One of my readers brought up a great question concerning new believers being brought into the church gatherings during the birth and infancy of the church after Pentecost. The question brings up serious points of the early church organization that affected the people at that time. If we compare modern times to first century gatherings, it shows how far removed we have become from taking seriously and practicing our method of worshipping.
I am glad she brought up that point and I would like to address it because it may help us understand better the responsibilities we have in living out our faith.
The reader remembered reading a book that stated that at the beginning of the foundation of the “church” before people could become members of the church they had to go through (up to two years) a study process before they could take communion and be a member of the church. She was correct and her point is valid. With this information being of interest to one of my readers, I decided to follow up on it and post what I discovered.
Early Jewish/Gentile thoughts on the church:
1) The first Christians were converted Jews so they considered themselves members of the faith.
2) Many thought all they had to do was believe Jesus was the Messiah and be baptized and they were in.
3) The membership they joined was more like a small group meeting in someone’s home.
4) Everything went well till they discovered that Jesus was including the Gentile converts as believers and children of God.
5) Problem with the Gentiles was that they believed in many gods and did not mind adding one more. They were easily converted but not inclined to drop the beliefs in the other gods.
6) Disciples (missionaries) to the Gentiles like Paul, Barnabas, Silas and others faced a whole new set of problems. They found they could easily convert and baptize the Gentiles but the Gentiles still did not believe in the one true God.
6) The convincing of the Jew and Gentile converts that they had to change their ways would be a difficult task for the disciples to undertake. The Jews had to abandon their traditional beliefs and the Law while the Gentiles had to give up worshipping their multitude of gods (for instance: stop visiting the shrine prostitutes).
7) Multitudes of people were being converted, baptized and brought into the church assemblies that were not true believers. The Apostles and missionaries soon realized this and decided they had to slow down the process and weed out the easy believism and law-abiding converts. But How?
8) For the Jews, they followed a Jewish pattern of evangelism that preached Christ, invited people to believe in Him as the Messiah, baptized them that afternoon, and then took them into the fellowship of the Christians that evening for the common meal. An orderly and spiritual growth method.
9) But for the Gentiles, the apostles and missionaries to the Gentiles had to slow the process down by structuring a procedure that would ensure the convert had a true understanding of the Word, be committed to following the one true God and continue in their spiritual growth. And how did they do that?
10) The church did not request or encourage baptism right away after conversion. The thought was to introduce membership training to new converts prior to being baptized. (It seemed that baptism was the introduction to being a member of the church). It gave them time to adjust to their new belief system and straighten out some of their behavior.
A general procedure was written and followed around the end of the first century by church leaders. It was called the Didache*. Basically, it was a handbook of instructions for the new converts that contained the direct teachings of Jesus. It was also called “The teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” This document was never rejected by the church but was not included in the cannon.
As church members gathered to worship the Lord they had a two-part service: the “service of the Word” where singing/chanting, preaching, and prayer occurred and a second “service of the table” where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. Nobody was allowed to stay for the Lord’s Supper except baptized Christians—thus the members in training attended only half the worship services until their baptism.
1) A new believer that wanted membership in the church and was willing to study was called a “catechumen.” They could attend the first part of the service (involved singing, chanting, teaching and praying) but they were excluded from the second part (when communion was served – this was only for baptized Christians).
2) In the early time of the church, the seasoned believer trained the catechumen (in right beliefs and right behavior) in a one-on-one system. As members increased the system had to change to a mentor and a group of catechumens.
3) Training could take up to two years before the person could be baptized and become a member of the church. When the catechumen was deemed ready they went through a specific procedure of inclusion. This included prayer, fasting, an exorcism, anointing with oil, and drinking a mixture of milk and honey. Then, they were baptized and took their first communion and were full members of the church.
Does this system sound familiar as a current procedure a denomination requires of its members today?
And note that this system was in place during the first century while some of the New Testament was still being written.
Some questions concerning this practice are (but not limited to): Were the church leaders that instituted this procedure correct in putting these requirements in place? Were these requirements Biblical and approved by Jesus and His teachings? And how do the requirements stack up to what Jesus states about inclusion to His church and what He requires of us?
My thoughts are that the Jews, by adding all these other requirements and as a one size fits all program, we’re just trying to keep control of who and how people came into the church. Many of these additions of requirements to belong to the church were just more legalization and man-centered ideas, even though some were helpful.
The real truth to these questions is in the Scripture.
*For more information on the Didache read The Didache full version article attachment.
Peace and blessings,