Church

Justin Martyr on the Early Church Practice

photo of justin martyr

Justin Martyr is a name unfamiliar to many. However, Justin Martyr would have been very familiar in early Christianity. He was a first class Christian apologist, and in his writings he defended the peacefulness of Christians by describing the practices of the church around 150 A.D. (within 60 years of the Apostle John’s death).

To those who question whether the contemporary practice of church is far different than what it would have looked like for early Christians, I find the testimony of Justin Martyr particularly insightful (First Apology, 67, ca. 150 A.D.).

Justin Martyr on the Order of Service

On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the ‘Amen.’ A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Justin Martyr on Giving

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.

Justin Martyr on Why the Church Gathered on Sunday

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

Obviously Justin Martyr is not inspired. But, I think it is encouraging to see that Justin Martyr records that the practice of the church in the 1st and 2nd generations after the Apostles was quite similar way to how we “do” church.

photo credit: jimforest via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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