Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Catechumen V2

Back in June I posted the first installment of my search for early Christianity - here. Reading through Augustine's "Confessions", I discovered a group in the early church called Catechumen:
Catechumens were a well recognized group that would attend church services although they had to leave before the Eucharist. They could call themselves "Christians", not "seekers" or "the faithful".
Since Augustine lived in the late 4th century, I've been searching for earlier references to this church system, and how the "seekers", "cathechumen", "Christians" and "faithful" worked together in a local church.

Much to my delight I was reading yesterday in the "Ancient Christian Commentary", which my bro Matt Wilks has so graciously lent me, when I found this gem about Origen and what meetings at a local church were like around 200AD!
1. There was a weekly service on the Lord's Day which included three readings from Scripture - one from the Old Testament; one from the apostles, that is, from one of the New Testament epistles or Acts; and finally one from one of the four Gospels - each of which was followed by a short sermon. The ministry of the Word was then followed by prayers and communion. Nautin figures that by the time of Origen the reading of a lesson from the Law followed by a lesson from the Prophets had already been consolidated into a single lesson.

2. The second type of service was the midweek communion service held on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. These services concluded the weekly fast days observed by Christians at that period. At these services, according to Nautin, there was a reading from the Gospels and perhaps one from the apostels, but probably not from the Old Testament.

3. Finally there was a third type of service, the daily morning prayer service at which there was a reading from the Old Testament and, following it, an hour-long sermon, but no New Testament reading. Only these services were open to catechumens, according to Nautin.
(Old, Biblical Period, pp.341,42, citing P. Nautin, Origene, sa Vie et Son Oeuvre (Paris:Beauchesne, 1977), pp.389-412)
Since this system was in place just under 200 years after Christ, and some of our current church "systems" have been around for only 200 years (Brethren, Baptist, Pentecostal), this "snapshot" of the early church may be an exact replica of how the apostles conducted their meetings! This is authentic New Testament Christianity!

Again the idea of a layered approach, specifically in reference to the catechumen is firmly in place. As was noted in my last post there was not one general service for everyone, but rather levels whereby interested "seekers" could grow in grace and move up to hear more serious teaching.

What caught my attention most of all was the communion services on Wednesday night and Friday night, held after a fast. Imagine the power this would fuse into a community of believers! Imagine if we all came together for our mid-week bible studies knowing that everyone else had been fasting and praying ALL DAY! What power! Then to have communion together would further bind that community together. God help us as we seek to rediscover this New Testament Chrisianity!

Some questions for the discussion forum:

1. Should we be breaking bread 3 times a week?
2. Should we have a system for "seekers", "catechumen", "christians" and "faithful" instead of simply a sermon for everyone on Sunday morning?
3. Should we be fasting twice a week?
4. Should we be meeting every morning for prayer?

Should anything hold us back from changing our assemblies so they are more fitted to New Testament Christianity?

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