The following description of a second century church service was written by Justin Martyr (100 AD -167 AD), who was born in Old Testament Shechem about the time that the Apostle John died. He was one of the most able Christian men in that period of time. He wrote a Defense of Christianity that was addressed to the Roman Emperor and died a martyr’s death at Rome. To show how Christianity had spread in the second century he wrote, “there is no race of men where prayers are not offered up in the name of Jesus.”
“On Sunday a meeting is held of all who live in the cities and villages, and a section is read from the Memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of The Prophets, as long as time permits. When the reading is finished, the president, in a discourse, gives the admonition and exhortation to imitate these noble things. After this we all arise and offer a common prayer. At the close of the prayer, as we have before described, bread and wine and thanks for them according to his ability, and the congregation answers, “Amen.” Then the consecrated elements are distributed to each one and partaken of, and are carried by the deacons to the house of the absent. The wealthy and the willing then give contributions according to their freewill; and the collection is deposited with the president, who therewith supplies orphans, widows, prisoners, strangers, and all who are in want.”
Another ancient writer, Pliny The Younger* (61 AD – 112 AD), provides another description of an early Christian church service in his letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan (98 AD – 117 AD) concerning when to put Christians to death. Pliny, as governor of Bithynia (part of modern day Turkey) and an enemy of Christianity wrote the following in the early second century:
“But they affirmed that this was the sum of their fault or error, that they were accustomed, on a stated day, to meet together before day, to sing a hymn to Christ in concert, as to a god, and to bind themselves with a solemn oath not to commit any wickedness —but on the contrary, to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery —also, never to violate their promise, nor deny a pledge committed to them. These things being performed, it was their custom to separate: and to meet again at a promiscuous [meaning composed of all sorts of persons], innocent meal….”
He also described in the same letter how wide the influence of Jesus was in that region and the effect persecution was having on idol and emperor worship:
“…I have recourse to you for advice; for it has appeared to me that the subject is highly deserving of consideration, especially on account of the great number of persons whose lives are put into jeopardy. Many persons of all ages, sexes, and conditions are accused, and many more will be in the same situation; for the contagion of this superstition has not merely pervaded the cities, but also all villages and country places; yet it seemed to me that it might be restrained and corrected. It is matter of fact, that the temples which were almost deserted begin again to be frequented**; and the sacred solemnities which had been long intermitted are again attended; and the victims for the altars are now readily sold, which, a while ago, were almost without purchasers. Whence it is easy to conjecture what a multitude of men might be reclaimed, if only the door to repentance was left open.”
Bless our Father in Heaven for His early servants who were faithful under persecution and passed down to us the words of the Apostles, Paul and the other New Testament writers so we could know Christ and be saved!
Rejoice and be glad, your Savior is coming again!
*Pliny, The Elder, his uncle, died attempting to rescue people in Pompeii after the Mount Vesuvius eruption in AD 79.
**Though some had denied Christ and returned to idol and Emperor worship, many chose martyrdom instead of denying Christ and others escaped persecution. In 200 years, Christianity would be a recognized and accepted religion in the Empire though persecution would return later under other Emperors.