So what was this New Testament service like? If we’re heading back to Jerusalem, we need to know what we’re rebuilding…
The Ekklesia Service – When?
In New Testament times the believers gathered on the first day of the week – Sunday right? Well yes and no. With a Hebraic foundation, the faith operated on a Jewish calendar which means the day starts when the sun goes down the night before (no possibility of worshiping the sun god here). So they met on what we would call Saturday night, but it counts as the first day of the week from a biblical perspective. On our “Sunday” i.e. during the day, they would have been hard at work.
The Ekklesia Service – Where?
Well you won’t find any “building fund” offerings in the New Testament because the believers met in homes. They usually attended synagogues on the Sabbath because that was the only place you could hear scripture read (they couldn’t use their Kindles back then). Even if the ekklesia grew to 20 or 30,000 members in a city, its primary unit was still meeting in homes. Occasionally they would meet in larger groups if there was a major doctrinal issue to resolve or there was a visiting teacher in town. Other than that they would copy and pass Paul’s letters around from house to house – again no Kindle service – today we have websites, Facebook, email and even books!
The Ekklesia Service – What?
They met for food, fellowship, worship and ministry. There was no preaching, no one “led” the service and only Yeshua was in charge i.e. not the pastor, vicar, reverend, elders or anyone else. They basically had what we would call a pot luck dinner (though they may have had the food more organised – I’ll bring the kebabs etc).
They would meet and greet (with holy hugs and kisses) and have a time of praise and dancing. When the meal was ready, they would feast together. Eating a meal with someone has very strong cultural significance in the middle east – it was a form of unity/covenanting together through the sharing of each other’s food. Communion was part of the meal. There would be a lot of love, sharing and laughter at the table.
After the meal they would continue (the meal was part of the service), with praise, dancing, worship, sharing (not long preaching or teaching though), raising of hands, prayer etc. This was all driven by the ekklesia (men and women) who were being led by the Spirit of God i.e. one would bring a prayer, another a song, another a prophecy, another a word of knowledge, all for the building up and edification of the saints with the primary focus being to bring praise and glory to Yeshua. If no one was close to God that week, it would have been a quiet service!
Clement of Alexandria (Third century = 200+ years after Christ!) describes the “daughters of God” leading the ekklesia in a ring dance: “The righteous are the dancers; the music is a song of the King of the universe. The maidens strike the lyre, the angels praise, the prophets speak; the sound of music issues forth, they run and pursue the jubilant band; those that are called make haste, eagerly desiring to receive the Father!”
Ambrose of Milan (AD 390) “Let us dance as David did. Let us not be ashamed to show adoration of God. Dance uplifts the body above the earth into the heavenlies. Dance bound up with faith is a testimony to the living grace of God. He who dances as David danced, dances in grace.”
St Basil (4th Century) “Could there be anything more blessed than to imitate on earth the ring dance of the angels!”
In Augustine’s day (AD 400) opposition to dancing was rising, but he urged his people to “keep the sacred dances.”
So lots of singing and dancing. There was also worship, prayer, word of knowledge, prophecy and sharing. Out of this came times of ministry as the saints in the presence of God prayed for and ministered to each other. This was where healing would take place, relationships would be restored, hearts were healed and reunited. Love and communion prevailed. 1 Cor 5:4 …when you are gathered together, …, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Often non-christians would come to the gathering for prayer for healing. The power of God would be displayed, people would get healed and then they would turn their lives over to Yeshua. This is how evangelism, multiplication and church planting was done in New Testament times (we don’t read of Paul renting the Coliseum, bringing the 40 sons of Korah over from Jerusalem and holding an evangelistic rally). This ekklesia spread through friends, family, neighbours, workmates and acquaintances and was built on real relationships with real people in real everyday life.
It was the fulfilment of Yeshua’s prayer in John 17:20-26:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
And it spread like crazy! It took over the Roman empire and the Roman church spent hundreds of years trying to get rid of it. It’s time to get it back.
Shalom and Blessings,
PS If you'd like to join us for fellowship on a Saturday night, give us a call, we’d love have you over.