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Tertullian: An early defense of Christianity that also explained their worship

In the first several centuries after Christianity started, non-Christians weren’t sure what to make of it. Among the number of Christians who tried to explain Christianity was Tertullian (160-225), who lived in Egypt. He wrote "Apology" in app. 197 in order to defend Christianity. The following is a quote from book 39 which explains Christian worship services. This was gathered from and is an eyewitness account of how the church operated at the end of the second century.


"I shall at once go on, then, to exhibit the peculiarities of the Christian society that, as I have refuted the evil charged against it, I may point out its positive good. We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.

We meet together as an assembly and congregation . . . We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation [end of the world].

We assemble to read our sacred writings, if any peculiarity of the times makes either forewarning or reminiscence needful. However it be in that respect, with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we build our hope, we make our confidence more secure; and by repetitive reading of God’s word we build good habits.

In the same place also exhortations are made, rebukes and sacred censures are administered. . . . the tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honor not by purchase, but by established character. There is no buying or selling of any sort in the things of God.

Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary.

These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eathing-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their loyalty to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession. . . .

One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives. . . .

Give the congregation of the Christians its due, and hold it unlawful, if it is like the assemblies of the illicit sort: by all means let it be condemned, if any complaint can be validly laid against it, such as lies against secret factions.

But who has ever suffered harm from our assemblies: We are in our congregations just what we are when separated from each other; we are as a community what we are as individuals; we injure nobody, we trouble nobody. When the upright, when the virtuous meet together, when the pious, when the pure assemble in congregation, you ought not to call that a cult, but the court of God."

©2005 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved