Saturday, November 27, 2010

Acts 29 - Part 1

The book of Acts tells the story of what the Apostles did after the resurrection up until Paul's imprisonment at Rome. There are 28 chapters in the book of Acts. What happens after that last chapter? A relatively new movement, the Acts 29 Network, has popped up in Protestantism that claims to embody the answer to that question. The name would imply that they are in touch with the roots of the early church that continued on from Acts 28 till this day. And because of the rather quick success of the Acts 29 Network, it would be safe to assume that many people are very interested to know what happened after chapter 28. Would this new movement hold the same beliefs that those Christians in the book of Acts held? Does there exist today a church that would be recognizable to a Christian from the book of Acts? What do we know about church life in and after Acts?

The Jewish faith was a liturgical faith and the Christian faith that followed remained liturgical. In Judaism there was a cycle of prayers, blessings and meals that took place daily, weekly, monthly and annually. This included daily hours of prayers and the annual High Feast Days. Meals included the "breaking of bread" and the "blessing of the cup", which we see Jesus doing with his Apostles in the Gospels. Sacrifices took place in the Temple. All of the other liturgical practices of prayer, scripture reading, and teaching took place in the synagogues. This combination of liturgical services in both the Temple and synagogue was part of the daily life of Jesus and His disciples and is the foundation for Christian worship.

In Acts 2:46 we read that the disciples met daily in the Temple. They were not just hanging out, they were participating in the Jewish service after Penetecost. In Acts 3:1 we learn that Peter and John were going to the Temple at regularly scheduled times of prayer. Not only were they partcipating in Jewish worship practices, but they were keeping the daily cycle of litugical prayers. It becomes clear when reading through Acts that after Pentecost, Christians still held to the Jewish form of liturgical worship.

But hasn't Christ's sacrifice done away with all that? I suppose that depends on what you mean by "all that". There are two parts of Jewish worship: Sacrifice and Communion (the daily life of the liturgical cycle). Christ's sacrifice fulfilled all the sacrifices required of the Jewish people. It was complete and no further sacrifice is needed. But what of the rest? What of communion? What of the liturgical patterns?

Instructions were given to Moses to build the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-27). These instructions are detailed information about the nature of Temple worship, including its physical structure and dimensions, instructions for the Ark, the internal decor of the Tabernacle, details of the priests' vestments, the use of incense, the presence of an altar, the daily offerings, the use of anointing oil, and the use of images. Hebrews 8:5 refers to these very detailed instructions and we are told they are a pattern of worship in Heaven. Since these instructions are a pattern of heaven, which is timeless, why would expect these instructions to be altered? Part of these worship patterns were fulfilled by Christ's sacrifice, but the rest remains Heavenly worship.

There are a few other places in Scripture where we see examples of Heavenly worship. In Isaiah 6, the year King Uzziah died, Isaiah is given a glimpse of worship in the Heavenly Temple. The Lord is on a throne, six-winged seraphim are repeating, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts", the Temple is full of smoke (incense), and there is an altar. From this altar the seraphim takes a coal, touches it to Isaiah's mouth and says, "Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged." The church has always understood this to be an image of the Eucharist.

In Revelation 4 and 5 the Apostle John is given a vision of Heaven. Revelation 1:10 informs us that is occurred on the Lord's day while he was in the Spirit. The church has always took this to mean John was in the middle of celebrating a liturgy. In this vision of Heaven he sees the Lord on a throne. Twenty four elders sit on 24 thrones surrounding the one throne, wearing white robes and golden crowns and in their hands are bowls of incense, which are the prayers of God's people. In front of the throne is a lamp stand with seven branches. In the center of the throne, surrounded by creatures with six wings which repeat, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty", is a lamb looking as if it has been slain.

From Exodus to Isaiah to Revelation, heavenly worship follows a pattern. This pattern, though only a shadow of the Heavenly pattern, was followed by the Jewish people and continued to be followed by the early church to this day. The Heavenly Temple in Revelation resembles both the Jewish synagogue and later Christian churches. The worship service depicted there includes liturgical components still universal in the Orthodox Church — a throne, white-robed elders gathered around the throne, seven burning lamps, prostrations, incense, and more. "Holy, Holy, Holy..." is sung in every church and prayed by the faithful every morning and night. You can enter any Orthodox church around the globe and you will see this liturgical pattern of worship on Earth as it is in Heaven...

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