Buy me a coffeeBuy me a coffee

Support via Patreon | Subscribe

I was asked not so long ago what kinds of things Christians did in the Early Church (first to fourth century) as a form of spiritual discipline, on a personal level as well as a corporate one. Though the concept of an individual “personal spiritual life” would have been quite foreign to first century believers as faith and Church was very much a corporate venture that had personal implications, rather than the other way around as it can often appear to be thought of today.

Much of what made Christianity structured, disciplined and set apart from society, has largely been lost in practice, or forgotten and relegated to the annals of history by many practicing Christians today.

With that said, let’s take a look at what the most common practices were of the ancient Church.

Advertisement

 

Reading/Memorising Scripture

  • Memorising Scripture – specifically the Psalms and Gospels

  • Singing/praying the Psalms as worship to God

Both of these principles are based on Psalm 1:1–3 and Colossians 3:16.

“Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.” Commentary on Psalm 1, Basil the Great (4th century)

 

Prayer and Fasting

Another common practice that was expected of believers was regular fasting, since Jesus had said “when you fast”, not “if”.

Typically, fasting was done every week on Wednesday and Friday, based on Matthew 6:16–18, and also to honour the days of the Passion and crucifixion in later tradition.

“But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; … but fast on the fourth day (Wednesday) and the Preparation (Friday). … [But pray] as the Lord commanded in His Gospel (the Lord’s Prayer) … Thrice in the day thus pray.”

Didache (c. 50 – 70)

Alongside fasting, praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (morning, noon, evening) was a common discipline. From around the third century, liturgy and prayers in a church service would start to face East as that was seen where God’s glory arose, and in baptism ritual turning East was a sign of turning away from the devil towards Christ (Jews similarly prayed facing Jerusalem). This is also why many old church buildings are cross-shaped and have the alter end pointing Eastward.

For it is required that you pray toward the east, as knowing that which is written: ‘Give ye glory to God, who rideth upon the heaven of heavens toward the east’ (Ps 67.34 LXX [Ps. 68:33 – 34]).

Didascalia, Ch. XII (c.250)

The various spiritual benefits to fasting are marked throughout the Church Fathers' works on the subject, but I find this quote from Augustine sums it up succinctly:

“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself.”

Augustine; Sermon, On Prayer and Fasting, LXXII (c. 393–430)

Advertisement

Fasting was also not just total denial of food all day, but often only until sundown (or evening meal), and would comprise of bread and water with some oils to dip the bread in. Some may be more like a vegetarian diet, but with no oil, fish or alcohol either. Meal times should be replaced with prayer, and in all times during the fast (as well as generally also), to bear in mind the true fast that is pleasing to the Lord as seen in Isaiah 58:6–9.

“Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen: to release the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh?”

Isaiah 58:6 – 7 (WEB)

 

Signing the Cross

Advertisement

Another ancient custom is making the sign of the cross over yourself before you pray (well, before doing anything really!).

“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross”

Tertullian (c. 250)

“Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest”

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 386)

Later monks, such as Anthony the Great, would also teach and use the sign of the cross for protection from demons and as part of performing exorcisms.

“Behold there are here some vexed with demons … [Anthony] called upon Christ, and signed the sufferers two or three times with the sign of the Cross. And immediately the men stood up whole, and in their right mind …”

Life of Anthony (356 – 362)

Advertisement

 

Weekly Fellowship

This one may be the most obvious practice, and possibly the only one that is kept universally to this day, regardless of denomination or the different branches and traditions of Christianity: Going to Church every week for communion, worship and fellowship with other believers.

“But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.” (cf. Hebrews 10:24–25)

Didache (c. 50 – 70)

Advertisement

 

Meditation

Meditation and silence. This is likely the least practiced discipline amongst regular Christians. I say “regular” because unless you’re a monk or nun, this is a practice often overlooked — especially in this busy modern life.

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Ps. 46:10

Advertisement

A lot of the monastic traditions grew out of learning to be still and quiet before the Lord; from seeking the presence of God; and trying to practice self-denial by being separate from worldliness. That’s why we often find hermits and monasteries in remote, out-of-the-way places.

It’s a discipline in itself to just be still and quite for more than five minutes and to truly seek God’s presence in the stillness without distraction or technology and social media.

Meditation in this sense is the act of clearing your mind of everything BUT Scripture; having a verse or two that you focus on to keep your mind still until God moves and/or speaks. Christian meditation should be focused on God and Scripture, and being filled with the Spirit, rather than the complete emptying of oneself.

For as [Anthony] was sitting alone on the mountain, if ever he was in perplexity in his meditations, this was revealed to him by Providence in prayer. And the happy man, as it is written, was taught of God. (cf. Isa. 54:13; John 6:45) […] Pray continually; avoid vainglory; sing psalms before sleep and on awaking; hold in your heart the commandments of Scripture; […] And especially he counselled them to meditate continually on the Apostle’s word…

Life of Anthony (356 – 362)

…but his delight is in Yahweh’s law. On his law he meditates day and night.

Psalms 1:2 (WEB)

If you’re interested in trying to live out a more meditative life, but feel overwhelmed by the business of modern life to know where to start, I recommend reading this book by Abbot Christopher Jamison, Finding Sanctuary: Monastic steps for Everyday Life.

Advertisement

 

Constant Prayer

Keeping within the monastic tradition for spiritual disciplines are Prayer Ropes.

Prayer ropes, like Rosaries, are simply a tool to help keep you focused in prayer. The traditional ropes, often found more in the Eastern tradition of the faith, have knots in the shape of small crosses on them all around, and you simply run the rope between your fingers and thumb praying as you come to each knot (or bead). If specific prayer is difficult or you don’t know what to say, there’s the Lord’s Prayer of course, or a very simple ancient prayer called “The Jesus Prayer” which monks would repeat to try an live up to Paul’s encouragement to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

The prayer is as follows:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

 

Simplicity

Finally, the last thing I’ll look at here is living a simple life. This is based on Acts 4:32–35; Matt 19:21.

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Matthew 19:21 (WEB)

Maybe the hardest discipline is to live as though you depend fully on God and are free and able to give away anything (and maybe everything) if God so asks or presents the opportunity, without stressing or wanting to hold onto our possessions.

Many early Christians who were wealthy when they converted gave most of what they owned away to the poor and needy (as we see in Acts 4), or if that wasn’t possible, they just lived in such a way that they would grab opportunities to bless others and lived content with whatever they did have.

Not that I speak because of lack, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it.

Philippians 4:11 (WEB)

The Bible is replete with instruction on living simple and being content in what we have, see the following for a handful of examples: Matthew 6:3–4; Acts 20:35; 1 Timothy 2:1–3, 6:6–8; Hebrews 13:5; Philippians 4:19; Proverbs 11:24, 23:4; Deuteronomy 16:17.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and [money]. Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Matthew 6:24 – 25 (WEB)

Advertisement

Living a simple life isn’t purely about being poor or minimalistic in terms of physical possessions, but also in our attitudes and interactions with others by avoiding drama and getting caught up in gossip or being a “busybody”. Avoiding such things will surely help us to live a peaceful and simple life, and will in turn be an example to non-Christians who look on and watch us to see how we conduct ourselves.

If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men.

Romans 12:18 (WEB)

…and that you make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, even as we instructed you; that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and may have need of nothing.

1 Thessalonians 4:11 – 12 (WEB)

 

To those who are unfamiliar with Church History and not from a traditional denomination, many of these things may sound or appear “Catholic” compared to what we may consider normal Christianity – especially if you’re from a more evangelical/Baptist background.

But these practices and disciplines all pre-date the Roman Catholic Church (as we know it today) by centuries, and were common practices and expectations among believers and churches within the first four centuries at the earliest, and continued in various forms throughout the last 2000 years to this day. If your faith is feeling a little shallow or lacking and you crave something deeper, I hope that you will take up the challenge to try some of these disciplines. See where the Lord takes you towards enriching your faith via tried and true methods from that great wealth of knowledge deposited over the centuries.

Advertisement

Have you tried any of these practices, or do you feel inspired to give any a go and try to incorporate into your own spiritual routines? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about Church History and the Fathers, I’ve recently published a two book series that will take you through some of the prominent texts from the first 400 years of the Church over a 40 day reading plan. Read the Early Church in her own words and be inspired!

View and order my books on Amazon: 40 Days with the Fathers.

Contribute on Patreon

Enjoying this? Consider contributing regular gifts for this content on Patreon.
* Patreon is a way to join your favorite creator's community and pay them for making the stuff you love. You can simply pay a few pounds per month or per post that a creator makes, and in return receive some perks!

Subscribe to Updates
Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 1.7K times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates and join over 126 subscribers today!

Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to Blog updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS RSS

‹ Return to Blog

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

Is The Rapture Biblical?

| 21st September 2020 | Eschatology

Is The Rapture Biblical?

Most people have some idea about what the rapture is – or do they? Generally there is an idea or concept of a form of escapism from the world when Jesus returns, which happens pre, mid or post tribulation and in some connection to the millenium. Now, if you understood any of those terms, you are most likely on, or aware of, the Dispensationalism side of things. There’s a lot of doctrine all bundled together in “end times” beliefs, and a fair bit of speculation around “the rapture” with its timing and logistics etc. which makes the whole thing a but murky, but nonetheless, it’s pretty much taken for granted as a staple belief within the Evangelical world. But has this always been so, and does it have any biblical basis? In short: sort of. What is The Rapture? This is the primary verse where the doctrine finds its footing: …then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. — 1 Thessalonians 4:17 On the face of it, that is a pretty obscure (and short) text, yet so much has been written on and speculated about around this event.  I’m not going to cover every aspect of rapture doctrine here, but rather want to just highlight the context of this verse and its parallels in Paul’s other letters, as this seems to get lost under centuries of doctrinal baggage, which, incidentally, also the leads to the next point to look at: is the rapture biblical? The origin of The Rapture The word “rapture” itself comes from the Latin word rapere, which means: “to seize” or “to abduct”. It is a translation from the Greek word that is rendered as “caught up” (ἁρπάζω / harpázō) in our English Bibles today. For many, asking if this belief is biblical is a non-starter because it is assumed so based on 1 Thess. 4 so obviously it is. But this is a presupposition, reading the modern ideas of what “the rapture” means into the text. The modern idea being that Jesus comes back briefly (and maybe secretly), whooses all the Christians into the sky and takes them to heaven, away from all the troubles on the earth, before coming back later to do a proper “second coming”. John Nelson Darby, a 19th-century theologian, is often credited with creating this premillennial rapture doctrine, followed closely by C.I. Scofield who wrote a best-selling annotated Bible which promoted Darby’s rapture views in its footnote commentary. This particular Bible became wildly popular across America in the early 1900s and ended up solidifying the futurist dispensational viewpoint for generations to come within Evangelicalism. Despite the popularity of Scofield’s Bible, what it (and Darby) taught was a novel idea which had not been seen nor heard of before in the previous 1800 years of Church History, yet many Christians accepted it without hesitation, likely due to it being part of the exposition alongside the Scripture they were reading, and therefore a seeming authority. I realise there is somewhat of an irony here in that I’m acting similarly like an authority telling you that this belief is wrong whereas Scofield was writing as though it were accurate, but in an even more ironic twist, just a handful of verses later, the same letter to the Thessalonians says to “test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). This is what I would invite you to do: don’t just take my word for it, test everything and see if what I say is accurate. The context of The Rapture So what is the context of these verses, if not about being whisked away into the sky with Jesus? A couple of things, but one slightly more obvious than the other, though still overlooked by people, I’ve noticed; the other requires knowing some more about the ancient Greco-Roman culture of the time. Firstly, we only need go back a few verses to see what Paul is writing about here: he begins the passage in verse 13 by say...

Slavery in the Bible – Does God Condone Slavery?

| 15th September 2020 | Slavery

Slavery in the Bible – Does God Condone Slavery?

This is a guest post by Joshua Spaulding from eternalanswers.org. The views are that of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of That Ancient Faith. As you read through the Scriptures, you will come across some passages that seem to suggest that slavery is not condemned by God. Some who think this to be the case are sincerely seeking truth, while others are only looking for reasons to discount the Bible. Some of the passages in question are Exodus 21:2-6, Deuteronomy 15:12-15, Ephesians 6:5 and Colossians 4:1 which provide instruction on the treatment of slaves. In light of these Scriptures, does God condone slavery? Before diving too deep into the topic, there is one very important thing we must understand before we can rightly interpret these Scriptures, and others. Forced slavery, like that which was ended in the U.S. in modern-day history, is not always the same as the slavery mentioned in the Bible. This is significant! (Just a side note: there are still to this day an estimated 21-36 million people¹ in slavery across the world.) Additionally, seeing something such as forced slavery in the Bible does not necessarily mean God approves of it. The Bible consists of legal, historical, poetic, and prophetic books. The historical books are historical accounts of times past and sinful things are not excluded. God knows the heart of man. The laws He gave in regards to slavery were given as grace for those in slavery.We see at least two forms of slavery in the Bible and God gives guidelines, seemingly approving of one of those forms of slavery. We see the type of forced slavery that the Jews, God’s own people, were forced into (Exodus 1:13-14). The Lord delivered Israel from that slavery. So we know that this type of slavery certainly does not have God’s approval (Exodus 6:6). God would not need to “deliver” a people from something that is not sinful and wrong. So God gives guidelines on one from of slavery, seemingly approving of it to a certain extent, while condemning another form of slavery and delivering His people from it. Herein lies the seed of the confusion. Some innocently read the Bible and don’t realize this, but most who bring this topic up are skeptics just looking for a reason to discredit the Bible. They do not realize, or willingly suppress the fact, that the type of slavery that God gives guidelines for, and seemingly approves of to a certain extent, is not the same type of slavery that God clearly condemns. God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) and God’s Word does not contradict God’s Word. In Bible times (1st century Greco-Roman times and prior) slavery was not exclusive to any one particular race or language, nor were slaves segregated². They were just like everyone else. These slaves were willing bond-servants. They were often times very well educated contributors to society. Their servitude was rarely for life, but sometimes they willingly agreed to it out of love for their master. These servants were not kidnapped and forced into slavery, which God condemns (Deuteronomy 24:7, 1 Timothy 1:9-1:11). These servants were willing bond-slaves. There is even a book (actually a letter) in the Bible (Philemon) that was written by the Apostle Paul to Philemon (a slave master) emphasizing the fact that all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of their sin should be treated in the same way … with the same love and respect. What about Leviticus 25:44-46? It is true that God specifically made room for forced slavery, as seen in Lev. 25:44-46. However, this passage should not be seen in the same context as other passages we have considered when dealing with the moral implications of slavery. The reason being that this slavery was a form of judgement by Holy God on a paganistic, rebellious people. It was actually mercy that the Lord allowed them to live in slavery, rather than to be destroyed for their extreme rebellion against God in embr...

An Examination of Conditional Immortality (Part 1)

| 25th May 2020 | Hell

An Examination of Conditional Immortality (Part 1)

I know this is quite a divisive topic, and one you may have come across before (sometimes referred to as “Annihilationism”); and have been told outright that it’s “heresy” or false, or that it’s an emotional argument people want to believe because it ‘sounds nicer’ than the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). Or maybe you’ve never even heard of this before and you didn’t realise there were alternative interpretations and views on hell. Any discussion on “hell” is going to cover a lot of ground, and refer to many, many places throughout Scripture; so with that said, this will be a long one, so get comfy! I will do this in two parts as it will become too lengthy for one blog post. This article will just focus on the Scriptural basis for the position of Annihilationism, as opposed to ECT, but to begin with I’ll define some terms as words like “hell” have become quite loaded with extra and unbiblical meaning over the centuries. What is hell, anyway? If you read through the Old and New Testament in older translations like the KJV, you’ll see the word “hell” a lot more often than in more recent Bible translations, which will most likely transliterate the Greek words instead. Not all the words get this treatment, and some still get presented as the word hell in English, for example, the NIV and NRSV will convert the word Gehenna into “hell”, but keep the Greek word Hades as-is (see: Matt. 5:22; 11:23). The etymology of “hell” and its origins and how it became the word we know today in English, would take more time than I have space for here, but in short, there are three main Greek words which often get translated as the word “hell”, even though they are each different words with different underlying meanings: GehennaLiterally means “valley of Hinnom”, which is a place near Jerusalem where children were once sacrificed to Baal (see Jer. 19:5–6). Due to its history, it took on a more eschatological/spiritual meaning as a place of judgement and destruction. Hades (Sheol)This is the Greek form of the Hebrew Sheol found in the Old Testament, usually (and properly) translated as “grave”, or meaning the general place of the dead (similar to the place of the same name in Greek mythology). TartarusThis only appears once in the New Testament in 2 Peter 2:4 and is used in relation to the angels who sinned and were put in chains. Interestingly, it’s another word borrowed from Greek mythology, for the prison where the Titans were sent as punishment. If you are interested in how we got the word “hell” in our English language, and more importantly, into our Bibles, I highly recommend that you read this study: The Real Hell. A Case for Conditional Immortality (aka Annihilationism) We are often taught that our souls, human souls, are inherently immortal. But where does this idea come from, because it’s never actually stated in Scripture that this is so. This is an Hellenistic philosophical assumption brought into the text (mainly from Plato’s influence) which can taint our interpretations. If we look at 1 Timothy 6:16 we can see that it is God alone who is immortal: It is he [God] alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen. Any other mention of immortality or eternal life is only ever spoken of as a gift given to us by Jesus, and is often contrasted with the alternative: death, perishing and/or destruction. Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 2 Timothy 1:10…but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. John 10:28; 17:2I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. […] since you have given him authority over all people, ...

That Ancient Faith is Expanding!

| 11th May 2020 | General Interest

That Ancient Faith is Expanding!

EXCITING UPDATES! Just a quick update for you about a couple of new and exciting things I am offering now! Firstly, I have now launched a new range of faith-inspired clothing, which you can see some examples of in the image banner above. If you want to proclaim Christ and your faith via what you wear (especially in these dark times where churches are closed), head on over to: https://thatancientfaith.teemill.com     The second thing to mention, as you may gather from the logo above, is that I now have a YouTube channel! I have begun it by doing a read through of my book, 40 Days with the Fathers, through Lent, so you can listen to the whole book for free. I also plan to create videos discussing the topics I write about where I can go into things in more detail or explain some of the thinking behind the various topics which I can't always fit into the blogs. So if you enjoy watching things on YouTube, come on over and subscribe to my channel.   That's right: I have a new book in the works! It draws on some of the series and articles I've written on this site to do with Old Testament prophecy and its links into the New Testament, the Incarnation (briefly) and the Second Coming and what we have to look forward to (or worry about). Stay tuned for updates, I'll post some more information soon when there's something more solid to show. If you want to get some insider previews or maybe some advanced reading or snippets etc. then come on over to my Patreon and sign up. Members will get advanced access to any news and updates before anyone else, plus other bonuses! That's all for now, leave a comment if you have any queries or thoughts! ...