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"Doing" Church

I would highly recommend that one study the history of Christian worship, before forming strong and binding convictions. I mean really study--Don't just read someone's summary or overview.

While studying Church liturgy, as it pertains to singing during worship service, I came across this quote by Tertullian (as he was defending the Christian Agape Feast from the accusations that during these “love” feasts all kinds of immorality took place, including excessive drinking) [A.D. 145-220]: Hopefull, the following will (at the very least) wet the appetite for further research and study so that those who have opinions and pontificate those opinions, do so based on some level of truth and understanding.

“We sup as servants that know we must wake in the night to the service of our Master, and discourse as those who remember that they are in the hearing of God. When supper is ended, and we have washed our hands, and the candles are lighted up, every one is invited forth to sing praises to God, either such as he collects from the Holy Scriptures, or such as are of his own composing: and by this you may judge of the measures of drinking at a Christian feast. And as we began, so we conclude all in prayer, and depart not like a parcel of heated bullies, for scouring the streets and killing and ravishing the next we meet, but with the same tenor of temperance and modesty we came, as men who have not so properly been a drinking as imbibing religion.”

Another interesting discovery was that, from the fourth to the early-fifth century, a new melodic style of singing the psalms caused some church leaders (most notably Athanasius) to outlaw the practice. However, the style was welcomed in Milan by Ambrose and grudgingly accepted by Augustine. Augustine confessed that he was prone to be moved more by the melody than the words of the scriptural texts that were sung and therefore sometimes considered that it would be safer if the church adopted Athanasian's practice. Nevertheless, in the end, he accepted the style because of its ability to elevate souls to devotion.

The controversy that is going on in the church today is nothing new. Imagine thinking that singing the psalms might be dangerous. Well, to some, it may have been.

I would encourage everyone to read the following. It is the entire Chapter 39 from “The Apology”. Tertullian speaks of how they "did" church and how they lived. It is a powerful summary of the beauty of early Christianity and a powerful rebuke to many of us. Church discipline and tithing are touched upon, as well as, a very strong statement to the philosophers of that time for their practice of wife swaping. Hard to believe it was written over 1,800 years ago.


HAVING vindicated our sect from the calumnies of rebellion, etc., I come now to lay before you the Christian way and fashion of living.

We Christians then are a corporation or society of men most strictly united by the same religion, by the same rites of worship, and animated with one and the same hope. When we come to the public service of God, we come in as formidable a body as if we were to storm heaven by force of prayer, and such a force is a most grateful violence to God. When this holy army of supplicants is met and disposed in godly array, we all send up our prayers for the life of the emperors, for their ministers, for magistrates, for the good of the State, for the peace of the empire, and for retarding the final doom.

We meet together likewise for the reading of Holy Scriptures, and we take such lessons out of them as we judge suit best with the condition of the times, to confirm our faith either by forewarning us what we are to expect, or by bringing to our minds the predictions already fulfilled. And certainly our spiritual life is wonderfully nourished with reading the Holy Scriptures, our hopes thereby are erected, and our trust fixed and settled upon God.

However, besides the bare reading, we continually preach and press the duties of the gospel with all the power and argument we are able; for it is in these assemblies that we exhort, reprove, and pass the divine censure or sentence of excommunication; for the judgments in this place are delivered with all solemnity, and after the maturest deliberation imaginable, as being delivered by men who know they are pronouncing God's sentence, and act with the same caution as if God stood visibly among them; and the censures here pronounced are looked upon as an anticipation of the judgment to come, and the sinner pre-condemned by God, who has sinned to such a degree as to be shut out by his ministers from the fellowship of the faithful, the communion of prayers and sacraments, and the rest of that sacred commerce.

The presidents or bishops among us are men of the most venerable age and piety, raised to this honour not by the powers of money, but the brightness of their lives; for nothing sacred is to be had for money. That kind of treasury we have is not filled with any dishonourable sum, as the price of a purchased religion; every one puts a little to the public stock, commonly once a month, or when he pleases, and only upon condition that he is both willing and able; for there is no compulsion upon any.

All here is a free-will offering, and all these collections are deposited in a common bank for charitable uses, not for the support of merry meetings, for drinking and gormandizing, but for feeding the poor and burying the dead, and providing for girls and boys who have neither parents nor provisions left to support them, for relieving old people worn out in the service of the saints, or those who have suffered by shipwreck, or are condemned to the mines, or islands, or prisons, only for the faith of Christ; these may be said to live upon their profession, for while they suffer for professing the name of Christ, they are fed with the collections of His Church.

But strange! that such lovely expressions of Christian charity cannot pass with some men without a censure; for look ye, say they, how these Christians seem to love each other, when in their hearts they hate each other to death ! How forward are they to stake down their lives for one another, when inwardly they could cut one another's throats ! But the true reason of this defamation, upon the account of styling ourselves brethren, I take to be this, because the name of brother is found with these men to be only a gilded expression of a counterfeit friendship.

But you need not wonder at this loving title among Christians, when we own even you your- selves for brethren by the right of one common nature; although indeed you have cancelled this relation, and by being inhuman brethren have forfeited the title of men; but by what diviner ties are we Christians brethren ! We who all acknowledge but one and the same God as our universal Father, who have all drunk of one and the same Holy Spirit, and who are all delivered as it were from one common womb of ignorance, and called out of darkness into His marvellous light.

But maybe we cannot pass for right brothers with you, because you want a tragedy about the bloody feuds of the Christian fraternity; or because our brotherly love continues even to the division of our estates, which is a test few brotherhoods will bear, and which commonly divides the dearest unions among you.

But we Christians look upon ourselves as one body, informed as it were by one soul; and being thus incorporated by love, we can never dispute what we are to bestow upon our own members. Accordingly among us all things are in common, excepting wives; in this alone we reject communion, and this is the only thing you enjoy in common ; for you not only make no conscience in violat- ing the wife of your friend, but with amazing patience and gratitude lend him your own.

This doctrine, I suppose, came from the school of the Grecian Socrates, or the Roman Cato, those wisest of sages, who accommodated their friends with their own wives, wives which they espoused for the sake of children of their own begetting, as I imagine, and not of other folks.

Whether the wives are thus prostituted with their own consent, in truth I cannot tell, but I see no great reason why they should be much concerned about that chastity which their husbands think not worth keeping. Oh, never-to-be-forgotten example of Athenian wisdom ! Socrates the great Grecian philosopher, and Cato the great Roman censor, are both pimps.

But is it any great wonder that such charitable brethren as enjoy all things in common should have such frequent love-feasts ? For this it is you blacken us, and reflect upon our little frugal suppers, not only as infamously wicked, but as scandalously excessive. Diogenes, for aught I know, might have us Christians in his eye when he said that the Megarensians feast as if they were never to eat more, and build as if they were to live for ever ; but every one sees a straw in another's eye sooner than a beam in his own ; or else you must be sensible of your own beastliness in this case; for the very air in the streets is soured with the belches of the people coming from their feasts in their several wards.

The Salii cannot sup without the advance of a loan, and upon the feast of tithes to Hercules the entertainment is so very costly that you are forced to have a bookkeeper on purpose for expenses. At Athens likewise when the Apaturia, or feasts in honour of Bacchus for a serviceable piece of treachery he did, are to be celebrated, there is a proclama- tion for all the choice cooks to come in and assist at the banquet; and when the kitchen of Serapis smokes, what baskets of provisions come tumbling in from every quarter!

But my business at present is to justify the Christian supper; and the nature of this supper you may understand by its name; for it is the Greek word for love. We Christians think we can never be too expensive, because we think all is gain that is laid out in doing good; when therefore we are at the charge of an entertainment, it is to refresh the bowels of the needy, but not as you gorge those parasites among you who glory in selling their liberty for stuffing their guts, and can find in their hearts to cram their bellies in spite of all the affronts you can lay upon them; but we feed the hungry, because we know God takes a peculiar delight in seeing us do it. If therefore we feast only with such brave and excellent designs, I leave you from hence to guess at the rest of our discipline in matters of pure religion; nothing earthly, nothing unclean, has ever admittance here; our souls ascend in prayer to God before we sit down to meat; we eat only what suffices nature, and drink no more than what is strictly becoming chaste and regular persons.

We sup as servants that know we must wake in the night to the service of our Master, and discourse as those who remember that they are in the hearing of God. When supper is ended, and we have washed our hands, and the candles are lighted up, every one is invited forth to sing praises to God, either such as he collects from the Holy Scriptures, or such as are of his own composing: and by this you may judge of the measures of drinking at a Christian feast. And as we began, so we conclude all in prayer, and depart not like a parcel of heated bullies, for scouring the streets and killing and ravishing the next we meet, but with the same tenor of temperance and modesty we came, as men who have not so properly been a-drinking as imbibing religion.

This assembly of Christians therefore is deservedly ranked among unlawful ones, if it holds any resemblance with them ; and I will not say a word against condemning it, if any man will make good any one article against it which is charged upon other factions.

Did we ever come together to the ruin of any one person? We are the same in our assemblies as at home, and as harmless in a body as apart; in neither capacity injuring or afflicting any person whatever. When therefore so many honest and good, pious and chaste people are met together, and regulated with so much discipline and order, such a meeting, I say, is not to be called factious, but as orderly an assembly as any of your courts.


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