5 May 2018

5 May 2018 |

A Commentary by John Stott

b). Some principles of Christian worship.

What can we learn about Christian worship from that Sunday evening service in Troas many centuries ago? We will be wise to exercise due caution in answering this question, for Luke’s account is purely descriptive, and is not intended to be prescriptive. We have no liberty, therefore, to be slavish, either in copying what took place (e.g. assembling in a house, indeed on the third floor, meeting in the evening, using oil lamps for illuminating and listening to an inordinately lengthy sermon) or in omitting what is not mentioned (e.g. prayers, psalms, hymns and Scripture readings). Nevertheless, there seem to be principles of public worship here, which are endorsed by biblical teaching elsewhere and are applicable to us today.

First, the disciples met on the Lord’s Day for the Lord’s Supper. At least verse 7 sounds like a description of the normal, regular practice of the church in Troas. And the evidence is that the Eucharist, as a thankful celebration of the now risen Saviour’s death, very early became the main Sunday service, in the context of an *agape*, that is, a ‘love feast’ or fellowship meal.

Secondly, in addition to the supper there was a sermon, indeed a very long one, for its first part lasted from sunset to midnight (7), and its second from midnight to sunrise (11). Not that we are to envisage that Paul’s preaching as purely monologue, since Luke uses the verb *dialegomai* twice (7,9), which implies discussion, perhaps in the form of questions and answers. The other word he uses is *homileo* (11), which JBP renders ‘a long earnest talk’ and NEB ‘much conversation’. It is clearly more free and open than a formal sermon. But at least the apostle took his teaching responsibility seriously. So should we. ‘There is no hint that Paul took the incident as a rebuke for long-windedness’. And since we have no living apostles comparable to Paul to instruct us today, we need to listen to the teaching of Christ’s apostles as it has come down to us in the New Testament. From the earliest days local churches began to make their own collection of the memoirs and letters of the apostles, and obeyed the repeated apostolic injunction to read them, alongside the law and the prophets, in the public assembly (e.g. Col. 4:16; 1 Thess.5:27; Rev.1:3; 22:18-19).

So it is, thirdly, that word and sacrament are combined in the ministry given to the church at Troas, and the universal church has followed suit ever since. For God speaks to his people through his Word both as it is read and expounded from Scripture and as it is dramatized in the two gospel sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps ‘word and sacrament’ is not the best or most accurate coupling, common though it is. For strictly speaking the sacrament itself is a word, a ‘visible word’ according to Augustine. What builds up the church more than anything else is the ministry of God’s word as it comes to us through Scripture and Sacrament (that is the right coupling), audibly and visibly, in declaration and drama.

Tomorrow: Acts 20:13-16. 3). A coastal voyage to Miletus.

 

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.