Justin’s first apology gives an eyewitness account into the practices of worship, baptism and communion in the mid-second century. Interestingly, Justin calls baptism a “washing”, which is what the word” baptism” really means, and in my humble opinion, is what this ritual was called in the original Christian church. As far as what was involved in the practice of baptism, there was a time of preparation where people who had been preparing for baptism by fasting and praying were brought to a place where there was water, and a baptismal service similar to what is referred to as a “believer’s baptism” was performed, except that it does not say whether or not there was baptism by immersion. Still by the account, the supplicant was a person of the age of assent, and chose to undergo this ritual in order to recieve the remission of sins. Justin’s account also says that the other believers fasted and prayed for the new person.
Justin accounts that the Apostles taught this rite because unlike when we are born where we have no choice in the matter this rite signifies the public choice and commitment of a person repentant of his sins to be washed “in the name of God the Father and Lord of the Universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. and in the name of Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.”[i] Justin writes that this washing results in that person’s remission of sins.
After a person is baptized they are brought to what we would call a “worship service”. “hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place,”were offered. After prayer they greeted one another with a kiss. After this, they had a “communion service” where they partook of “bread and wine mixed with water.”[ii]
The services that I’ve been talking about so far are primarily the baptismal service which shares some features in common with the weekly worship service.
As to the weekly worship service Justin reports that the believers met on Sunday. He gives the reason for Sunday as being that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. (Notwithstanding there were people in various parts of the world who chose to worship on Saturday because it was the Sabbath.)
He reports that what he called the “memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets” are read, after which the “president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.”[v] After this “sermon”, there is prayer, the Eucharist, more prayer, and then finally what Justin interestingly calls a “distribution”.
This distribution does not sound like the collection that you and I normally see in a Sunday worship service. It was not a call for all to give a gift to support a big church and all of its programs and paid staff. It was a sharing of resources among the believers. See 01.3.2 Church Giving in the Time of Justin Martyr for more about this.
Prayers were led by the president with disciples giving their assent by saying “Amen”
Justin says that these practices were handed down from the original apostles from Christ himself: “He (Christ) taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.”[vi]
[i] Justin Martyr, 1st Apology, Chapter LXI.—Christian Baptism
[iii] Justin Martyr, 1st Apology, Chapter LXVI – Of The Eucharist
[v] Justin Martyr, 1st Apology, Chapter LXVII – Weekly Worship Of The Christians
© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.