Justin Martyr worship described house church gatherings in the Early Church and is the oldest (non-New Testament) record we have of how early Christian worship was conducted. He writes in "The First Apology," "On the day called Sunday, there is a meeting for all in one place, according to the city or town where one lives. The "Memoirs of the Apostles" (the Gospels), or the "Writings of the Prophets", are read as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the President, in a sermon, calls us all to imitate these good things. Then we all stand and pray."
Justin Martyr described the leader of worship as "president" because non-Christians might not have understood special words such as "bishop" or "presbyter." John Foster in "The First Advance - Church History 1: AD 29-500" wrote, "The three items mentioned, reading of Scripture, a sermon based on the reading, and prayers (which were said standing), followed the custom of the synagogue. Justin Martyr described the New Testament lesson as being from the Gospels (and placed this first), and the Old Testament lesson as an alternative, from the Prophets." For further light on Early Church worship, see also Justin Martyr.
Corinthian Christian worship emphasized particularly choirs in the Refectory who sang hymns rapt with enthusiasm. During Corinthian Christian worship, the people sat according to 1 Corinthians 14.30, "if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop." Those eating meals in the temple reclined as in 1 Corinthians 8.10 "For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, won't that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?" Any latecomer according to Lucian's Symposium (125-180 AD) who was a pagan novelist is offered a place to sit (which he declines) though this is questionable. The larger numbers must have meant that Christians did not have enough space for all to recline during the meal.✞
Standing in the refectory, they formed choirs, one line of men and one of the women, singing hymns to God, sometimes antiphonally, keeping time with hands and feet rapt with enthusiasm. Then they mixed and became a single choir, a copy of that by the Red Sea, where a command of God made the sea a source of salvation to one party and resulted in punishment for the other. There, the ancient choir sang hymns of thanksgiving to God their Savior, the men led by the prophet Moses, the women by the prophetess Miriam. I wonder whether we have an equivalent in our Sunday worship of the praise times of Moses and Miriam?✞
Bread, salt, and water were very important elements in the worship and the lives of the Household of Faith. Bread seasoned with salt was a traditional way of honoring guests. Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch told us in "Families in the New Testament World - Households and House Churches" that while the attendants stood ready for their ministry and there was silence, the president gave an exposition of Holy Scriptures, and then rose and sang a new or an old hymn to God. All the others made their turn, listening in silence except for the closing refrains, when all, men and women, lifted their voices.
After the hymns, the young men brought in portable tables with bread, salt, and water, although there is neither wine nor meat. While most ate leavened bread seasoned with salt mixed with hyssop, the simplest and purest food was reserved for their superiors, unleavened bread with salt unmixed. It was interesting that in some Slavic, European and Middle Eastern cultures bread and salt are together a welcome greeting. It was given on all good occasions in greeting, at weddings, house warming parties and childbirth. The most expensive thing was salt. After supper, there was an all-night vigil. Some elements of this New Testament worship have come down to us today?
Worship in a real house church in an ordinary home in the early centuries varied in different parts of the Roman Empire. Most of these Christians house churches were located in just ordinary homes? Vivid descriptions have come down to us, of a preacher at Smyrna, of the Eucharist in Rome and Baptism in Carthage. We must not think however that Christians did things in the same way everywhere.✞
We are reading about actual scenes in these house churches, meeting real people, and catching something of their spirit. We must not imagine the Early Church as altogether good. The samples which we are looking at are good ones, but later we come upon problems, failures, mistakes, and divisions. As Christ himself said in Matthew 13.24-26, "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared."✞