The Philadelphia Church

Forms For Services

As experience is gained in beginning fellowships, the wisdom of earlier ages resurfaces, some borrowed from antiquity, some having developed from the shortcomings of modern forms of worship. The Philadelphia Church does not prescribe any particular form for services, but it does offer the following excerpts (with concluding comments) from the "Preface to the First Edition" of The Liturgy of The French Protestant Church of Charleston, S.C., first published in 1713, with editions in 1737 and 1772:

It is not necessary here to enlarge on the utility and antiquity of Liturgies, or to explain how important it is that the mode of celebrating divine service should be well regulated. None can doubt that St. Paul’s maxim, "Let all things be done decently and in order," [1 Cor 14:40] is applicable to the worship of God in the religious assemblies of Christians. This worship is of the greatest consequence in religion, because it consists chiefly in serving God, in adoring him, in giving him thanks, and in calling upon him. Hence it is indispensable that divine service should be so performed as to be most worthy of that infinite Being, and best adapted to raise men to him, and to fill them with reverence and love for his Supreme Majesty.

The attainment, however, of this end is difficult, unless there be an established form of public worship…

But one of the principle objects contemplated in the form of worship for the ordinary Morning and Evening service, was to reestablish the reading of Scripture, as a part of public worship. To set forth all of the forcible and urgent reasons, which show that we are under an absolute necessity to have the Bible read in the assemblies of the Church would be superfluous. This has always formed an essential part of divine service [Deu 31:9-11 — Neh 8:9], both among Jews and Christians. The Jews read the sacred books, at their solemn feasts, and in their synagogues. They had even divided the books of Moses into as many sections as there are Saturdays in the year, in order that these books might be read entirely through, once in every year, on the Sabbath days [Acts 13:27]. When the reading was finished, a doctor, or some other person designated, delivered a discourse on what had been read. We see in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, that this was practiced after the return from the captivity. The Levites, says the sacred author, read in the Book of the Law of God distinctly, and gave the sense and caused them to understand the reading. St. Luke relates [chap 4], that our Lord having entered the Synagogue of Nazareth, on the Sabbath day, read the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, and then spoke to the persons present, showing that the words which he had just read were fulfilled in his own person.

We again read in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Acts [13:14-15], that St. Paul and St. Barnabas went into the Synagogue of Antioch on the Sabbath day, and after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the Rulers of the Synagogue sent to them, saying, "Men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on." The Christian Church conformed to this practice, and regulated its discipline and worship in this as in various particulars, by the usages in the assemblies of the Jews. The first Christians read the Scriptures in their assemblies; and so regularly was this done, that in those times one would have thought divine services had not been performed, if the Scriptures had not been read. When the chapter was finished, the head of the assembly gave a brief explanation of it, and exhorted those present, according to the circumstances and wants of the Church. A very ancient author, and one worthy of credit [The martyr Justin, in his First Defence — sic], who wrote in the second century, thus relates the usage in his time in Christian assemblies. On the Lord’s day we assembled together, and the writings of the Apostles and Prophets were read as long as the time would permit. This being done, we all rose up and presented our prayers to God [italics added for clarity]. Tertullian who lived a little after the martyr Justin says [In his Apology, 24, 39] that the first Christians assembled to read the sacred books and to exhort the people. However, these exhortations were not always made, and even at that time all the ministers of the church did not preach; but they never failed to read some portion of the Scriptures, and when the reading and the exhortation were over, they resumed the worship, and concluded the service with prayer.

Such was formerly the mode of worship, and such the origin of sermons. The sermons were at first only an interruption of worship and an addition to the reading, and were not regarded, as by many at the present day, the most important part of public service, and the principal object for which the people assembled. The preaching is, without doubt, very useful, provided it be done with clearness and simplicity; but it is quite necessary that the Scriptures should be read in the church, and in such a manner, that the people may understand that this reading is an essential part of the worship.

Nor does it suffice that they be read in the churches before the assembly is formed, or the worship commences. Such reading does not constitute a part of divine service. It is distinguished from it by the time, by the persons who read, and by the circumstances, so that the people pay little attention and respect to it, and the greater part of them are not present, which circumstances proves that they regard the reading of the Holy Scriptures as less important than the preaching. It is for these reasons that the leaders of the churches thought themselves indispensably obliged to re-establish the reading of the word of God in their worship…

When disciples assemble together to worship God on Sabbath days, an attitude of reverence should be present. The absence of this attitude makes it difficult for disciples to keep holy the Sabbath. Although disciples will set aside work routines and other physical activities, under the spiritual second covenant, the Sabbath commandment goes from what the physically circumcised Israelite’s hand did on the seventh day to what a spiritually circumcised disciple’s mind thinks and heart desires on this seventh day. It is not enough for disciples to merely cease work on the Sabbath. The focus of their thoughts must be the Father and the Son. Therefore, those things that aid sons of God in maintaining their Sabbath focus are to be commended.

Sabbath services are of considerable importance, but beginning fellowships often lack the mature leadership necessary for bringing regular Sabbath messages. The prospect of preparing an interesting and educational weekly sermon is beyond the ability of most disciples who hold full-time secular jobs. Unless the speaking load is shared among several speakers, these fellowships tend to listen to taped messages from this evangelist, or from that one, an option not available to the 1st-Century Church, or in the 18th-Century. However, listening to taped messages promotes situations analogous to what the Apostle Paul described (1 Cor 3:4), with one listener favoring, say, a speaker from Big Sandy, Texas, and another favoring a speaker from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Fellowships of the modern Church have continued the trend towards sermons observed by the early 18th-Century French Reformed Church. Taped messages or computer saved audio files usually edit out the song service, and are only of the sermon. Scripture is not read in narrative units longer than a verse or two, and then only used to support a particular point in the speaker’s sermon.

The suggestion made here for all beginning fellowships of The Philadelphia Church is that Scripture be read as a regular part of Sabbath worship services—not a verse here and one there, but in narrative units extending from the giving of one genealogy to the giving of another genealogy. The organization of Holy Writ has story units broken by genealogies. Thus, the creation account goes from Genesis 1:1 to 2:3. Genesis 2:4 is the first recording of a genealogy. The next story unit goes from Gen 2:5 through the end of chapter 4. Genesis chapter 5 is an extended genealogy. Another story unit begins with Genesis chapter 6 and continues through the end of chapter 9. Chapter 10 is another extended genealogy…this does not mean that the genealogies should not be read, but rather that they are the logical breaking of narrative units.

Because The Philadelphia Church practices typological exegesis, the suggested reading pattern would couple the story of the first Adam with its recorded spiritual counterpart, the story of the last Adam, Christ Jesus. The cryptic recounting of events in the first Adam’s life through the creation of the first Eve matches the recorded events of the last Adam’s life, with Genesis 2:7 corresponding with Matthew 3:16-17, and Genesis 2:19-20 corresponding with Matthew chapter 23, and Genesis 21-22 corresponding with John chapters 13-20. The temptation account of Eve now foreshadows the history of the early Church in that period beyond the conclusion of Acts. Thus, the Law [Torah] and the Prophets and the Writings—all serve to reveal ‘"what has been hidden since the foundation of the world’" (Matt 13:35). All serve as prophetic books to disclose the history and future of born-from-above sons of God, that holy nation called out of darkness to become a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people of God’s own possession (1 Pet 2:9).

A return to the practices of the early Church concerning reading Scripture with an occasional exhortation as to how the passage reveals the history or future of spiritual Israel seems to be a model for services that will capitalize on typological exegesis, and move away from precept-upon-precept exegesis, the means by which the drunk priests of Israel caused a nation to stumble, fall backwards, be snared and taken (Isa 28:13). The practice of extensive Scripture reading should not overly burden the speaking resources of beginning fellowships, nor should the practice place upon young Christians the awkwardness of delivering messages to chronologically older disciples. Therefore, all fellowships of The Philadelphia Church are encouraged to use an order or form for Sabbath services that prominently promotes Scripture reading, and minimizes the number of taped messages played.

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