Please give serious consideration to our appeal. After all, this is really not our appeal. It is God's. Please have the strength and courage to abandon man-made traditions and doctrines so that we may be united in our service to God. Don't accept the excuses given for failing to follow God's guidelines. We are expected to obey God's instructions as they are recorded in the New Testament. The Bible is not a human invention, and it has not been contaminated by human biases or interference. God's will does not evolve to keep pace with changing times. God is specific in His instructions about religious authority, salvation and church organization. And the Bible is clear in it's unchanging doctrine concerning worship.
We might disagree about how things should be today, but we have no choice but to agree on the truth relating to the early church. This involves simple historical facts. As we discuss in other studies, the early church consisted of autonomous congregations, each under the oversight of a plurality of male leaders known as elders. Early Christians practiced only immersion of adult believers for the forgiveness of sins. Sprinkling and pouring were not passed off under the guise of baptism. Infants were not baptized. No one became a Christian without being baptized.
We need to mention each time that the Bible is our only authority in spiritual matters. We are referring to other sources merely to demonstrate what they have observed through their study of the Greek language, history and the Bible.
Let's drop in on a Sunday assembly of the early church. The first thing to strike us is the simplicity of the worship. There is no liturgy. There is no instrumental music. Women do not lead in the service.
Clement was a leader in the church in Rome at the end of the first century. His letter to the Christians in Corinth is dated at about A.D. 95.
"There was at this time no authoritative written liturgy in use in the Church of Rome," J.B. Lightfoot observes in his discussion of this letter, "but the prayers were modified at the discretion of the officiating minister. Under the dictation of habit and experience however these prayers were gradually assuming a fixed form." (Lightfoot, 1981, pp.385-6)
The William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company has a series of books which is widely used among protestant groups. One of these books is entitled, The History of Christianity. We might point out that this book confirms what we have seen from other sources in the last two studies.
"This pattern became universal before the third century," it says in reference to placing one bishop over a congregation, "though the churches of Rome and Greece had no single bishop in Ignatius's day, nor did Alexandria until about 180" (Dowley, 1987, p.117) Ignatius died in the second century.
Eerdmans also mentions that early believers were immersed and that infant baptism did not exist in the beginning (Dowley, 1987, p.10) But what about the worship of those first Christians?
"The central service of worship on Sunday in the early church," Eerdmans states, "was the 'breaking of bread' or 'communion'" (Dowley, 1987, p.10) This source also lists preaching, Bible reading, prayer and singing as elements of the early worship. It points out that early assemblies were held in existing structures, sometimes the houses of members. There were no ornate buildings. These services were always held on the first day of the week.
"Worship gradually became more formal and stereotyped in the period following Paul's death," Eerdmans notes (Dowley, 1987, p. 124).
"The Christian worship," church historian J. L. von Mosheim writes, "consisted in hymns, prayers, the reading of the Scriptures, a discourse addressed to the people, and concluded with the celebration of the Lord's Supper" (Kurfees, 1972, p.15).
As we know from the New Testament, this "Lord's Supper" was a simple sharing of bread and fruit of the vine done in remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus. The Lord set the pattern for this during His last supper with the Apostles.
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth of the origin, form and purpose of the Lord's Supper.
"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you," Paul states, "that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way {He took} the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink {it,} in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."
"And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread," we read in Acts 20:7, "Paul {began} talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight."
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 we find another element of the Sunday gathering: the collection.
"Now concerning the collection for the saints," Paul writes, "as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come."
Worship of the early church was a simple gathering consisting of the Lord's Supper, prayer, teaching, reading from the Bible, singing and a collection.
There is agreement among historians that the early church rejected instrumental music (Waddey, 1981, pp. 48-9)
By definition, "a cappella" means vocal music without instrumental accompaniment. But the term literally means, "as in the chapel."
"Many centuries were to pass before instruments accompanied the sung melodies," Kurt Pahlen notes in his book, Music of the World (Waddey, 1981, p.48).
"Only singing, however, and no playing of instruments, was permitted in the early church," Hugo Leichtentritt agrees in the book, Music, History and Ideas (Waddey, 1981, p.48).
"There can be no doubt," Emil Nauman writes in The History of Music, that originally the music of the divine service was everywhere entirely of a vocal nature" (Waddey, 1981, p. 48).
"At first," John Kurtz states in Church History, "church music was simple, artless, recitative. But the rivalry of heretics forced the orthodox church to pay greater attention to the requirements of art. Chrysostom had to declaim against the secularization of church music. More lasting was the opposition to the introduction of instrumental accompaniment" (Waddey, 1981, p. 48)
As this author points out, the music was changed to create a better show and thus attract more people.
"All the music employed in the services of the early Christians was vocal," Frank London says in Evolution of Church Music. (Waddey, 1981, p. 48).
"Ambrose expresses his scorn for those who would play with the lyre and psaltery instead of singing hymns and psalms;" Edward Dickinson reports in Music in the History of the Western Church, "and Augustine adjures believers not to turn their heart to theatrical instruments" (Waddey, 1981, pp. 48-49).
"The religious guides of the early Christians," Dickinson continues, "felt that there would be an incongruity, and even profanity, in the use of the sensuous nerve-exciting effects of instrumental sound in their mystical, spiritual worship. Their high religious and moral enthusiasm needed no aid from external stimulus; the pure vocal utterance was the more proper expression of their faith" (Waddey, 1981, p. 49).
"Music in churches is as ancient as the apostles," Joseph Bingham proposes in his Works, "but instrumental music not so. The use of the instrument, indeed is much more ancient, but not in church service" (Waddey, 1981, p. 49).
There is no doubt that, during our visit to a first-century worship, we would not hear any kind of instrumental music. This realization has been shared by many throughout the ages.
"Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law," John Calvin concluded. "The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews" (Brownlow, 1945, p. 180).
"Music as a science, I esteem and admire:" Methodist commentator Adam Clark stated, "but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity" (Brownlow, 1945, p. 180).
"I have no objection to instruments of music, in our chapels," Clark quotes John Wesley, "provided they are neither heard nor seen" (Brownlow, 1945, pp. 180-181).
According to McClintock & Strong's Encyclopedia, Martin Luther called the organ "an ensign of Baal" and John Knox referred to it as a "chest of whistles." Charles H. Spurgeon, a famous Baptist preacher, did not have instrumental music during the 20 years he preached in London (Brownlow, 1945, p. 181).
"And do not get drunk with wine," Paul instructs in Ephesians 5:18-19, "for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord."
"Let your songs be," Church of England scholars Conybeare and Howson observe in their commentary on this passage, "not the drinking songs of heathen feasts, but psalms and hymns; and their accompaniment, not the music of the lyre, but the melody of the heart" (Brownlow, 1945, p. 181)
The early worship included neither a liturgy nor instrumental music. And women did not lead in the service. This is clear from passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:8-12.
"Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak," Paul instructs in the first passage, "but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church."
Those on both sides of this issue today have chosen to ignore these two passages. Even those who oppose ordaining women as Catholic priests say it is because Jesus chose 12 men as Apostles. This argument is doomed to failure since it has nothing to do with the discussion. Why don't they turn to the verses which do deal with the topic? It is because liberal theologians have already decided that these two passages either express the bias of Paul or deal with a situation limited to a given place or time. There is not one tiny shred of evidence to back up these ideas. It is that way simply because that's the way they want it to be. If anyone suggests such ideas to you, challenge them to present evidence. There is none. The fact is that the passages themselves prove that these ideas are absurd.
Does Paul just express his own bias? The chapter in 1 Corinthians makes it a point to say he is writing the Lord's commandment. Is this limited to that time? The passage in 1 Timothy appeals to the creation to make its point. Is this limited to a given place? If so, why does Paul send it to two places, since Timothy was probably in Ephesus. More importantly, why is the passage in 1 Corinthians prefaced by the statement, "as in all the churches of the saints"?
But can we accept what Paul has to say? Peter thinks so. In 2 Peter 3:15-16 the author says it is the untaught and unstable who distort the writings of Paul, and this to their own destruction. He refers to Paul's writings as "Scripture."
What do you notice as we visit this first-century service? Is it what you expected? We can try to change how things are, but we can never change how they were. Without a doubt, the early worship was just as we have pictured it. This same church accepted the simple, clear biblical teaching about religious authority, salvation and church organization. Won't you please give serious consideration to our plea? Won't you abandon human doctrines in favor of the truth? Don't forget; only the truth can set us free.
Brownlow, Leroy (1945), Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ (Fort Worth: Brownlow).
Dowley, Tim, ed. (1987), Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Kurfees, M.C. (1972), Walking by Faith: Origin of Instrumental Music in Christian Worship (Nashville: Gospel Advocate).
Lightfoot, J.B. (1981), The Apostolic Fathers, "Clement" (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint) Part 1 Vol. I.
Waddey, John, ed. (1981), Introducing the Church of Christ (Fort Worth: Star Bible Publications).