Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | April 5, 2008

What from the Jewish community is preserved in Christianity? (continued)

The Culture from which the Church emerges (Lesson 2: Part 6) 

As we continue to explore the continuities and influences that Judaism had on the Church, the sacraments are certainly an area where this occurs.  The New Testament testifies to the fact that baptism was a sacrament practiced in Judaism most notably by John the Baptist.  However, there is substantial evidence that suggests that this sacrament was practiced in a somewhat rudimentary manner prior to John.  This was manifested in a ritual of washing imposed on Gentile converts in addition to circumcision.  Consequently, there are some who infer that John the Baptist was radical since he took this rite and asserted that Israelites should also be baptized.  This may explain why many Pharisee’s refused to undergo this sign, because this was originally intended for “filthy” Gentiles.  They were characterized as filthy in large part due to their immorality and failure to follow the Mosaic Law.  Regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of this antecedent use of the rite we can conclude that Baptism is now a sacrament of the Church which finds its roots in Judaism.   

In a subsequent place we will discuss more on the practice and administration of the sacrament of Baptism and who qualified candidates are.  An essential part of that discussion will include the replacement of Circumcision with Baptism as the sign of the covenant.  However, until that time meditate on the fact that the coming of the New Covenant was an extension or widening of a previous covenant to new people.  What evidence is given to narrow the right for infants to be precluded from the sign?  In the Old Covenant, circumcision was applied to all the males of Israel eight days and older.  Thus, those who presume that the coming of the New Covenant resulted in an exclusion of these individuals are hard pressed to go against the nature of this newer, more inclusive and better covenant.  

The Lord’s Supper is another example of a sacrament within the Church, which is significantly influenced by a Jewish background.  Our Lord deliberately instituted this sacrament of the New Covenant during the same evening when the antecedent Old Testament sacrament of Passover was being celebrated.  He clearly takes elements of bread and wine, present at the Passover meal, and uses them in the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  It was this meal that symbolized deliverance and redemption that continued to demonstrate these same attributes in its New Covenant counterpart.  This sacrament then becomes a central part of worship of in the subsequent Christian community.  The extra-biblical records have always included two foci in ancient worship; the first is known as the liturgy of the Word, the second is known as the liturgy of the Upper Room/Eucharist.  For example, in the middle of the second century from the pen of Justin Martyr we have a brief description of what Christian worship looked like at that time.  The essential elements of worship services included the reading of Scripture, the preaching of Scripture, prayer and the Lord’s Supper.  Incidentally, this order seems to reflect very closely the order of the synagogue worship that included reading and preaching of Scripture along with prayer.  The added component in the Christian worship was the implementation of the Lord’s Supper as commanded by Jesus Christ.       

An interesting item that we also know about the worship practices of the synagogue and early church is that no musical instruments were used for the first 1000 years.  The evidence to support this is formidable from the second century onward.  The problem, however, is that there is not much evidence of what the synagogue looked like in the first century.  Thus, there are two schools of thought among Jewish and Christian scholars.  The first suggests that musical instruments were used in the first century until the temple was destroyed in 70 AD.  Thus, as a sign of mourning of the loss of the temple the use of musical instruments ceased.  The second rejects this idea, since there is no evidence to support this view and conclude that musical instruments were never used.  Although, the instruments were necessary in the temple during sacrifices to drown out the noise from the animals, they were never used in the synagogue setting.   

We also know that Eastern Orthodox Churches still do not use instruments to this day.  And more importantly we know that there is no evidence in the New Testament to support the use of instruments in worship.  Thus, the use and implementation of musical instruments in the church is founded on unstable grounds historically.  Moreover, thorough exegesis and assessment must be employed to support its use biblically, which is not always the case in historical or contemporary situations.

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