It’s often been said that if we could add instruments to our singing, then we could add fried chicken to the Lord’s Supper. But I’ve been doing some reading, and it seems that the early church did, in fact, add fried chicken the Lord’s supper (well, lamb was more likely, but you get the point). In fact, they added an entire meal, the equivalent of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and banana pudding.
They had a great example to follow. Jesus added, at least, lamb and bitter herbs. We know this because he instituted communion as part of the Passover celebration, which is a full meal (Num. 9:11).
Luke describes the Last Supper in more detail than the other Gospels. In chapter 22, Luke describes Jesus blessing the cup, first, and then the bread. Luke then records,
(Luke 22:20) In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Hence, the second cup, which is the cup we emulate in our services, was separated from the bread by a supper — a full meal. Jesus could have done this in any order he wished (he was Jesus, after all), and Luke could have edited the account to omit the meal, as the other Gospel writers did. But I think Luke wanted us to read about the meal, because the common meal was also an important institution to the early church.
Jude 12 talks about “love feasts” celebrated by the early Christians. We know from history that many early Christian churches had weekly or even daily common meals called the love feast. Many took the Lord’s Supper as part of the common meal. The meal served multiple purposes. It allowed Christians to share with those in need, it allowed a profound sense of community to form, and it made the Lord’s Supper truly a supper.
Everett Ferguson writes,
Jesus instituted the memorial of himself at the last supper in the context of a meal. It seems that a meal provided the most convenient context in which the Lord’s supper was observed by early Christians. … The Didache [late First Century] also sets the eucharist in the context of a common religious meal. The Roman governor Pliny [ca. AD 110-115] places the Christian gathering for a common meal at a separate time from the “stated” religious assembly.
Early Christians Speak, p. 130. The love feast was an important part of the early church. We know from 1 Cor. 11 that it’s not essential, but we know from Jude that it was permitted, even honored. And the historical evidence is nearly as old as the New Testament.
This fact destroys a number of false assumptions about the Lord’s Supper. First, it’s nowhere required to be in an auditorium. The early church usually met in private homes — with full kitchens and dining room tables ready for serving food. May we worship with kitchens and dining halls? How could we not and honor the teachings of Jude? Indeed, the Lord’s Supper was, in fact, very often a supper. I’m confident the early church would have upset had there been no kitchens available!
Second, communion is not required to be quiet, somber, and ritualistic. The Jewish Passover is often a lively celebration. Neither is communion required to be part of a formal worship event, between an opening prayer and a closing prayer. Rather, the early church often conducted the love feast, including communion, as an event separate from the formal assembly. The social element was considered among the dearest features of the event. People talked and enjoyed one another’s company.
Third, obviously, our theology prohibiting additions is just wrong. Yes, we may add a full meal to the Lord’s Supper. Of course, we can’t add evil things to the assembly. Neither may we add things that frustrate the God-given purpose of the assembly. But plainly permission was given to do the expedient thing. Therefore, we need to seriously reconsider those arguments that assume that additions are always wrong. They’re not.
Finally, the whole “five acts of worship” idea clearly contradicts both Biblical and early Christian teaching. The love feast was an act of worship but an optional one. Therefore, there was no set number of “acts.” We made the rule up out of whole cloth.