Whatever Happened to the Church Christ Built?

my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this in memory of me.’ For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.'” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 REB)

Paul informs us that the early church carried on this tradition and tells us when they did it. “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” (Acts 20:7)

The apostle again speaks of the Lord’s Supper when he warned the Corinthians: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29)

Such respected historians as Eusebius of Caesarea and Johann August Wilhelm Neander tell us that Christians in the early centuries of the church took the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.

Fasting

Jesus to John the Baptist’s disciples: “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15)

And Jesus issued instructions on fasting. Don’t put on a show when you fast like hypocrites do. Let your fasting be a secret between you and God. He knows, and he will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

Luke speaks of the Antioch church worshiping the Lord and fasting. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'” (Acts 13:2) In the next chapter we read, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each church [in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch] and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord.” (Acts 14:23)

We find no command in the New Testament to fast. However, in Acts chapters 13 and 14 we discover instances in which the early church did fast.

Foot Washing

“[Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5)

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:12-15)

“Washing the feet of the saints” is also one of good deed qualifications Paul lists for widows seeking support from the church. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)

Even so, washing feet is nowhere declared a part of the church’s worship service.

Prayer

Prayer is our way of communicating with God. Jesus offers us an example. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

Notice that the Lord’s prayer is simple, short, and to the point. It asks for daily help, guidance, and forgiveness.

He tells us to pray for those who persecute us; (Matthew 5:44) pray to God privately, don’t make a spectacle out of it; and don’t babble on. God already knows what you need. He’s not impressed by the length of your prayer. (Matthew 6:5-8)

So what are we to pray? Paul tells us to give thanks in all circumstances; (1 Thessalonians 5:18) for God’s help; (1 Timothy 5:5) for each other; (James 5:16) for whatever we want to request; (Philippians 4:6) for rulers, officials, and everyone. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

James says we don’t get what we want because we don’t pray for it. Or if we do pray for it, our request is denied because of our wrong motives. (James 4:2-3) Pray whenever you are sick or in trouble, advises James. (James 5:14)

Prayer was a part of the New Testament church’s worship. (Acts 2:42) (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Giving

Paul tells us of the collection taken for God’s people in the Galatian and Corinthian churches. “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” (1 Corinthians 16:2)

Reading Scriptures

By the early part of the first century, Jews had established the tradition of reading the Law and Prophets in their synagogue services. Paul told Timothy to devote himself to the “public reading of scriptures, preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13) Thus the Jewish custom was carried over into church worship.

In Colossians we find Paul instructing the Colossians and the Laodiceans to exchange letters he had written and read both. (Colossians 4:16) And in Thessalonians, he tells the church to read his letter to all the brothers. (1 Thessalonians 5:27) Thereby, what was to become portions of the New Testament was already being read in the church along with the Law and Prophets of the Old Testament.

Reciting Creeds

A creed is a compact statement of faith recited by the congregation during the worship service. Creeds, however, are nowhere to be found in the New Testament. No common human creed, no catechism, no confession of faith are authorized in the scriptures. They were all added later.

It’s true, the Lord’s Prayer is frequently quoted word for word. Did Jesus intend for that prayer to become a creed? Evidently, he did not. Jesus introduced his prayer saying, “Pray, then, in this way.” (Matthew 6:9 NRSV) That sounds very much like general guidance – “Do it in this fashion” rather than, “I want you to repeat every word of this verbatim.”

Singing

Here are all the New Testament references to hymns, songs, and spiritual songs.

After Jesus and the apostles’ Passover meal, “they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30 NKJV)

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25)

Paul: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19)

Paul: “I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” (1 Corinthians 14:15)

Paul: “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” (1 Corinthians 14:26)

Paul encourages us to: “admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

James: “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13)

Notice musical instruments, choirs, and solos were not mentioned in church worship. Like human creeds, they were later additions not authorized by the scriptures. Historically, the first appearance of instrumental music in church worship was not until the sixth century A.D., and it was not widely accepted until the eighth century. A number of religious leaders including: John Calvin, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon strongly opposed the use of instrumental music in worship because of its absence in the New Testament.

Miraculous Powers, Prophecies, Healings, Speaking in Tongues

Jesus preformed miracles; the apostles preformed miracles; members of the early church performed miracles.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul lists nine spiritual gifts of the infant church: “To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)

What was the purpose of these miracles? Jesus confirmed his deity with his miracles. “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’

“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.'” (Matthew 11:2-5)

Likewise, Jesus gave his apostles the power to perform miracles to confirm their message. “In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:17-20)