What did early Christian gatherings look like?

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Consider the following famous passage from Pliny the Younger (~110 CE), drawn from testimony given to him directly by former Christians:

They were accustomed to assemble at dawn on a fixed day, to sing a hymn antiphonally to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by an oath, not for the commission of some crime, but to avoid acts of theft, brigandage, and adultery, not to break their word, and not to withhold money deposited with them when asked for it. When these rites were completed, it was their custom to depart, and then to assemble again to take food, which was however common and harmless.

Letters 10.98

People complain about all kinds of things having to do with Christian corporate worship. Some people don’t like the traditional liturgy while others can’t stand contemporary-style worship. Some are turned off by 40-minute expository sermons while others are annoyed at homilies that are 10- or 15-minute exhortations. The description Pliny received from these former Christians is a very simple one. Christians would gather to sing to Christ, to bind themselves to keep His teachings, and then meet again later to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The Church depicted here is a kind of Jesus-worshiping meal club and society for righteous living.

I think there ought to be more of this sort of thing these days. A lot of churches—even ones that are regarded highly for being “solid” in terms of doctrine—are basically just centers for spiritual consolation. The people sing songs that make them feel good, they hear an edifying discourse and are consoled in their conscience, and perhaps there is a celebration of the Lord’s Supper which consists in eating a tiny bit of bread and a sip of wine in somber circumstances. The gathering is often about making oneself feel better vis-à-vis God. Even the liturgy is intended to bring about heightened consciousness, to lift the soul up to God, so to speak. But that’s not really the picture one gets from Pliny’s description! Why shouldn’t the church service look different than that?

Naturally we don’t have to get rid of the singing and the discourse. There is a place for that sort of thing. But I think there should be a more active element involved, as well. Perhaps Christians should also confer with one another and collaborate on how they might do good this coming week. They might collect funds to help a person in financial need, or they might come up with ideas of some good they may do for others. Perhaps too they might sit down together and enjoy a full meal in celebration of the Lord’s death and resurrection. Maybe the churches would of necessity be smaller if they all did this. But they would then truly become societies for doing good, societies for bringing in the kingdom of God on earth, so to speak. And would that be such a bad thing? There is much good to do and not very many people doing it. Or, as Jesus Himself said, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.