Where Did Daniel Go to Church?


Jesus in the Synagogue, by James Tissot

If you believe religion is a private matter, then your answer might be something like, “He prayed, read the Torah at home, and maybe started a small group with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.”  All good possibilities, but isn’t it also possible Daniel attended some sort of worship gathering?

Judaism was designed to be a national religion of a settled people.  They would have one center of worship, and a priesthood would be available for everyone.  The Babylonian captivity made this impossible.  The temple was in ruins and its site far away.  Sacrificial worship and religious festivals were impossible.  How would they worship?

The Jews were dominated by the Babylonians, and succeeding empires. They were forced to interact with new cultures and religions.  Often they were forced to worship other Gods, as we see in Daniel 3.  How could the Jews preserve their faith and resist incorporating other gods?

During the exile, a new form of worship developed in the absence of the Temple: the synagogue. There Jews could pray and receive instruction from the Torah.  Over time the synagogue became a permanent form of worship, even after the Jews returned to their homeland during the Persian empire.

The establishment of the synagogue was a movement to preserve a pure remnant of Israel, a people dedicated to God and His Law.  If there was one around in his day (which is entirely possible), it’s hard to imagine Daniel sleeping in on the Sabbath —  unless Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t give him the morning off.

Aside from the history lesson, there is a two-fold moral here: 1) The worship of God is deeply personal, but never private. 2) Corporate worship is necessary to keep other gods out of our faith.

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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5 Responses to Where Did Daniel Go to Church?

  1. Carol says:

    Thus far in our reading in Daniel, I do not see any public worship by Daniel and his buddies, only private and probably secret worship. Like a home church, perhaps.
    So I disagree with you that private worship is not critical. For Daniel it was central.
    Was not God using Daniel and his circumstances to emphasize His supremacy over all? Daniel is not the focus, it seems to me. God is. God is revealing to us His judgment on the world, a judgment already made by God. God is going to triumph in the end.
    Daniel’s total surrender to God in the matter of his very life is what speaks to me.
    And all Daniel’s “witnessing” to the pagan Babylonian kings, until Darius, were inconsequential to God’s plan. God was going to bring His people out of Babylon with or without Daniel. Daniel did not put much importance in himself, did he? I just am amazed that he could be so totally true to His God.
    Today all we hear about is compromise and tolerance for the secular that would turn us from God. Daniel is our example of standing firm against the corruptions of the Word that swirl around us more today than ever before.

    • Pastor Corey says:

      If God’s people were convinced private worship was enough they would not have created new ways for them to worship together. Without a doubt the synagogue kept Judaism from being absorbed into the Babylonian religions. Idolatry was tempting enough with a temple. We don’t have details about Daniels spiritual disciplines, but history tells us synagogues were around during his time

  2. Birdie Cutair says:

    I find the corporate worship, being with other believers, is a privilege. In America we take this all for granted, but there are many places in the world today where public worship is not even allowed. Also I think corporate worship is very beneficial to going along with individual or private worship.

  3. Carol says:

    I believe that corporate worship is most beneficial, certainly. When I am not able to attend worship service I know that something is missing. Christians encourage one another and bear witness to their faith by their attendance. We know that we are not alone in our beliefs and we are built up in the faith by the hearing of the Word.
    And we need both corporate and private worship/study. Christian gatherings patterned their worship on the synagogue model.
    I am reading online about synagogues, the evidence of their early existence, and I am understanding that most often the early synagogues were assembly halls, not easily identifiable. Now in that kind of “synagogue” I could imagine Daniel and others in his predicament gathering to read and study the Torah (would their captors allow them to have copies?) and pray. But it still seems to me that this kind of activity would have to be very secretive. We know that Daniel prayed in his room in defiance of the order to only worship King Darius. Daniel would not obey that command and thereby break the Mosaic Law.
    The bottom line for me is that God would not under any circumstances allow His people Israel to be crushed by the Babylonians (or any other empire) because He has said that He will preserve a remnant. He has preserved a remnant throughout all of His-story and He will do that for eternity.

  4. Janice says:

    I don’t know where Daniel went to church but I do know his devotion to God was amazing. I believe in private worship with God and also worshiping with others. Both are important. Private worship gives me a one on one with God and able to talk about things that I would never discuss with a church family. God’s people were in Babylon because they gave up on God but God never gave up on them. Daniel and his friends were sent to Babylon by God for a purpose. I agree with Carol that it was all a part of God’s plan.

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