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Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective

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This introduction to the origins of Christian worship illuminates the importance of ancient Christian worship practices for contemporary Christianity. Andrew McGowan, a leading scholar of early Christian liturgy, takes a fresh approach to understanding how Christians came to worship in the distinctive forms still familiar today. Deftly and expertly processing the bewilderi This introduction to the origins of Christian worship illuminates the importance of ancient Christian worship practices for contemporary Christianity. Andrew McGowan, a leading scholar of early Christian liturgy, takes a fresh approach to understanding how Christians came to worship in the distinctive forms still familiar today. Deftly and expertly processing the bewildering complexity of the ancient sources into lucid, fluent exposition, he sets aside common misperceptions to explore the roots of Christian ritual practices--including the Eucharist, baptism, communal prayer, preaching, Scripture reading, and music--in their earliest recoverable settings. Students of Christian worship and theology as well as pastors and church leaders will value this work.


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This introduction to the origins of Christian worship illuminates the importance of ancient Christian worship practices for contemporary Christianity. Andrew McGowan, a leading scholar of early Christian liturgy, takes a fresh approach to understanding how Christians came to worship in the distinctive forms still familiar today. Deftly and expertly processing the bewilderi This introduction to the origins of Christian worship illuminates the importance of ancient Christian worship practices for contemporary Christianity. Andrew McGowan, a leading scholar of early Christian liturgy, takes a fresh approach to understanding how Christians came to worship in the distinctive forms still familiar today. Deftly and expertly processing the bewildering complexity of the ancient sources into lucid, fluent exposition, he sets aside common misperceptions to explore the roots of Christian ritual practices--including the Eucharist, baptism, communal prayer, preaching, Scripture reading, and music--in their earliest recoverable settings. Students of Christian worship and theology as well as pastors and church leaders will value this work.

30 review for Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective

  1. 4 out of 5

    Graham

    An essential read for understanding the liturgical practices of early Christianity. The purpose of the book is to trace the development of various practices (baptism, eucharist, prayer, feasts, fasting, regular gathering, etc.) which became normative for Christians. The scope of the study traces a period beginning with the New Testament and ending in the Fifth Century. As a protestant (the author is an Anglican priest and scholar, at the Divinity schools of both Berkeley and Yale), and more speci An essential read for understanding the liturgical practices of early Christianity. The purpose of the book is to trace the development of various practices (baptism, eucharist, prayer, feasts, fasting, regular gathering, etc.) which became normative for Christians. The scope of the study traces a period beginning with the New Testament and ending in the Fifth Century. As a protestant (the author is an Anglican priest and scholar, at the Divinity schools of both Berkeley and Yale), and more specifically an evangelical, I typically operate in a more free church/low liturgy world, in which many of the practices of the high church traditions (Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and some branches of Lutheranism) are not regarded as authoritative, or perhaps even as negative; empty ritual, or in some extreme cases they are regarded as idolatry. I'm a bit of an odd duck in my tradition, having a deep love for higher liturgies (oddly, I love to worship that way, but I strongly prefer to lead in free church/low liturgy format) and even many points of doctrine of the "high church". So reading the roots of these liturgical forms, and seeing how they developed into practices to teach, encourage, and strengthen the fledgling church in the midst of a pluralistic and at times antagonistic world, sheds new light, and exposes the depth and richness, which I already loved. Through McGowan's immensely detailed and wonderfully presented research we see that the worship of the "high church" tradition is not simply aesthetic, but embedded in a robust theological process. The primary source research is stunning, though perhaps at times giving more attention to certain Fathers over others (e.g. Tertullian and Origen get more page space than the Cappadocians and Athanasius, though these two are the authors of more surviving texts on the particular subject in view). Overall McGowan has done justice to the Fathers, I believe (I'm by no means a patristics expert- more of a hobbyist); allowing the source material to speak for itself for the most part and simply tracing the development and variations in certain times and places, but clarifying context when needed. Though he doesn't engage with secondary authors' arguments in great detail in the body, the footnotes are a treasure trove for further reading. This impressive volume should be in the hands of pastors and worship leaders. The epilogue provides an important insight that worship was not viewed by early Christians as just the practices done together, but as life lived in the service of God, and the practices which developed were designed to embed the early Church's theology into time and space. It was about preventing the abstraction of doctrine, disconnecting the message from the realities of the world, combating Gnostic and docetic forms of theology, and emphasizing God's presence in and redemption of creation through the incarnation, death, and physical resurrection of Jesus. That emphasis is vital to understanding our forms and the function of those forms in communal worship. The Reformation produced many debates about both form and function of these practices, and some of modern worship has suffered in part, in think, because of the disconnect with the real origins of the Church. It's not hard to find Christians debating the performance feel of megachurches, or people denouncing high churches as irrelevant for hanging on to outdated, ritualistic practices. Perhaps rethinking what worship is and why it became what it did will improve that conversation. This book sheds vast amounts of light on these questions. High churches are seeing some notable interest recently, and I think evangelicals would be wise to revisit the discussion of not just the forms of worship (which dominated the "worship wars" of recent decades) and understand the theology behind the forms, and ask what the purpose behind our own forms are. This book reveals much about the depth of thought and the robust theology behind the liturgical forms which became normative by or in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Perhaps recovering some of that will breathe new life into the contemporary church. McGowan has graced clergy, seminarians, well-read lay leaders, and Church history buffs with a real gift here. The more I study the early Church, the more I am convinced they have a great deal to offer us evangelicals not just doctrinally, but in praxis as well. McGowan has brought those ancient voices to us, and we would do well to heed the wisdom we are being offered here. The more I read and reflect, the more I see the value in the tradition and liturgy and handed down through the ages; Creeds, iconography, feast days, the cycles of prayer, etc. and the more I want to see the evangelical world embrace them, not just because of their beauty but because they are able to draw all of us back to the roots of the Church and has the potential to draw the various groups closer to the unity we're supposed to have. Interestingly, one of the aspects which comes through powerfully in McGowan's work is the variety and regional distinctives which grew up, and though it often did create severe tensions (e.g. the east-west battle over dating the celebration of the nativity), the common confession and worship of the risen Lord and the desire to embed that Gospel confession into the rhythm of life was the unifying aspect, which developed into practices made to reflect that confession.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    This book takes one an interesting journey of early Christian worship an emphasises how communal gatherings help cement and fertilise worship and community in the first 4 centuries. As a work, it is highly readable and it would be a useful addition to anyone's collection who is interested in this period. However, there were, for me, a number of negatives to the work. Firstly there is significant repetition to comments and discussion points. Clearly the book was research and written as very separ This book takes one an interesting journey of early Christian worship an emphasises how communal gatherings help cement and fertilise worship and community in the first 4 centuries. As a work, it is highly readable and it would be a useful addition to anyone's collection who is interested in this period. However, there were, for me, a number of negatives to the work. Firstly there is significant repetition to comments and discussion points. Clearly the book was research and written as very separate chapters, but then little thought was given to it as a corpus; a final read through by an editor would have done wonders. A more significant issue is that the author has a tendency to make conjecture without justification or references so there are, at times, points presented as 'fact' but are in reality merely personal opinion. Tied in with this is that the author has a habit of projecting cognitions and emotions on to the ecclesial body. While I don't have a philosophical objection to an interpretive phenomenological approach, what was often lacking was evidence for his superordinate themes and conclusions. So as a work it was well worth a read, but be prepared for some frustrations.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Filip Šimek

    An interesting approach to liturgy dealing with its aspects one element at time. I did find it very interesting, it's not 100% hardcore scholarly written work but no fancy, popular series of "interesting" anecdotes and stories with real value either. Worked for me, I'll definitely come back to this one.....good starting point for any research into early Christian practices. An interesting approach to liturgy dealing with its aspects one element at time. I did find it very interesting, it's not 100% hardcore scholarly written work but no fancy, popular series of "interesting" anecdotes and stories with real value either. Worked for me, I'll definitely come back to this one.....good starting point for any research into early Christian practices.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Marie

    This is obviously not a light read. It is more of a scholarly work. In fact, I could have seen this book being used in some of my undergraduate courses. In the eARC, almost half of the book was footnotes/endnotes. This alone would scream scholarly work. And this is. This is the type of book that I spent four years reading for classes during my undergrad. I liked that the majority of the sources used were the Church Fathers. I liked that for numerous reasons, one of which is that the Patristics ar This is obviously not a light read. It is more of a scholarly work. In fact, I could have seen this book being used in some of my undergraduate courses. In the eARC, almost half of the book was footnotes/endnotes. This alone would scream scholarly work. And this is. This is the type of book that I spent four years reading for classes during my undergrad. I liked that the majority of the sources used were the Church Fathers. I liked that for numerous reasons, one of which is that the Patristics are hard enough to understand literally in translation, let alone symbolically. Having them included in this book also gave room for McGowen to include analysis which helps immensely in understanding. It also helps that the pertinent parts of each are noted so that I didn’t have to read each of the Patristics in totality (which I did quite a bit of for school). There are places in this book that made me want to track down the original source and whip out my Latin. This is mainly because I want to know more of the context than McGowan gives at times. This is probably just me wanting to know more which I admit happens quite a bit. Overall, I enjoyed this book and it really made me think. I know this isn’t going to be a book for everyone. It is scholarly and I liked it. I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This review first appeared on CatholicAmanda.com.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nick Watson

    Excellent overview of the development of worship in the first centuries after Christ (there are references to Chalcedon and Augustine, but most of the substance is pre-400AD). Coverage is quite comprehensive and refers to recent developments in understanding of original texts, but the book is readable and doesn't seem to assume much prior knowledge of church history or worshipping traditions. A reader's involvement with or experience of a worshipping community would help to give context, but mos Excellent overview of the development of worship in the first centuries after Christ (there are references to Chalcedon and Augustine, but most of the substance is pre-400AD). Coverage is quite comprehensive and refers to recent developments in understanding of original texts, but the book is readable and doesn't seem to assume much prior knowledge of church history or worshipping traditions. A reader's involvement with or experience of a worshipping community would help to give context, but most who would be interested enough to read the book will probably have this! One theme to emerge is of the interplay in the formation of worship between the distinctively Christian aspects and significance of worshipping practice and the non-sacral gatherings and actions inherited by or surrounding the worshippers in a given place. Chapters are as follows, giving an indication of coverage. 1. Introduction: The Origins of Christian Worship 2. Meal: Banquet and Eucharist 3. Word: Reading and Preaching 4. Music: Song and Dance 5. Initiation: Baptism, Anointing and Foot Washing 6 Prayer: Hours, Ways and Texts 7. Time: Feasts and Fasts

  6. 5 out of 5

    John

    Helpful compendium on ancient Christian practice, covering everything from table, baptism, and prayer to word, music, and calendar. I might quibble with his emphasis on discontinuity in the Eucharist from first century to fourth, even as I appreciate him coming back around and landing on a fundamental continuity in meaning, if not practice. But overall, a stimulating work that is challenging in light of what passes for modern ideas of worship (i.e. music).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Jankowski

    “Worship is not what goes on in temples or synagogues, or even in homes where Christians meet, but happens wherever social relations of dependence and obedience are expressed. It has more to do with politics and ethics than with what we would call worship, although it has a necessary physical and embodied aspect." McGowan makes an effort to disassociate modern conceptions and practices of worship with what he has found throughout the history of the church. Some of which he makes a persuasive case “Worship is not what goes on in temples or synagogues, or even in homes where Christians meet, but happens wherever social relations of dependence and obedience are expressed. It has more to do with politics and ethics than with what we would call worship, although it has a necessary physical and embodied aspect." McGowan makes an effort to disassociate modern conceptions and practices of worship with what he has found throughout the history of the church. Some of which he makes a persuasive case. But much is left to speculation and McGowan leads the reader astray when he doesn't qualify his conclusions as speculative. He dabbles in a variety of topics; such as the christian relation to the sabbath, the eucharist, offices of the church, church structure, etc. None of which really goes in to much depth.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Scott Rushing

    McGowan has written a comprehensive survey of ancient Christian worship practices that will likely serve as the standard textbook of the subject for years to come. He devotes chapters to the origins and development of the Eucharist, preaching, music, baptism, and feasts. I give this book my highest recommendation.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tr0yisbald

  10. 4 out of 5

    Edem Morny

  11. 4 out of 5

    Evan

  12. 5 out of 5

    K.M.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ignoble Berean

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gregory Linton

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Doohan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Viland

  17. 4 out of 5

    Keith Uffman

  18. 5 out of 5

    William Horne

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mike Normoyle

  20. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Lowery

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cgensheer

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Tomes

  23. 4 out of 5

    Philip Barbier

  24. 5 out of 5

    Keith Mason

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robb Brewer

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Johnson

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brooks Robinson

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emma

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