Worship in the Early Church: A Gallery of Wordsmiths of Worship
Defender of the worshiping community
Justin Martyr preserved the earliest full record of a Christian worship service, dating to the mid-second century.
Justin was born in the Roman city of Flavia Neapolis (ancient Shechem in Samaria). Raised by pagan parents, he sought to find life’s meaning in the philosophies of his day. This brought a series of disappointments.
His first teacher was a Stoic who “knew nothing of God and did not even think knowledge of him to be necessary.” There followed a Peripatetic (itinerant philosopher), who seemed most interested in his fees. Then came a Pythagorean, but his required course of music, astronomy, and geometry seemed far too slow. Finally, Platonism, though intellectually demanding, proved unfulfilling for Justin’s hungry heart.
At last, about A.D. 130, after a conversation with an old man, his life was transformed: “A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do.”
Justin continued to wear his philosopher’s cloak, seeking to reconcile faith and reason. His teaching ministry took him first to Ephesus (c. 132), where he held a disputation with Trypho, a Jew. Later he moved to Rome, founded a Christian school, and wrote two bold Apologies addressed to Roman authorities. The first (c. 153), addressed to Emperor Antoninus Plus and sons, has gained the most attention and preserves detailed descriptions of early Christian worship.
What emerges is a writer who loved not only Christianity but also Christians. Justin saw believers ...