Historical and Theological Perspectives on the Baptismal Font

The placement and appearance of the baptismal font has been the subject of many debates throughout the history of the church. This article traces many of these discussions and offers suggestions for current practice.

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The Preaching of Augustine (354–430)

Augustine represents the preaching of the Latin church, a style that may be traced from Tertullian through Cyprian to Ambrose, Augustine’s spiritual father and mentor. The Latin style of preaching shows an acquaintance with classical literature, Latin rhetoric, and symbolism.

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Lay Preaching in the Early Church

Evidence collected about the early church suggests that most of the preaching in hamlets, villages, and rural areas was done by uneducated but devout lay people. The apostolic preaching, as well as the writings of the apostolic fathers of the second century that have been preserved, stand as exceptions to this overall trend.

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Worship During the Fourth and Fifth Centuries

The fundamental pattern of early Christian worship continued to develop through the fourth and fifth centuries. However, “families” of liturgical practice began to emerge, and styles of worship varied from one Christian region to the other. By this time, one can begin to speak of “Eastern” and “Western” characteristics of Christian liturgy.

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Worship in the Second and Third Centuries

Worship during the second and third centuries continued to follow the course set by New Testament liturgical traditions. Consequently, the discussion of worship during this period centered on the significance of baptism and of the Eucharist, understood in its full content of the service of Word and of the Lord’s table.

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Charismatic Gifts in Early Christian Worship

The New Testament spiritual gifts—especially prophecy, tongues, and interpretation, along with healing—continued to manifest themselves in the life of the church up to and beyond the fourth century. Evidence in the literature from this period indicates that these gifts were respected among the “established” church leadership, referred to by important theologians, and practiced especially throughout the “underground” church.

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Evidence for the Origin of Daily Prayer

The early Christians continued the Jewish practice of praying at mealtimes and at set hours of the day. The Didachē, a primitive Christian manual of instruction, prescribes prayer three times a day; Clement of Alexandria and Origen in the third century refer to a similar custom in Egypt, as well as to prayer in the night. At the same period in North Africa, however, Tertullian and Cyprian describe a more extensive pattern of daily prayer.

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A Prayer of Jesus

When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are, in a measure, shutting tomorrow out of our prayer. We do not live in tomorrow but in today. We do not seek tomorrow’s grace or tomorrow’s bread. They thrive best, and get most out of life, who live in the living present. They pray best who pray for today’s needs, not for tomorrow’s, which may render our prayers unnecessary and redundant by not existing at all! (Adapted from E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer)

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