Rom 9.4 has a list of certain things that the Lord gave to the Israelites, and one of them is “the service” which is the Temple service (1 Chr 28.11-19). The Hebrew word is “avodah” and the service is what was done in the Temple, nothing more and nothing less. The basic order in a congregation is the Borchu, which is the call to worship; the benedictions before the Shema; the Shema; benedictions after the Shema; the Amidah, or standing prayer (which is also called the Shemonah Esrai, or 18 Benedictions. This is said low enough to hear your voice, which is what biblical meditation is-1 Sam 1.12-13; 1 Chr 16.9). Next comes the Kaddish, where we recognize that the Lord is holy. All these were done in the Temple, so this is “the service.”
On the Sabbath and festivals, the Torah and a reading from the prophets called the Haftorah and the Ketuvim (writings) was read. The synagogue service ended with a sermon, which was not part of the service (avodah). Then you had a “mussaf” or an additional service that corresponded to the additional offerings given in the Temple on the Sabbath and festivals (Num 28-29). The services were given by God (1 Chr 28.11-19; Rom 9.4) so there was a fear of changing anything, because you can’t change what God gave.
The main emphasis was the study of the Scriptures. When do these services begin in a synagogue? Around sunrise, the preliminaries began with certain blessings, psalms and songs. You then went into the Borchu, the Amidah, the Torah service, a sermon and then Mussaf. On the Sabbath you had a “meal consecrated to God” or a Lord’s Supper (see our post “The Lord’s Supper” for more detail). This goes back to at least the time of Ezra, possibly Moses. Yeshua did not “institute” the Lord’s Supper, but he defined the terms. These definitions were always understood by the people, but he made them clearer. The Lord’s Supper is not what you see today.
In the first century, it was a full meal. On the Sabbath, the Lord’s Supper was made up of three meals. One on Friday evening, Saturday at midday and then Saturday night at what was called the Havdalah service. Havdalah can go on all night and this is called “tikkun” which means “to repair.” An idiom for a rabbi was a “carpenter” so their teaching of the Torah was a foundation, on which a building “not made with hands” was built. This is “tikkun.” An example of this is seen in Acts 20.6-12, where Paul is teaching at a Havdalah service after the Sabbath till day break.
At Shavuot (Pentecost) you had “tikkun” again. This is the day God gave the Torah so you studied it in great detail (even to every letter). You would do this even at Passover. Any sage or qualified person could address the people if he had a message.
Now, remember that there is no voting on how things were to be done in a synagogue. You could not vote on what to do with the finances. If the biblical model was followed, God called the zekanim (elders) and their character was without question. They knew the Scriptures and had wisdom. You can imagine the problems in the first century.
Let’s say you are in Greece, like Corinth. Many pagans were coming into your synagogue. Let’s say there were 25 Jews and 100 Greeks and then it grows even more. Remember the “middle wall of partition” which were the 18 Edicts of Beit Shammai in particular, has been broken down. Within six months the number of Greeks balloons to 500. Now, let’s say the 25 Jews say there will be a fast on Yom Kippur for 24 hours and the synagogue will go through the Yom Kippur avodah (service). But 400 of the Greeks don’t think that is a good idea. They say, “We don’t want to” or “Let’s have a vote.” So, they decide that they are not going to do it that way. They will fast for 3 hours, not 24, and instead of the prayers they would do something else. When the next year came, it was less than that, and so on down through the years. Then they all decide to have “new elders” so there is an election.
Now Rome itself has come against Israel and the Greeks have been keeping the festivals and the Torah as it applied. Now the Romans look at them with suspicion and ask them about their “loyalty.” Now, you can go underground or in the “closet”, or you can change the structure and they chose to change the structure (less Jewish, more pagan).
By 325 AD at the Council of Nicea, all vestiges of Judaism was rooted out of the “church” and it has gotten worse from there. The Scriptures say to “not lay your hands suddenly” on someone. This has to do with “ordaining” them to a spiritual task. If they are not ready, pride can enter in and destroy them. They will enter into spiritual battles they aren’t ready for. They will get off into “wild” tangents and get into trouble by not knowing the Scriptures. This is like sending in a new man to lead a company in battle without properly training him.
Well, this is what happened by 325 AD but it was not from the Lord. If you are in a congregation and you don’t like what the elder says, you can leave. David got out of Saul’s way and let the Lord deal with him. He never rose up against him. Most ministers today are not anointed by the Lord, or even called. Congregational structure and function is a far cry from the model in the first century. Everything has been redefined. The responsibility in in any position in a congregation is serious. It is good to desire these positions, but you must consider the cost.
Are you ready to commit to studying for a lifetime? What motive do you have? Do you have a restraint within yourself not to be ordained till you are ready? If you are in the position of ordaining, has the proper qualifications been met? Are you going to be like David if they come against you someday? What you need to do to be successful in all this is to realize where you stand.
You must learn this model. Set up a Beit ha Midrash and invest in materials, develop a good library and recordings, tapes and DVD’s. Teach people how to study, using lexicons and Hebrew. Teach the children and give them a proper Torah foundation. This is what you do as an individual. Then you join others, even if it is one or two. The problem is, we are not seasoned in this. We don’t have the advantage of a well set-up system. We are making the system as we go. It is like cutting a path in the jungle with a machete. But, we would rather be here, cutting our way through, than on a back bench in a church or messianic congregation somewhere where the leaders don’t know what they are doing, or involved in one that doesn’t know what’s going on.
This ideal is not impossible, it was done before and it can be done again. Congregations can again function as they were meant to function, but it will take a lot of work. But, there is a lot of help out there and under the right leadership, the biblical model of the congregation can be done. As you study the Gospels and Epistles, keep in mind what you have learned about the zekanim and certain functionaries, the manifestations of the Spirit, the worship services and congregational structure as you come across the synagogues and worship.
Kehilat tape series, Hatikva Ministries