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Since prayer is vitally important for a relationship with God, the early church wanted to ensure that its members were addressing the correct God and using correct theology when they did speak to that God. So be it. The early church made full use of every passage of the Old Testament for the purposes of teaching, exhorting and evangelizing. They understood the literal meaning of the Old Testament, but they had no qualms with also reading those scriptures in an allegorical or typological way.
We see this in numerous examples in the New Testament already. The story of Noah becomes a type for baptism in 1 Peter 3.
Paul uses the relationship between Sarah and Hagar to describe the Christians and the non-Christian Jews in Galatians 4. Jesus even uses the bronze serpent from Numbers 21 as a type for Himself in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Early Christians completely integrated the Old and New Testaments and created a poetry to the faith.
And for them, Scripture was read at length in the context of worship. There was no individual Bible study because there were no individual Bibles. The subject material was Jesus, no matter what book or passage was read and the application was how, therefore, the followers of Jesus were to live with one another and in the world. The worship service itself was a time when Christians were discipled in a general way. It was a time to encounter the Scriptures. It was a time to be encouraged by one another to keep the faith and persevere through whatever trials they were encountering at the time.
It was a time to be reminded that Jesus Christ is God and that the individual members of the church were integrated into His life, His body. The worship service was not evangelistic in nature. The preaching was not for conversion of the visitors.
The focus was on God and how to be faithful disciples. The reason they came was not to be the center of attention or the focus of the service, but to learn what these people truly believed and why. For these early Christians, the Eucharist was a main form of discipleship as well.
It was the climax of every service they celebrated. For the entire part of the service leading up to the Eucharist, the people were being raised up to the throne of God in heaven. Their prayers focused them on God, petitioning God to create the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The reading of Scripture and expounding on it showed how God had been acting throughout history to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus Christ, and how Christ was still present in the world through the church, His body.
Finally, in the Eucharist, as the people had been ascending to heaven, heaven came down to earth as the Holy Spirit eucharized the bread and wine so that the people in Christ actually received Christ. In Holy Communion, heaven and earth met. What this did for the Christians was to give an objective reality to the Christian experience. Not every worship service was an ecstatic journey into the third heaven.
Not every presider was skilled at preaching, or even praying, on behalf of the people. Not every Christian felt like they were in the presence of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe every week. But in the sacrament, the Christians knew, whether or not they felt it, that Christ was present.
They knew they were standing in the presence of the God of all who gave all for them. They knew that, by receiving the sacrament, they were receiving more of God within them for their transformation and empowerment to be the faithful disciples they were called to be.
All of the other means by which the church created and reinforced discipleship were found in the celebration of the sacrament. It was only celebrated when the people gathered together as the church. Because it was only open to Christians, it reinforced the concept that they were different — a new race in the world, one not belonging to any nationality or tribe but to God above all else. Holy Communion was the climax of corporate worship. It was an extensive exercise in prayer — prayer that used numerous scriptural references from both the Old Testament and what would become the New Testament.
It was here, in the sacrament, that the church saw fully and completely what the potential cost of discipleship entailed: death.
Yet it was literally good news because, despite His death, Jesus Christ was currently present with them in this very act of Holy Communion. By making regular use of the means of grace Wesley identified from the primitive church, we can make significant strides in that mission as we journey together in the life of the church. Steven D. He adapted this article from a series on ancient discipleship fmchr. The Next Big Thing. Aug Jul