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Christian fellowship as part of corporate worship

Yesterday I suggested that some kind of expression of union between brothers in Christ should be part of corporate worship, particularly as part of the observance of the Table, which is a celebration of our union with Christ and each other through him. I suggested that in the early centuries this was a kiss of peace, which today has been replaced by a “handshake chorus,” a time that is usually little better than chaotic socialization. I made the point that expression of fellowship is good, but it should be a more solemn act of showing union in Christ and one another. Some good discussion followed, and I’d like to follow up today and tomorrow on a couple of points.

A question was raised by Chuck as to whether such an expression (whether a kiss of peace or another cultural equivalent) has been prescribed in Scripture. This is an important question, especially for those (like me) who strongly defend the Regulative Principle of Worship.

This expression of union and fellowship certainly does have precedent in Scripture. The New Testament often references a kiss of greeting (Romans 16:16, etc.) and regularly links it with peace, such as “Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who belong to Christ” (1 Peter 5:14). This expression entered worship as a specific liturgical act at least as early as the second century, as seen in Justin Martyr’s Apology:

At the conclusion of the prayers we greet one another with a kiss. Then bread and a chalice containing wine mixed with mater are presented to the one presiding over the brethren.

Notice the connection of this expression with the Table, which for me is really the strongest justification for its presence in worship. As I mentioned yesterday, I understand the Table to be the climax of Christian worship during which our acceptance with God through Christ is displayed. But this expression of communion is also one between believers. This is seen most clearly in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, which explain that the Table symbolizes both our union with Christ and with each other as members of his body:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

“Participation” here is a translation of koinonia, a word that expresses fellowship or communion and is used to describe this union with Christ and also with each other (see Acts 2:42).

As I also mentioned yesterday, it is instructive that from the earliest church unbelievers or unbaptized believers were dismissed prior to the service of the Table (which is why it was also often called the Service of the Faithful). Both the Didache and Justin Martyr’s Apology relate this practice (and it was why the service was later called “Mass,” from ite, misse est).

Thus this part of the service was the clearest expression of union with Christ and with other believers because of the gospel, which had already been proclaimed through the shape and content of the Service of the Word.

This is why I do believe that it is important to in some way express our fellowship with one another as part of the Table service. Whether it is through a kiss or a handshake, part of the beauty of the Table and of the Gospel itself is the union we have with one another through our union with Christ.

Tomorrow I plan to address the nature of the Table itself and my preference for weekly observance.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.