The Temple (no, not you Ken) represented the heart of Jewish religious life while it remained standing, but it could not play the part in the regular religious life of most Jews that it had done in King Josiah’s day, when Jerusalem, where he centralized the national worship, was within manageable distance for everyone in the kingdom of Judah. The Jews of the dispersion in particular could pay only occasional visits to the Temple. The centre of their ordinary religious and community life was the synagogue.* * *
The origins of the synagogue are obscure, but it is reasonable to look for them in the circumstances of the exile and its aftermath. How did the exiled Jews preserve their religious loyalty, to a point where those who ultimately returned from the exile considered ‘the people of the land’ too lax or syncretistic in their practice to merit participation in the rebuilding of the Temple? If in their exile they met together for mutual encouragement, to recite appointed prayers and sing the songs of Zion even in a foreign land, this would constitute a synagogue in embryo at least. The synagogue developed throughout the post-exilic centuries and became an invariable feature of Jewish life not only in the Diaspora but in Palestine and even in Jerusalem itself. There on Sabbaths and festivals services of worship were held in which prayers and praises of the temple services were repeated; but whereas in the Temple these prayers and praises were adjuncts to the sacrifices, in the non-sacrificial liturgy of the synagogue they constituted the indispensable elements.
A synagogue service at this time began with the call to worship and the recitation of the Shema and associated benedictions, together with the Decalogue; it continued with the appointed prayers and benedictions, the reading of the law and the prophets, a ‘word of exhortation’ or exposition, and concluded with a blessing. Though a general pattern could no doubt be discerned in synagogue services throughout the Jewish world, there was considerable variation; Israel Abrahams could speak of ‘the freedom of the synagogue’. But the general sequence of the synagogue service had an importance beyond the confines of Jewish history; it influenced to some extent the order of early Christian worship. Invocation, prayer, thanksgiving, scripture reading, exhortation, blessing have from the beginning been integral to the Christian liturgy, although the central place is given to the distinctively Christian ordinance of the Eucharist.
The synagogues throughout the world brought the knowledge of Israel’s God and Israel’s religion to all the Gentile cities in which there were Jewish communities. ‘From early generations Moses had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues’ (Acts 15:21). The picture given in the Acts of the Apostles, of Paul and his colleagues making for the synagogue in each new city they came to, and using it as their base of operations as long as they permitted, harmonizes perfectly with the picture given by archaeology and literary and epigraphic evidence. Even Athens, which Jewish residents would probably have found less congenial than many Greek cities, had its synagogue, according to Acts 17:17, and evidently some Athenians were sufficiently attracted by Jewish worship to attend it regularly as God-fearers.
Philippi appears to have been an exception: according to the most probable reading of Acts 16:13, Paul and three companions, finding no regular synagogue there, went outside the city on the Sabbath to ‘a place where prayer was habitually offered’ on the riverside according to Jewish custom and ‘sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.’ This seems to mean that, in the absence of a sufficient number of Jewish men (ten of whom must be present before a synagogue congregation can be properly constituted), some women—Jewesses and God-fearers—came together and said the appointed prayers for the Sabbath. Although they could not form a synagogue, they did form the nucleus of the Christian church in Philippi. The quorum for a church was ‘two or three’ (Matt 18:20), much smaller than a Jewish minyan, and so far as the privileges of church membership were concerned, Paul himself laid it down that in Christ there was ‘neither male nor female’, just as there was ‘neither Jew nor Greek, . . . neither slave nor free’ (Gal 3:28).
The narrative of Acts speaks of synagogues also in Damascus, Cyprus, Iconium, Thessalonica, Beroea, Corinth, and Ephesus. (F.F. Bruce, “New Testament History” (New York: Doubleday, © 1969, pg. 143-145).
“Elders in Every City”
Roger Beckwith, who is an Anglican, in his work, “Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of the Ordained Ministry” (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press ©2003), noted the use of fuzzy language in the preface to the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer to describe the existence of “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons” in the church:
“It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and the ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church” Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.”
Of this statement, Beckwith says:
This is a very carefully phrased statement which, through loose interpretation, has been misrepresented both by its defenders and by its critics.In discussions between Protestants and Roman Catholics, the question always seems to come down to “the definition of the word ‘Church’”. And in defining the word “Church,” one of the most complicated issues that Protestants face when interacting with Roman Catholics is the notion of “Apostolic Succession.” In fact, to hear the tales of some Roman Catholics, Christ named Peter as Pope, the Apostles as Bishops via a sacrament of “Holy Orders,” and this authority has traveled downstream to us in an unbroken succession, and to challenge the Pope and Bishops is to deny the very authority of Christ.
For, in the first place, it does not say that this is evident to those “diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors’; in other words, it is evident from Scripture and the Fathers taken together, but not necessarily from one of the two taken singly. If we have difficulty finding the threefold ministry in the New Testament taken by itself, the preface does not say that we should be able to find it there.
In the second place, the preface does not say that “by the Apostles’ decision there have been those Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church” but from the Apostles time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church”; in other words, from the period before the last of the apostles died there have been three orders of ordained ministers; and the last of the apostles, St John, is stated by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3:3;4) to have lived until the reign of Trajan, who did not become emperor till AD 98. Since the threefold ministry was [evident] when Ignatius of Antioch was writing his letters, about AD 110, it can hardly have arisen later than the beginning Trajan’s reign, in other words, later than the end of the apostolic age. So the preface to the Ordinal is stating the simple truth in saying that it dates from the apostle’s time. But how far the apostles were responsible for the development which took place is left an open question (Beckwith pgs. 9-10)
This is difficult not because Protestants are wrong about it; in my opinion, Protestant rejections of the Roman conceptions of “succession” are quite correct. Rather, this is difficult because there are so many different facets to it, and it requires looking at the issues from many different perspectives in order to understand the complete picture of what happened. As with many things, Rome defines an ancient term or concept in terms of its present-day doctrine. But this is absolutely not the right way to understand how the early church developed.
My hope is to continue to explore all of the many factors that played into this. I think it’s very clear that the gloss that the Roman Catholic Church places on “succession” is really an anachronistic reading – reading its own current doctrines back into the original meanings of some of these words. The gloss that the Called to Communion folks place on this, is beyond anachronism. It is wishful thinking.