Good Reason To Gather

Justin Martyr was martyred for his faith in 165 AD.  His description of how Christians (Jews and Gentiles) gathered in Rome at that time is one of the oldest “orders of service” on record.  It’s believed that what he describes happening among Roman Christians was the norm for Christians everywhere during his time period.  He wrote:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities in the country gather together to one place*, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.  Then, when the reader has ceased, the president [or nasi]* verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.  Then we all rise together and pray, and, as before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying “Amen.” [This means “we agree” or “let it be so.”] And there is a distribution to each, and each participate in the food over which thanks have been given.  And to those who are absent a portion is sent by deacons.  And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who kindly assists the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds [imprisoned for their faith] and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.  Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is this first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.”

What I understand from his description is that…

  • Christians, at least the city Christians, met together weekly, on Sunday.
  • There was a leader who had a dominant role in those meetings, then called a president (or nasi), not yet called a pastor.
  • A reader read the words of the prophets or the apostles, words that would later be combined into what we now call the Bible.
  • The pastor then taught the meaning of these words to the gathered group.
  • The group prayed together.
  • The president prayed.
  • Communion (Eucharist or Lord’s Supper) was taken and a full meal was also served
  • Leaders called “deacons” took food to the homebound.
  • Those who had money and possessions, without being required to do so, gave to the church.
  • The president oversaw the distribution of those funds to anyone who had need.
  • The book of Acts also tells us this about Christians in Jerusalem in the first century…

    “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)

    What I understand from his description is that…

  • All Christians in Jerusalem met together daily in the Jewish house of worship, the temple.  This was before Christians were banned from Jewish meeting places.
  • They also got together in one another’s homes to eat and possibly sing (it’s not clear what the word “praise” means in this passage but it most often means to sing a tribute)
  • These Christians sold their stuff and gave away the proceeds so that no one would have a need.
  • The community generally liked them.
  • They grew in number.
  • So, here we have two accounts of early Christians meeting.  One type of meeting was weekly and very structured.  The other type was seemingly more informal, probably many smaller groups in homes.  One meeting had a leader who taught.  The other might have but it’s not mentioned, so teaching was probably not a central or essential part of that gathering.

    Questions for you:

  • Must we have both types of meetings?
  • Is one meeting superior to the other in some way?
  • Is one meeting more appealing to you personally? Why?
  • Is any meeting of Christians you’re involved in like either of these early church meetings?  How does your meeting differ from these?
  • If the kingdom (God’s will done on earth as it is in Heaven) is the Good Reason (or Good News) God does everything, and it’s the message Jesus preached on earth, then is it right to expect these meetings to in some way bring about the kingdom.  How did they?  Or didn’t they?
  • *emphasis mine, or brackets mine