When and Where Did the Early Church Meet for Worship

In John 20:19 Jesus after his resurrection first appears to the disciples on the first day of the week as they were assembled for fear of the Jews.

It is instructive that the apostles worshipped on both the Jewish Sabbath (Acts 13:13-14; 16:13; 17:1-3; 18:4) and the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:1-2).

Moreover, it is  instructive that only one scripture speaks to WHEN the disciples as Christians or Christian Church met for worship apart from the Jewish synagogue group. That one scripture is Acts 20:7 which reads as follows:

(Act 20:7) And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

Two phrases are key in that verse: “first day of the week” and “break bread”.

The meaning of the phrase first day of the week as being non-Sabbath is clear. The meaning of the phrase break bread is not so clear.

In 1 Cor 10:16 the phrase break bread is associated with the Lord’s Supper or Communion which is clearly a worship activity.

(1 Cor 10:16) The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

In Acts 2:42-47 this gathering involving breaking of bread along with prayers and fellowship is mentioned as happening on a daily not just weekly basis. One certainly would expect that at least talk of Jesus and reading of scripture would have taken place in all of these gathering along with eating. So these daily assemblies would meet the definition of a worship service.

So then the question before us is there any scripture that conclusively establishes that the biblical Christians met on the first day of the week as a replacement for the Sabbath or was it in addition to the Sabbath especially given that they met daily and certainly every meeting was not viewed as a replacement for the Sabbath.

In 1 Cor 16:2 Paul exhorts the people to collect money on the first day of the week for him to pick up when he comes to take to Jerusalem which was undergoing a famine or other difficulty at the time. It says:

(1 Cor 16:2) Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

But then does this mean the people were in a habit of collecting money for various purposes on that day each week prior to Paul’s request? Or does it mean that Paul knew the people met daily and he simply instructed them to use the first day of the week to make a collection for him. Paul certainly was not coming through every week every month so this collection for Paul would have been for a one time period of time. Thus, though using it as a precedence for weekly collections may be possible and reasonable it is not conclusive as to the first day of the week being a replacement for the Sabbath on the part of the biblical church. For again, it could have been in addition to as the people generally met daily for worship.

Well Jesus certainly did not die on the first day of the week nor on a weekly Sabbath.  Moreover, no where in scripture does it explicitly say Jesus rose or was raised on the first day of the week though we traditionally think so.  But the scripture only says it was the first day of the week when they discovered Jesus had risen.  It is conceivable he could have risen right before the end of the Sabbath and being discovered on the first day of the week.  In any case, I hold it would have been and still would be best for the Catholic Church and all Christian Churches to add Jesus as the Messiah to the Sabbath celebration in honor of both his death and resurrection.

Having said that I also recognize that scripture says we are not bound to either of the seven days in terms of honoring any of those four elements such that Saturday, Sunday, or any of the other five days are proper to function as a Sabbath for a particular community of faith though the prescribed Sabbath Day under Moses is the seventh day.  In other words, the law of the Sabbath as the seventh day is similar to the law of circumcision.  Circumcision is prescribed in the law as to occur on the eighth day but under Christ it may not occur at all and may occur on the 10th day or any other day if optionally done.  So it is for Sabbath (Col 2:16; Gal 3:1; Gal 4:8-11). See the article entitled Is Keeping the Sabbath Commanded for the Christian.

In some way it would be nice if all churches, Catholic and non-Catholic offered full worship services on Saturdays and Sundays each week.  That way each person could more easily follow his/her faith and conscience concerning the Sabbath as presented in scripture.  Shucks he/she could go to both sometime or on alternate weeks.


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