Monday, November 29, 2010

Acts 29 - Part 3 (The Synagogue)

There is a common assumption that worship in the early church was spontaneous, but it is clear from Scripture, archealogical evidence, and history that early Christians retained the pattern of worship inherited from the Jewish faith. Early on on the book of Acts it is evident that the Apostles were continuing to worship in the Temple amongst other faithful Jews. And why wouldn't they? They were good Jews who had found the Messiah. They wouldn't be known as Christians till they reached Antioch.

By this time, worship in the synagogue had been well established since the captivity in Babylon. When the Jews were in captivity, there was no Temple in which to worship and offer sacrifice, so they assembled around the elders to hear the Hebrew Scriptures and perform the daily cycle of prayers. When the Jews returned from captivity, they rebuilt the Temple, and retained the worship in the Synagogue. Synagogues would later become ornate houses of worship as we know them now, but early on would have been in someone's house, usually someone wealthy with a large house to provide space for all the worshipers.

A typical synagogue building was an open hall, with no seats for the standing congregation (many Orthodox churches still retain this feature). At one end (facing Jerusalem if possible) there was a centrally located raised platform called the bema. At the back of the bema, there was the seat for the ruling elder or rabbi, with seats on either side of him for his council of elders. These seats collectively representative the "seat of Moses" in the Temple which Christ refers to in Matthew 23:2. In the middle of the bema was a table upon which sat the ark and before it burned a seven-branched candlestick. The ark would have a copy of the Scriptures, spiritually pointing to the Ark in the Temple. The focus of worship in the Temple was towards the Holy of Holies and the focus of worship in the synagogue was also towards the Holy of Holies, so whenever possible, synagogues are orientated towards Jerusalem.

Worship in the synagogue would be performed at the same time as it was also going on in the Temple. It would focus on the reading of the word of God, and communion with God in the form of prayer and praise. There were 6 major components: The Litany, the Confession, Intercessory Prayer, Scripture Readings, Preaching, and the Benediction. "As was his custom", this is the pattern that Jesus would have followed when he read from Isaiah in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-30). Jesus would have ascended the bema and begun the service with the following two prayers:
Blessed be Thou, O Lord, King of the world, Who formest the light and createst the darkness, Who makest peace, and createst everything; Who, in mercy, givest light to the earth, and to those who dwell upon it, and in Thy goodness, day by day, and every day, renewest the works of creation. Blessed be the Lord our God for the glory of His handiworks, and for the light-giving lights which He has made for His praise. Blessed be the Lord our God, Who has formed the lights.

With great love has Thou loved us, O Lord our God, and with much overflowing pity has Thou pitied us, our Father and our King. For the sake of our fathers who trusted in Thee, and Thou taughtest them the statutes of life, have mercy upon us, and teach us. Enlighten our eyes in Thy Law; cause our hearts to cleave to Thy commandments; unite our hearts to love and fear Thy Name, and we shall not be put to shame, world without end. For Thou art a God Who preparest salvation, and hast in truth brought us hear to Thy great Name that we may lovingly praise Thee and Thy Unity. Blessed be the Lord, Who in love chose His people Israel.
After this would be the Shema (what could be considered the Jewish Creed), which consisted of three passages from the Torah. He would have then taken His place before the Ark and would have said a benediction. Then He would have added formal prayers suitable for the day. The chief rabbi would approach the ark and bring out the Scriptures. On the Sabbath, seven portions from the Law would be read, then a section from the Prophets. In this instance it was Isaiah, which was read and was immediately followed by Christ's sermon. There would have been a benediction, but according to Luke, the congregation wasn't very happy with Jesus's sermon.

This is the structure of worship Jesus and the Apostles were born into. They grew up worshiping in the Temple (where the sacrifices were offered) and in the synagogues of Israel (where "services of the word" were celebrated). After the Resurrection they continued to worship and keep the hours of prayer as they always had in the Temple and the synagogue, but on Sunday they went to their homes to celebrate the Lord's Supper on the Lord's Day...

No comments:

Post a Comment