“…not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth; but…God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27)
We usually hear some preachers declare that today’s modern churches do not resemble the early church we can read about in the book of Acts. And they are right in saying so. However, we would also hear these same preachers instruct the modern, or should we say post-modern, church to return to its biblical roots by imitating the practices, culture, traditions, methodologies, and government systems of the church in Acts. To be sure, it is imperative to take note of what the early church was really like in order to determine whether or not we can truly become like that once more.
The pagan writer Celsus described Christians during the second century as ignorant folk whose teaching took place, not in schools or open forums, but in kitchens, shops, and tanneries. According to Dr. Justo Gonzalez, “Although the work of Christians such as Justin, Clement, and Origen would seem to belie Celsus’ words, the fact remains that, in general, Celsus was telling the truth.” Most Christians at that time belonged to the lower echelons of society. Moreover, taking into account their stage of technological advancement, indeed it seems that the world we live in and its civilization today is quite different from that of the early church.
The area of contention nowadays is the style of Christian worship. This is one area of Christian life where we can see more similarities to the 21st century church. The early Christians had the custom of gathering on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread. This is still practiced by the body of Christ today with some exceptions, particularly the Messianic Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists and Seventh-Day Baptists, who still (wrongly) cling to the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath. Interestingly, throughout most of its history, the Christian church has seen in communion or the Eucharist its highest act of worship. Only at a relatively recent date, especially with the rise of evangelicalism, has it become common practice in many Protestant churches to focus their worship on preaching rather than on communion. These two facets of Christian worship are more popularly referred to as the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, respectively. A common characteristic of these early communion services was that only baptized Christians could attend. Converts who have not yet been baptized we allowed only in the early part of the service such as the readings, sermons and prayers but were sent away at the time of the communion proper. It was only until a few decades ago, during the Second Vatican Council, that this practice was changed in that unbaptized Christians, in fact, even non-Christians, are no longer sent away during the communion portion of the Mass. However, if we are to base our worship services from the book of Acts, we would not see any prescription on whether preaching or communion should be the main focus. Personally, I think it should be both.