The several parts of public worship in the time of the apostles were as follows:
1. The Preaching of the gospel. This appears in the first period mostly in the form of a missionary address to the unconverted; that is, a simple, living presentation of the main facts of the life of Jesus, with practical exhortation to repentance and conversion. Christ crucified and risen was the luminous centre, whence a sanctifying light was shed on all the relations of life. Gushing forth from a full heart, this preaching went to the heart; and springing from an inward life, it kindled life -- a new, divine life -- in the susceptible hearers. It was revival preaching in the purest sense. Of this primitive Christian testimony several examples from Peter and Paul are preserved in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Epistles also may be regarded in the wider sense as sermons, addressed, however, to believers, and designed to nourish the Christian life already planted.
2. The Reading of portions of the Old Testament, with practical exposition and application; transferred from the Jewish synagogue into the Christian church. To these were added in due time lessons from the New Testament; that is, from the canonical Gospels and the apostolic Epistles, most of which were addressed to whole congregations and originally intended for public use. After the death of the apostles their writings became doubly important to the church, as a substitute for their oral instruction and exhortation, and were much more used in worship than the Old Testament.
3. Prayer, in its various forms of petition, intercession, and thanksgiving. This descended likewise from Judaism, and in fact belongs essentially even to all heathen religions; but now it began to be offered in childlike confidence to a reconciled Father in the name of Jesus, and for all classes and conditions, even for enemies and persecutors. The first Christians accompanied every important act of their public and private life with this holy rite, and Paul exhorts his readers to |pray without ceasing.| On solemn occasions they joined fasting with prayer, as a help to devotion, though it is nowhere directly enjoined in the New Testament. They prayed freely from the heart, as they were moved by the Spirit, according to special needs and circumstances. We have an example in the fourth chapter of Acts. There is no trace of a uniform and exclusive liturgy; it would be inconsistent with the vitality and liberty of the apostolic churches. At the same time the frequent use of psalms and short forms of devotion, as the Lord's Prayer, may be inferred with certainty from the Jewish custom, from the Lord's direction respecting his model prayer, from the strong sense of fellowship among the first Christians, and finally from the liturgical spirit of the ancient church, which could not have so generally prevailed both in the East and the West without some apostolic and post-apostolic precedent. The oldest forms are the eucharistic prayers of the Didache, and the petition for rulers in the first Epistle of Clement, which contrasts most beautifully with the cruel hostility of Nero and Domitian.
4. The Song, a form of prayer, in the festive dress of poetry and the elevated language of inspiration, raising the congregation to the highest pitch of devotion, and giving it a part in the heavenly harmonies of the saints. This passed immediately, with the psalms of the Old Testament, those inexhaustible treasures of spiritual experience, edification, and comfort, from the temple and the synagogue into the Christian church. The Lord himself inaugurated psalmody into the new covenant at the institution of the holy Supper, and Paul expressly enjoined the singing of |psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,| as a means of social edification. But to this precious inheritance from the past, whose full value was now for the first time understood in the light of the New Testament revelation, the church, in the enthusiasm of her first love, added original, specifically Christian psalms, hymns, doxologies, and benedictions, which afforded the richest material for Sacred poetry and music in succeeding centuries; the song of the heavenly hosts, for example, at the birth of the Saviour; the |Nunc dimittis| of Simeon; the |Magnificat| of the Virgin Mary; the |Benedictus| of Zacharias; the thanksgiving of Peter after his miraculous deliverance; the speaking with tongues in the apostolic churches, which, whether song or prayer, was always in the elevated language of enthusiasm; the fragments of hymns scattered through the Epistles; and the lyrical and liturgical passages, the doxologies and antiphonies of the Apocalypse.
5. Confession Of Faith. All the above-mentioned acts of worship are also acts of faith. The first express confession of faith is the testimony of Peter, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The next is the trinitarian baptismal formula. Out of this gradually grew the so-called Apostles' Creed, which is also trinitarian in structure, but gives the confession of Christ the central and largest place. Though not traceable in its present shape above the fourth century, and found in the second and third in different longer or shorter forms, it is in substance altogether apostolic, and exhibits an incomparable summary of the leading facts in the revelation of the triune God from the creation of the world to the resurrection of the body; and that in a form intelligible to all, and admirably suited for public worship and catechetical use. We shall return to it more fully in the second period.
6. Finally, the administration of the Sacraments, or sacred rites instituted by Christ, by which, under appropriate symbols and visible signs, spiritual gifts and invisible grace are represented, sealed, and applied to the worthy participators.
The two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, the antitypes of circumcision and the passover under the Old Testament, were instituted by Christ as efficacious signs, pledges, and means of the grace of the new covenant. They are related to each other as regeneration and sanctification, or as the beginning and the growth of the Christian life. The other religious rites mentioned in the New Testament, as confirmation and ordination, cannot be ranked in dignity with the sacraments, as they are not commanded by Christ.