The Synagogue Model for the Church

The position of Reformed Presbyterianism is that the church follows the synagogue model for corporate worship. It does not follow temple worship because of all the ceremonial elements.  There is a section in The Ecclesiastical Catechism by Alexander McLeod that is very informative on the connection between the synagogue and the Church. 

48. Was there an ordinary stated ministry authorized to officiate in the Jewish Church?

The management of religious institutions, connected at first with the tabernacle, and afterwards with the temple, was committed into the hands of a stated ministry, and the various synagogues were also governed by a regular class of officers.

49. What officers did the Head of the Church appoint to officiate in the temple service?

The ministry of the tabernacle and temple was conducted by the High Priest [a], the Priests [b], and Levites [c].

[a] Lev. 21. 10. “The High Priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured.” [b] Mal. 2. 7. “For the Priests’ lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the Messenger of the Lord of Hosts.” [c] Numb. 8. 14, 15. “Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be mine, And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.”

50. Is the social and public worship, conducted in the Jewish synagogue, to be considered as of divine appointment?

It is incredible, that there should be but one place of public social worship in the whole nation of Israel; the scriptures mention synagogues as of God’s appointment [a]; the worship proper to the synagogue is mentioned with approbation [b]; Christ with his disciples attended the synagogues, as the places of ordinary social worship [c]; and he even took a part in the public service [d].

[a] Psalm 74. 8. “All the synagogues of God in the land.” [b] Nehem. 8. 4-6. “And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood—and Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord.” [c] Mark 1. 21. “And they went into Capernaum, and straightway, on the Sabbath-day, he entered into the synagogue.” [d] Luke 4. 16. 21. “And as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day—and there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias—and he began to say unto them, This day is the scripture fulfilled in your ears.”

51. What public officers ministered ordinarily in the Jewish Synagogue?

In the Jewish synagogue there were several officers; and these were authorized to conduct the public worship, preserve the order, and manage the finances of the congregation.

Mat. 1. 22. “Behold there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name.”

52. Whether does the external order of the Church resemble more, that of the temple or of the synagogue?

The temple and the temple service were local and typical; and are, together with the priesthood, abolished in the death of Christ. The constitution and order of the synagogue being more simple, and adapted to the edification of the saints, not in Judea only, but in every nation under heaven, the synagogue is the model upon which the Church, with some appropriate variations, is constituted; and in the apostolic age, the name Synagogue was applied to a Christian Church.

James, 2. 2. “For if there come unto your assembly—synagogue, 
[2] a man with a gold ring.”

53. Is it intimated in the New Testament, that the government of the church is similar to that of the synagogue?

Intimation was early given, that all that was typical, and merely ceremonial in the order of the Jewish Church, must be given up [a]; that the Christian mode of worship should be adapted to the situation of the Church in every nation, not by its undeterminateness, but by its unalterable simplicity [b]; familiar and simple customs were selected, and positively appointed as the Christian sacraments [c]; the disciples were habituated to the order and worship of the synagogue by Christ and his apostles [d]; Jesus himself refers us to the forms of judgment in the synagogue for our imitation [e]; and the very names of the Christian Church officers are taken from the ancient synagogue [f]: all this could not have taken place, without a design to make the order of the Church similar to that of the synagogue.

[a] Gal. 5. 1. “Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” [b] John 4. 21. 23. “The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, not yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father: the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” [c] Matt. 26. 26. “And as they were eating Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples.” [d] Luke 4. 16. “And as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” [e] 1 Cor. 6. 2. “[3] Are ye unwilling to judge smallest matters?” [f] Acts 20. 17. “He sent to Ephesus and called the elders [4]of the church.”

54. Are the transactions of Jewish synagogues to be considered as precedents obligatory on the Church?       

It is an instance of both the wisdom and kindness of the Redeemer, to establish appropriate institutions, familiar to his disciples [a]; and the history of the synagogue is useful to illustrate the principles of church government; but no further are its transactions obligatory precedents, than Christ himself refers us to them. Divine appointment alone constitutes a divine ordinance [b].

[a] Math. 11. 30. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [b] Isa. 8. 20. “If they speak not according to this words it is because there is no light in them.”

55. Did Christ ordain any officers with extraordinary authority, in the New Testament Church?

…70. For what end is the office of the ruling elder instituted?

As there existed in each synagogue a court composed of elders, after the manner of the sanhedrim, the supreme council of the Jews, so there are representatives of a christian congregation, under the name of ruling elders or presbyters, associated with the pastor in the exercise of ecclesiastic authority, whose duty it is to watch over the, flock, assist in the admission or exclusion of members, warn and censure the unruly, visit and comfort the afflicted.


– The Ecclesiastical Catechism by ALEXANDER McLEOD, A.M., Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation in the City of New-York.

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