multiplied and the Church multiplied.” It says the same thing in Acts 12:24 and Acts 19:20. “The Word of God grew and prevailed.” This is the priority.

Interesting, to say the least.

Agree or disagree, it’s food for thought, especially for those who consider themselves Christians but who no longer attend church because they find many of today’s churches lacking in solemnity and teaching.

That said, an effort should be made to find a good congregation or a good service that you feel comfortable with. Attend now and again to make it a regular habit.

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