Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why We Worship the Way we Do: Part Two

In the New Testament, the Church would gather in synagogues and in people’s homes for worship. The earliest archeological evidence of a building used solely for Christian worship is in 257 A.D. By the early fourth century, pagan temples were stripped of their idols and consecrated for Christian worship. In these early churches, there were no pews and people gathered and stood as a crowd throughout the services. The elders and bishops led worship from a raised area called an “apse,” an architectural term meaning “vault,” or a “chancel,” meaning “rail,” an area reserved for instruction. These areas often featured vaulted ceilings and rails to both enhance the sound and protect the preachers from pressing crowds who had come to hear the Gospel. As the early choirs led processions into the church carrying the Gospels, the candles, the cross, the chalice and the bread, the crowds made way to allow the procession to come through the center of the church.

This center aisle led from the Narthex doors all the way up to the Chancel, an area also called a “Sanctuary,” meaning “holy or set apart,” symbolic of the Jewish Temple’s Holy of Holies. The center aisle symbolized the seeker’s journey on the straight and narrow road that leads to salvation (Matthew 7:14). Today, we refer to the whole room as a “Sanctuary” and the area where the Communion Table, Lectern and Pulpit are placed as the “Chancel.” This procession down the center aisle was a symbolic act of the entire church coming in to worship. On special days, the congregation would often gather with the choir and clergy outside of the church and process through the streets, into the church building and down the center aisle. As the years passed, the center aisle became a sacred space and worshippers gathered on opposite sides of the room to remember that they were supported on either side by fellow Christians in this journey, as well as surrounded and aided by the angels and saints above (Hebrews 12:1-2). The leaders of the early church officiated many rites and acts of worship from the center aisle as a sign that worship is done among the people and by the people, rather than for the people and to the people.

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