This short article is the third in a series of bulletin inserts on worship at Trinity URC
Under the Old Covenant an entire book was given to the children of Israel to regulate their worship. The book of Leviticus is filled with a seemingly endless list of rules and regulations governing the worship of God.
Under the New Covenant very few details are given to the church to regulate our worship. Acts 2:42 describes the corporate worship of the early church in the simplest of terms: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
A more literal translation of the Greek reveals nuances that are worth noting: “And they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”
The first item of note is the devotion and commitment of the early church to corporate worship: “they continued steadfastly.” The Greek verb means to “persist in,” “to hold fast to,” “to continue in,” to “persevere in,” “to be devoted to.” The early church was intentional and deliberate in their commitment to corporate worship, and specifically to the apostles’ doctrine and the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers. As someone has once remarked: the difficulty with the early Christians wasn’t in getting them to come to church, the difficulty was in getting them to go home! They loved to meet with Christ and with one another.
The second item of note is the elements to which the early church devoted itself. Only four elements are singled out, demonstrating the simplicity of worship. Each of these elements is identified with the definite article in the Greek: the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers. The simplicity of the early church’s worship centered around the Word (the teaching of the apostles) and fellowship, the Sacraments (the breaking of the bread) and prayer. Not only the definite articles, but also the literary structure of the verse bears this out. Structurally, “the teaching of the apostles” and “the breaking of the bread” occupy the same position, and both of them have the doubling of the definite article (the teaching of the apostles and the breaking of the bread). They are clearly paired together:
The teaching of the apostles and the fellowship
The breaking of the bread and the prayers
Luke’s point in recording the verse as he does is to demonstrate that Word and Sacrament belong together as the focal point of the worship service (see Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 25, and Belgic Confession, Article 33). In Word and Sacrament God ministers to us, meeting us in Christ Jesus. The outworking of this meeting is that we minister to one another in fellowship and prayers.
While we will be considering other elements of corporate worship, let us not lose sight of the simplicity of new covenant worship, so graciously given to us by Christ for our edification and his glory!
-Rev. Brian Vos and Austin Reed