The Synagogue

What do you all think about the synagogue of the First Century? It did not originate in the law of God under Moses, nor in the days of the Davidic Kingdom. It probably developed during the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews did not have access to their temple. If someone knows of any command of God to establish the synagogue system, please let me know.

Yet, Jesus made a habit, as did many others in Israel in His time, of attending these gatherings.

My question is this: if Jesus, Paul and others made use of this form of assembly to spread the Good News of the Kingdom, why would other means of organizing gatherings, as long as they served God's purpose be forbidden?

The core teachings of Jesus are to be shared and demonstrated to the world. Why should we not be open to both old and new opportunities to do this? We can gather in public parks, restaurants, homes or even in buildings dedicated to Christian meetings. The Holy Spirit has not ceased to lead us in a variety of ways to accomplish God's will in the earth.

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Comments (10)
    • Another 'institution' which, along with the synagogue, naturally came into existence due to necessity and expediency, was the diaconate or the table servers for the poor widows. Chronicled in Acts 6.

      Wow, how we long for the church to again become a health and welfare provider!

      OK. In other words, the first Christians were not met with permanent "church blueprints" for all people in all ages in all places. But rather a few abiding principles which also left room for change according to the changing landscape. Where the spirit is - there is liberty. 

      If the Almighty has not forbidden something - and it is beneficial for the edification of others, by all means, prayerfully consider such a course.

      As for the interior of a synagogue, the benches were positioned toward Jerusalem. This gives new meaning to Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well:  

      "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. ... But the hour is coming, and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. For the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth."

      Our Lord is declaring here that location is no longer important in the big picture of worship and life. Whether public house of worship or private house meeting - both of these are mere physical locations. God is seeking SPIRITUAL worship irrespective of the physical location. 

      Carefully observe that Jesus did not teach: "But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in private houses only." Yet this is what house church purists maintain. Personally, I have heard it and I have read it online and in several books. In reality, it just makes us all look a little backward...

      If house meetings were the only legitimate form of church structure for all people in all places for all time, Jesus surely would have had something specific to say about it. Instead, he attended both small household meetings and large public meetings, too. As did his apostles. On many recorded occasions. Over a period of many years.

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      • Hey Dan, your original question is an important one. Let's return to it:

        My question is this: if Jesus, Paul and others made use of this form of assembly to spread the Good News of the Kingdom, why would other means of organizing gatherings, as long as they served God's purpose be forbidden?

        Consider the precision of God's works in the physical world. Everything has a purpose: To declare his name. And look at the precision of the guidelines for the Tabernacle and Temple. 

        If the precise location of church meetings were of the utmost importance, surely Jesus would have revealed this on his first visit to the temple or later to the synagogues. He would have encouraged believers not to return but to only meet in a private home setting.

        Since he did not address this, it is a safe assumption that any arrangement is OK, according to the needs of the persons involved.

        Here are a few more clues from the times after Christ ministered.. Paul reminded the abusers of the Lord's supper that they would be better off "at home". And he exhorted certain women to ask their husbands "at home" rather than interrupt the public meeting. 1 Cor. 11:34, 1 Cor. 14:35. Obviously then, the saints were not gathered at private home (unless quite a large one which would have been possible).

        Back to Jesus, he foretold that the unbelieving Jews would eventually run them out of the synagogues: John 9:22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. If house churches were to become the only option to "do church", would He have not have reminded them at that point?

        No, we cannot present the truth without exposing error. Much of what goes on in traditional churches has little or no basis in scripture. Nevertheless, the "out of church movement" would do well to overcome evil with good - rather than continually attack the institutional church, in word and print, for the wrong reasons.

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        • David, You wrote:

          "No, we cannot present the truth without exposing error. Much of what goes on in traditional churches has little or no basis in scripture. Nevertheless, the "out of church movement" would do well to overcome evil with good - rather than continually attack the institutional church, in word and print, for the wrong reasons."

          This is one of my concerns as well. I was once caught up in the trend of vindicating what I believed the Lord wanted me to do by discrediting what others were doing. In several cases I alienated people who still believed in traditional church forms. Eventually I began to remember many of the wonderful ways God had used the traditional forms for my benefit in the past.

          Also I observed a sort of "legalism" in the house church movement that would forbid many things that were taught in scripture! After that the trend to discredit the scriptures began to emerge.

          Take the issue of leadership for example. We know there have been many abuses of leadership. We also know leaders themselves can be abused by unbiblical pressures put on them by the system as we know it today. So is the answer to convert to "leaderless" church meetings? I say no, and will go so far to say that is a myth.

          I was once in a gathering of several house church minded people when a brother stood up to share a teaching. Then another brother attempted to set him down I supposed because he thought he was trying to lead us. Some times no one in charge leads to the wrong ones in charge!

          In trying avoid the "one man show" that has become the norm in our day, I think fear can take over.  Cannot we trust that Jesus is still building His church, even our imperfect, less than ideal settings?

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          • Dan, my friend and brother. Loved your previous message! Wow. Amen. 

            Back to your original inquiry regarding the origins of the synagogue.

            The first Christians came over from the Jewish community. They already had a long history of regular public meetings for instruction and fellowship. They were now born again and eager to be with their new spiritual family. Personally, I would say that they were ready to tear the door off the hinges to get to these meetings. 

            The synagogue was the center of the community and a joyful place, too. There they would see their relatives and friends and also make new ones. There they would learn news things - as the truth was told and the scrolls unrolled. There they would get the latest news often passed around as prayer requests. :) There they would receive a holy kiss or perhaps have their feet washed. Since the meeting was open, things were a little unpredictable. Especially with regard to who might show up to speak.

            As John wrote: We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. 1 John 3:14. What could be more intuitive and natural than to be with those whom you love?

            We do however notice a warning about failing to meet with others. It's found in Hebrews and you are familiar with it. And familiar with those who translate it to mean something else. "Don't go to church - just be the church". The greek verb here for meeting surely refers to synagogue: epiSunagoge. On that we can agree. Just as the word for church is a general word also meaning an assembly of persons for a specific purpose. 

            In summary, although there is no direct NT command to meet, there is one which forbids not meeting - failing to assemble. Which is really... the same idea.

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            • David, Thanks for pointing out the Greek word in Hebrews 10:25. I drilled it down to one of the root words in Thayer's definitions.  "sunago" (G4863 in Strongs)

              1. to gather together, to gather a. to draw together, collect 1. of fishes 2. of a net in which they are caught.

              2. to bring together, assemble. collect a. to join together, join in one (those previously separated) b. to gather together by convoking. c. to be gathered, i.e. come together, gather, meet.

              3. to lead with one's self a. into one's home, i.e. to receive hospitably, to entertain.

              Isn't it interesting that the word for synagogue is built on a word that is related to hospitality? 

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            • Hi friends. One other aspect of synagogue life was the role of the young people. They could publicly read from the scriptures at age 12. Imagine what a confidence builder that occasion would have been! As God's living truth was proclaimed and the older ones said their "amens".

              Remember, the "not failing to assemble" is immediately followed by "but encourage one another". Those who participated were blessed. As were those who listened.

              Some have painted the early Christians as illiterates... But Timothy from a child had known the scriptures. And history teaches us that the Jews were highly literate.

              Some also have attacked the traditional church as being non-participatory. There is merit in such criticism and reform is needed. But in fairness, most churches have what is called Sunday School where virtually everyone is welcome to contribute and the vast majority of teachers love it when they do. As most "preachers" are delighted when there is a special song sung or a testimony given. (I can only speak here from my own experience which is indeed limited. There are no doubt certain pastors who are jealous of their microphone and their pulpit.)

              The meetings described in 1 Corinthians were not completely open to everyone on every occasion. "Let two or three prophets or tongue-speakers...".

              In the early days of Christianity there were obviously no newspapers, radio, TV, internet or telephones. Most lived in small apartments. The synagogue met their social needs in many ways which we cannot imagine. So yes Dan, it is interesting that the word synagogue encompasses the idea of hospitality. 

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