Prayer and Holy Communion in Daily Life

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John R. W. Stott comments on Acts 2 in The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 84–86:

They devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread and to prayer (42). That is, their fellowship was expressed not only in caring for each other, but in corporate worship too. Moreover, the definite article in both expressions (literally, ‘the breaking of the bread and the prayers’) suggests a reference to the Lord’s Supper on the one hand (although almost certainly at that early stage as part of a larger meal) and prayer services or meetings (rather than private prayer) on the other.

If we are to follow the work of the Holy Ghost in the early Church immediately after his descent upon the disciples and conversion of 3000 to the gospel, it seems that – as we learn and are turned to deeper repentance by the word of God – we must also express our sharing in the divine gift, the regeneration in Christ of the image of God, by continuing stedfastly both in eating together, with the Lord’s Supper often observed, and in corporate prayer.

Dr Stott then details ‘two aspects of the early church’s worship which exemplify its balance’:

First, it was both formal and informal, for it took place both in the temple courts and in their homes (46), which is an interesting combination. It is perhaps surprising that they continued for a while in the temple, but they did. They did not immediately abandon what might be called the institutional church. I do not believe they still participated in the sacrifices of the temple, for already they had begun to grasp that these had been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ, but they do seem to have attended the prayer services of the temple (cf. 3:1), unless, as has been suggested, they went up to the temple to preach, rather than to pray. At the same time, they supplemented the temple services with more informal and spontaneous meetings (including the breaking of bread) in their homes. Perhaps we, who get understandably impatient with the inherited structures of the church, can learn a lesson from them. For myself, I believe that the Holy Spirit’s way with the institutional church, which we long to see reformed according to the gospel, is more the way of patient reform than of impatient rejection. And certainly it is always healthy when the more formal and dignified services of the local church are complemented with the informality and exuberance of home meetings. There is no need to polarize between the structured and the unstructured, the traditional and the spontaneous. The church needs both.

For structure, we in the Church already have what the Church has long practised. For daily prayers, analogous to those of the temple in Jerusalem, the Book of Common Prayer provides forms for Morning and Evening Prayer daily throughout the year. For these prayers we ought to meet as often as possible, that our hours in the holy Church may be sanctified when we seek the Lord’s face as one Church. Such daily meeting has always been the hope expressed by the reformed Church of England, and such also is shown to be a healthy and holy cultural practice sanctioned by Scripture.

Though we may not always repair to our church buildings for daily worship services, we can all meet with other Christians to declare the praises of God as priests in his holy temple, and perhaps especially on Wednesdays and Fridays in addition to Sundays and Saturday evenings. On the other days of the week, families might meet for worship at their home altars instead, while those who did not live with their families continued to attend services at church or met from house to house.

Throughout our days, of course, we could meet for informal prayers as circumstances permitted, that we might seek the Lord in all things.

And to break bread in our houses we ought to meet often for fellowship and hospitality, and at these meals we can have clerics (all ordained elders, not only those who are called ‘teaching elders’) daily celebrate Holy Communion, even according to the Book of Common Prayer. To keep the service short, clerics could use the Summary of the Law in place of the Ten Commandments, omit the sermon, omit the taking of alms, and omit the exhortation ‘Ye that do truly’ &c. Thus the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper could be joined to a common meal of fellowship in which we shared our joys and griefs, expressing the unity of the Spirit and the sacred bond of peace.

Even on days when we ate together and did not have Holy Communion, it would be useful still to pray the collect of the day before eating (the same that was appointed at the Communion), in memory of the Lord’s Supper and of his high priesthood in heaven and his call to sanctification on earth.

The second example of the balance of the early church’s worship is that it was both joyful and reverent. There can be no doubt of their joy, for they are described as having glad and sincere hearts (46), which literally means ‘in exultation [agalliasis] and sincerity of heart’. The NEB unites the two words by translating ‘with unaffected joy’. Since God had sent his son into the world, and had now sent them his Spirit, they had plenty of reason to be joyful. Besides, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is … joy’, and sometimes a more uninhibited joy than is customary (or even acceptable) within the staid traditions of the historic churches. Yet every worship service should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. It is right in public worship to be dignified; it is unforgivable to be dull. At the same time, their joy was never irreverent. If joy in God is an authentic work of the Spirit, so is the fear of God. Everyone was filled with awe (43), which seems to include the Christians as well as the non-Christians. God had visited their city. He was in their midst, and they knew it. They bowed down before him in humility and wonder. It is a mistake, therefore, to imagine that in public worship reverence and rejoicing are mutually exclusive. The combination of joy and awe, as of formality and informality, is a healthy balance in worship.

This combination of joy and awe, much to be desired, we can seek as we find ways to put into practice the principles of the first disciples’ lives. I believe that, when we are commemorating the Lord’s sacrifice often in the midst of our daily lives, the Lord himself will teach us to view and avail ourselves of that sacrifice with both joy and holy awe, and that our living in light of this sacrifice will be a witness to the nations as God has himself intended.

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