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Christianity--Church History/Names used for "worship service" throughout history


Dear Dr. Rose
I am trying to learn what Christians have called the weekly gathering throughout the years.
Thank you for any help or direction you might offer.

In recent times, we call the church services "Worship" or the "Worship Service"  In the New Testament, I see terms like "when you come together"(Acts 20:7)  or " the assembly of believers " (Heb 10:24-25).  I believe there was a time in church history when it was called "the Meeting" or the "Prayer Meeting"
I am curious to learn what it was called throughout the centuries.
Here's the reason I ask...
It seems like we have taken one aspect of what we do when gathered and chosen
Some people define all that we do in church on Sunday morning as worship.  Then we try to define the word worship to see what we are supposed to do.  While this sounds noble and spiritual it can be short sighted.  While certainly encouraging people to worship God wholeheartedly, I believe we would do well to set aside our preconceptions of worship and see from Scripture the purpose(s) that God has for calling together the body of Christ.  For example, Hebrews 10:19-27 clearly state one of the purposes of meeting together is to encourage one another.  If I am just focusing on a vertical worship experience, I am not sure that I would have considered encouraging other people, at least not intentionally.  It made me wonder if we might be missing other aspects as well.

Kevin that is an excellent question and one that is very important to the body of Christ today.  
First let me say that worship has different meanings and connotations as we pass through the different growth stages of the church.  In the very first 50 years or so of the church when people "assembled" or "met" many things took place.  Many times they gathered to take up collections for other churches, to discuss issues or problems facing the church.  They also "gathered" to share a meal in fellowship, sing psalms, and pray.  
Worship was truly different then. That was something the body of Christ did every day. It was literally part of their life just like eating.  It wasn't until the second century that church assembly became formalize4d and somewhat standardized services developed.  Even in these services the main focus was scripture study and exposition. Many times the service focused on prayer and the remembrance practice of breaking bread and drinking of the fruit of the vine. However it was not ritualistic or even seen as we see it today.  In other words the practices of the early church were very very different that what we know today.  This was because, for one thing, the lifestyle of the church founders - all Jews.  Religion as we call it was not separated from their life; it was not considered a religion at all but the way they were expected to live all the time.  It was what defined them as a people. It was who they were and not something the did.
Ok, so now a little about the different names.  One of the earliest terms used at the gatherings was the word praise. They assembled to praise God, to thank him for their blessings, and to help each other.  Many would tell about the people they had reached and the ones who accepted Christ as their saviour. They also brought news of the church as it grew and began to stretch across the "whole world".  For a very long time after the Apostles were gone, the people assembled in homes to praise God, fellowship, sing psalms, unite in prayer, and many things.  Often there was a meal (a supper) but it had nothing to do with the reason for their assemblage.  Also, the breaking of bread, especially with new Christians was done.  This was the norm well into the middle ages for one segment of the church.  The Roman Catholic Church began a formal "ceremony" type meeting in the fourth century. It was very elaborate and involved many "sacraments" or sacred rituals such as the burning of incense, and was very ordered. This assembly was known as a "mass".  People assembled in one building in masses and received a sermon, participated in a very formal and structured "Lord's Supper" and readings and responses done by the clergy and congregation.  It was participative yet routine and was the same at every assembly.  Its structure and became more refined, but standardization was the hallmark of the church.
One of the sects, known as the Gnostics, assembled for the purposes of gaining secret knowledge and mysteries that separated them from the rest of humanity - providing them special and secret knowledge which provided the means of growing closer to God and their eventual life in paradise.  The assemblages were not called worship. Only the most general of terms was used until even this sect splintered and mysticism and pagan ritual was reborn or masked.  It was merely referred to as a meeting or gathering.
Worship, as a descriptor for church gatherings or assemblies began to be used after the dark ages more so than any other term.  What is somewhat interesting, is that as the church splintered and "denomination" became defined and separate worship was the cornerstone of their assembly, yet was so different that worship in the first century.  It was at this time that many things became formal parts of the church, yet the meaning and the actual acts were so mush different and the focus shifted to the clergy instead of the congregation.  This was not true in all churches.  
Another term used was "adolation" which was more about recognizing God's sovereignty.  
It is somewhat difficult to explain the atmosphere of these gatherings or assemblages because there just isn't much in the way of documents.  As the church changed and terms became watered down it also grew more structured and the churches in homes began to disappear.  Churches in the 14th century held "worship services", a term that has survived to today. However in that time period, much was expected of the church (the people or body of Christ) in terms of discipline; things such as kneeling during prayer.  Although the reformation and the many leaders remember for its development, the church already existed apart from the Roman Catholic Church. It existed under many names, names which soon came to identify the "theology and doctrines" each separate body of Christ adhered to.  
One last term, that was significant, was the feast.  It too had its roots in Jewish practice, but did take on a new demeanour and identity once truly separated and self-recognized as a Christian group or a New Testament Church. There were several versions of this feast, some being almost completely pagan in nature and purposes.  Others were known as "love feasts" which also varied widely. All claimed the purpose was to worship God. Many also quickly included "celebration" as a primary function as well.  These feasts resembled orgies as one extreme, and other only occurred after a period of fasting - sometimes for as much as a month or more.  
I hope I have given you at least part of the information you were seeking.  If you want to know more or have any other questions please do not hesitate to ask.  If you prefer, you can even e-mail me a question for private discussion.  Thank you so very much for the privilege, it was a true honor.  And again, what a great question!

Christianity--Church History

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Dr Wesley B Ley Rose


I can answer questions on: Biblical Studies, Biblical History, Church History, Early Christian History, Sociopolitical Background in the Early Church, Biblical Archeology, Biblical Theology, and some Greek


I did my field work in Israel, Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan while on active duty in the US Air Force during the period between 1989 to 2000. I served as a Chaplain in five theaters of war and spanning well over a decade. This afforded me the opportunity to view digs, museums and Universities where i was blessed by the staff and many graduate students. I also viewed many original manuscripts, me Archeologists, Anthropologists, and benefited from the direct teachings of Rabbi's and many learned individuals. UI have personally written almost three hundred commentaries, Essays, Treatise, and Theses. I founded my own School on Early Christian History and recently began the process to offer courses in Biblical Archeology. I teach at the local community colleges, churches, and community centers. I have authored seven books and still continue research and study. I recently received my Doctorate in Early Christian History through Scripture Institute.

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