It can be confusing. After the birth of the assembly of Christ; seemingly, Christians just start meeting without any planning or protocol. They just start “doing church.” Unfortunately, the fact that the New Testament assembly was essentially Jewish for a number of years was a shocking revelation to me. Folks can say all they want about Baptists correcting Reformation anti-Semitism—it just isn’t so. Baptists have done nothing to preserve the Jewish roots of the church, and more than likely, the overall ignorance concerning our Jewish roots is foundational to most of the problems we see today within the Evangelical church. A proper understanding of the New Testament assembly model is critical to our philosophy of ministry.
Acts 10 and 11will give you a good perspective on how Jewish the church was—the Gentiles were recognized as part of the same body with much controversy and ado. Once you understand this, it is assumed that New Testament believers simply followed the form of worship that they were already accustomed to. Let’s not forget; for many Jews, the birth of Christ’s assembly was a major event, but not a conversion for them. Many were already born again before the cross (see John 3). So, what you see in New Testament assemblies was pretty much what was going on in the Jewish synagogues prior to Pentecost.
Therefore, it is no surprise to see the apostolic church ministering at the temple, in synagogues, and in homes. It was a natural transition, and a reflection of what had been happening at Jewish synagogues.
The synagogue is a concept that began sometime prior to the exodus. An Old Testament word search of “elder” makes it abundantly clear that elders led groups of people within Israel. During the exodus, the tabernacle was the primary focus for ritual, and God’s people were divided into small groups of learning overseen by elders. Again, a simple word search and observance of how the word is used in the Old Testament makes this abundantly clear. Though these small groups served many critical functions, the primary focus was that of learning. Traditionally, the synagogue is known as Bet Midrash (house of study), Bet Tefillah (house of prayer), and Bet Knesset (house of assembly).* Today, many synagogues have floor plans that accommodate these major ideas; a room for assembly, a room for prayer, and a room for study.
This is a longstanding tradition, and consequently, we see the same pattern in the book of Acts. Certainly, the concept of synagogue was institutionalized, and the first century was no exception. The first century synagogue, numbering around 400 in Jerusalem alone, was a combination of politically well-connected and highly structured centers and less formal home assemblies that were strictly that of the laity.** Along with being well connected with state politics, many of the institutionalized synagogues integrated Greek and Roman paganism into Judaism. † Due to the traditional Jewish mentality in regard to synagogues; i.e., the term “small sanctuary” was used interchangeably between the assembly and the family, ** the assemblies were unaffected by these unfortunate integrations if they chose to be, and many were.
Note: Christ’s assembly grows from 120 to 3000 in one day according to Acts 2:41, and in the following verse we read, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Where to put all of these people and what to do with them was of no issue, they merely returned to their existing assemblies, primarily in homes, and continued in the synagogue tradition. Acts 2:46 makes it clear that they met at the temple and had fellowship meals in their homes which would have also included teaching, prayer, the remembrance, and a departure with the singing of a hymn. The so-called last supper would have been very indicative of what went on during these assembly/synagogue meetings.
But also remember, the Jews that made up the apostolic assembly were VERY aware that the temple was temporary. In fact, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD,
Following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E., the rabbis decided the home would be the mikdash m’at—"small sanctuary"—a holy place responsible for fostering the family's spiritual life.††
In addition, Christ’s ministry probably produced many solid synagogues prior to Pentecost.
This model continued predominately for the next 200 years, and there is no reason to think that Christ prescribed any alternatives.
*George Robinson: Essential Judaism; Pocket Books 2000, p. 46.
**Louis H. Feldman and Meyer Reinhold: Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans; Augsburg Fortress 1996, p. 68.
†Louis H. Feldman and Meyer Reinhold: Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans; Augsburg Fortress 1996, p. 73.
†† Jewish Home & Community: My Jewish Learning.com; Online source | http://goo.gl/N6Udu6