Minding Our Business: How Early Christians Worshiped -- By: L. Joseph Letendre

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 13:4 (Fall 2004)
Article: Minding Our Business: How Early Christians Worshiped
Author: L. Joseph Letendre

Minding Our Business:
How Early Christians Worshiped

L. Joseph Letendre

A year and a half ago, churches where I live began displaying banners that read: “Peace Is the Church’s Business.” Though hard to disagree with, the statement made me uneasy. That it was part of an interdenominational protest against the Iraqi war did not seem to have anything to do with it. That the banners appeared on churches that supported medical violence against the unborn and legislative violence against the institution of marriage was not it, either. I eventually realized my disagreement was more theological than political: I worried that the banners were a case of what C. S. Lewis called “Christianity And,” a form of reductionism that takes one element of a complex whole—in this case the gospel work of peacemaking—and treats it as if it were the most important thing. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis describes how reductionism can undermine faith:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him…come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the state at which the religion becomes merely part of the “Cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of [the Cause]…Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have

almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.1

To paraphrase Jacob Marley’s ghost: Peace is just one drop in the comprehensive ocean of the church’s business. An important drop, but a drop nonetheless. It takes a continual effort for pastors and congregations not to lose sight of the church’s oceanic primary business. Thus, Jan Peterson, the wife of pastor and writer, Eugene Peterson, recalls: “When I asked him why he didn’t preach on fair housing (I was serving on a county fair housing committee), he said, ‘If people hear the Word of God, they will eventually practice fair housing.’”2

If peace is not the church’s primary business, what is? Answer: worship, witness, and service. It is the first (and most important) of these—worship—that concerns me here. My questions are historical: How did early Christians worship? How can their ancient practice inform our own worship?

Scriptural Hints

The New Testament says little about how the first Christians worshiped. This is not surprising; much of the New Testament was written to deal with questions confronting the early church: Sho...

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