Assembly 2.0: Part 11.3: The Love Feast

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The agapē 

Going back to Acts 2, we see that the early church gathered to eat together — to “break bread.” In fact, the NT is filled with references to this common meal, which we overlook because it’s not part of the Western way of doing church —

(Acts 2:42 ESV)  42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers

(Acts 2:46-47 ESV)  46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

(Acts 20:7 ESV)  7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 

(Rom. 14:6 ESV)  6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 

(1 Cor. 5:11 ESV) 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. 

(1 Cor. 10:27-31 ESV)  27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience — 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?  30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?  31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 

(1 Cor. 11:20-21 ESV)  20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.  21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.

(Gal. 2:12 ESV) 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 

(2 Thess. 3:10 ESV)  10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

(2 Pet. 2:12-13 ESV)  12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction,  13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 

(Jude 1:12-13 ESV)  12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;  13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

History backs up the early church’s practice of eating together. Over the centuries, practices were not necessarily uniform, but early on, the Lord’s Supper was combined with the common meal — the “love feast” or agapē.  In fact, the early church found table fellowship to be so important that they called it “the love.” Yes, their language reveals that they very nearly equated loving each other with eating with each other.

And so, when Paul writes in Rom 15:7 that they should welcome each other,

(Rom. 15:7 ESV)  7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 

the language is the language of table hospitality.

As in the earlier use of προσλαμβάνομαι [proslambanomai] in 14:1, to “welcome” others implies to “receive or accept in one’s society, in(to) one’s home or circle of acquaintances.” In the context of early Christian literature, the home in view is the house or tenement church and the occasion is most likely the love feast, since this was the format of the assembly that turned the secular space of a house or portion of a tenement or shop into an arena of sacred welcome. While most commentators overlook this social context, reducing Paul’s reference to vague sentiments of “mutual acceptance” and the like that seem more appropriate for the modern than the early church, Schlatter, Michel, and Black have pointed quite properly to the common meal as the setting for this particular kind of welcome. In a similar manner, Dupont associates this exhortation primarily with hospitality, welcoming people into one’s home.

Robert K. Jewett and Roy D. Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary on the Book of Romans (Hermeneia 66; ed. Eldon J. Epp; Accordance electronic ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 888.

The concept of a meal as a centerpiece of the assembly doubtlessly traces back to Jesus’ insistence on eating with the outcasts of society and his many parables that speak of banquets. In turn, these parables often refer back to Isaiah’s prophecy of the end times as a great banquet —

(Isa. 25:6-8 ESV)  6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

This prophecy is, in turn, reflected in Revelation’s wedding feast of the bride and the
Lamb —

(Rev. 19:9 ESV)  9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

That is, the love feast was an eschatological declaration — acting now as though the future New Heavens and New Earth have already arrived, as though God already has made his dwelling among man.

In short, when we have a church-wide covered dish dinner or eat a meal together in a small group or zone meeting, we are emulating the early church — except to them, this was where communion would be celebrated and, together with communion, this is why they gathered. They prayed and they were instructed but the event was called the “love feast,” not the “prayer feast” or “love class.”

Those Churches of Christ that consider it sinful to eat in the building have it exactly backwards. And they should question a hermeneutic and tradition that leads one to condemn what the early church considered of the essence in their assemblies.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Assembly 2.0: Part 11.3: The Love Feast

  1. How can the church of today move to an observance of the LS more like that of the early church in the love feast?

  2. John F says:

    In spite of problematic logistics, I would “love” to see full glasses and handfuls of the bread (torn like a flour tortilla?), where our “righteousness” is not shown in how “small” a portion we could break off the “one loaf” and how “little” of the cup we might sip (yes,, individual cups are okay). Conversation around each table about the meaning of our “proclaiming” the death of Christ that leads to reconciliation and how his resurrection leads to our own life — how memorable would that be? Logistically every week, probably not, but at least SOMETIME.

  3. Dwight says:

    What many have done is misread the scripture to enforce a position. In I Cor.11 Paul argues against thier abuse at the Lord’s Supper and says, “Don’t you have houses to eat in”. So we in our wisdom have separated what they did from not eating as a meal, but eating just to get the symbolism. But Paul condemned them not because they didn’t get the symbols, but because they didn’t wait for one another and many ate too much and others who came later didn’t have anything to eat. IT was about unity or lack of.

  4. Ray Downen says:

    Jay and Dwight point out correctly that the early church had no ceremony of a bit of bread and a sip of wine which they are thought to have called “The Lord’s Supper.” They ATE together. Most frequently they met in small groups rather than in large assemblies. Jerusalem in the first days of the church was an exception, with a great many out-of-towners there and not yet ready to leave the fellowship of other believers. Even there the eating was most likely in homes. And it surely was FOOD and DRINK, not a sample of bread and wine.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jerry S asked,

    How can the church of today move to an observance of the LS more like that of the early church in the love feast?

    Take communion at small group meetings. There’s no sin in remembering Jesus’ death twice in the same week.

  6. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jerry asked:

    How can the church of today move to an observance of the LS more like that of the early church in the love feast?

    Our congregation in FL meets collectively on Sunday morning at the building for Bible Study and a.m. worship, where we partake of the LS. However, on Sunday evening, we have Life Groups. There is no collective worship on Sunday evening. Instead, the congregation breaks into small groups in personal homes (one meets at the building in case of visitors) for devotional, prayer, singing, fellowship, and a meal. We do include the LS in the evening for those who were not able to partake in the a.m., but the LS would be easy enough to include as a love feast for all. I am going to speak with the Elders about this.

  7. Let’s take care that we don’t worship bread and wine. For the majority of human history since Christ, the majority of mankind had neither wheat nor vineyards. It isn’t the bread and wine, it is Jesus Christ, it is the love for one another and for Christ.

  8. Dwight says:

    Kevin, Technically the Lord’s Supper would have been in the evening, hence supper. Even I Cor.11 reflects this, “On the night in which he took bread..” Those who hold others to the fire in regards to the Lord’s Supper on many issues don’t get it right either in practice when they have it Sunday morning. But as Jay said having the Lord’s Supper more than once can be no more a sin then Hezekiah having the Passover twice in a row.

  9. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Agreed. How can the frequency of remembering the DBR of the Lamb of God ever be sinful? That’s a strange thought when you think about it…”I want you all to remember this sacrificial offering for your sins as part of this ritual only on Sundays. In the morning. And only as a congregation. And don’t you dare dismiss the kids to Children’s church. And if you miss it, you miss it; no makeups.”

  10. Dwight says:

    Now admittedly they didn’t have the Passover every month, but then again it was a feast that interrupted their life in part as they had to have the lamb slaughtered and then remove all leaven, etc. And they had other feast as well. Two of the feast were not commanded by God.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Kevin,

    When you speak to your elders, remind them that the Lord’s Supper is a “supper.” It’s rude to eat in front of other people who aren’t eating. Normal humans want to eat with others. And it’s not just a ritual — it’s about the unity of the body. To require those who missed to take the meal alone is very contrary to the purpose of the meal. And there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that challenges the idea of taking communion more than once per week or day. If someone argues authority (I hope not), where is the authority to hold two assemblies or to gather to sing twice a day etc. We don’t complain when we hear two sermons, say two prayers, or attend two assemblies to sing the same day. What makes the LS necessarily once per week when nothing else is? How is MORE worship a bad thing?

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