I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 2 Timothy 1:3 ESV
As did my ancestors – Sometimes the smallest phrases require the greatest attention. In this introduction to his letter to Timothy, Paul makes an almost parenthetical remark (to use an anachronism) that seems inconsequential to most of us. But when we take a closer look, we discover just how radically different our idea of the believing community of the saints is from the implications of Paul’s throw-away phrase.
In Greek, the words are apo progonon (literally, “from parents”). The idiom certainly implies Paul’s acknowledgement of his predecessors. But look what he says about them. They served the same God that he does. “Well, of course,” you say. “What’s so surprising about that?” The surprise comes in the word latreuo (to serve). In Hebrew, that verb is ‘avad. And what does ‘avad mean? To work, to serve and to worship. In other words, Paul is equally saying that he worshipped in the same way as his ancestors.
What? Does that mean Paul didn’t start a new assembly for “Christians”? No, he didn’t. Does that mean he continued to practice the rituals, sacrifices and customs of Judaism and the synagogue? Yes, he did. Does that mean that the way Paul worshipped was still defined by the culture and history of Israel? Yes, it does. There is no indication in Scripture (New or Old Testaments) that the earliest believers in Yeshua as Messiah changed anything about their rites, rituals or practices when it came to worshipping YHWH. In other words, the New Testament authors do not give us any basis for what we now call “the Church.” Insofar as our rituals, rites and practices are different from those of first century Messianic synagogue believers, we have invented them after the end of the Apostolic era. Paul asserts that he has not changed anything about how he worships. That raises the significant question, “Why have we?”
Once again we are faced with conflicts of paradigms, cultures and histories. Once again we will have to investigate that common question, “When did all of this start to change?” Marianne Dacy provides some telling answers. According to her work, from about the time of Ignatius, Marcion and Origen, the Gentile dominance within the Messianic community shifted the perspective from ancestral Judaism to Greek philosophy – and the process of syncretism began. In other words, the principle reason that we do not find occurrences in our churches today that we read about in the book of Acts is that our churches today are no longer biblical representations of the way God wants to be worshipped. Ouch!
Topical Index: serve, latreuo, ‘avad, worship, church, synagogue, 2 Timothy 1:3, apo progonon, ancestors