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QUESTION: Re the Lord’s Supper & the Fellowship Meal

I received the following question in a comment by Linda on an earlier question answered here. That question, which was about the propriety of having cinnamon sugar on the communion bread, elicited a couple of comments that mentioned a fellowship meal in connection with the Lord’s Supper.

We use the store bought wafers as a matter of convenience because our group is so large. And we also only offer it Sunday morning. I know some people have a problem with this but it seems there are no Sunday night only people and everyone gets there in time now. I guess that leaves out the content of the Lord’s Supper to no one’s interpretation and it remains consistent each Sunday. Can you enlighten me about the “fellowship meal”.? I dont think I’ve studied that before.

It is not surprising that you have not studied the fellowship meal, for its roots are in the Old Testament, which many congregations of the Church of Christ have effectively cut out of their Bibles. This is not meant literally, but is true – if we judge this by the amount of study and teaching we devote to the Bible used, and frequently quoted, by Jesus and His apostles.

One of the best known “fellowship meals” of the Old Testament was the Feast of the Passover. You will remember, I am sure, that Jesus gave His disciples instructions about breaking bread and drinking the fruit of the vine in His memory in the context of the Passover meal.

The Passover was, and still is among the Jews, a meal – not a mere ritual and symbolic partaking of bread and wine. I believe the New Testament presents the Lord’s Supper in the same way.

In Acts 2:42-47 we read the following:

They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and good, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This does not describe a “worship service.” In fact, the New Testament no where speaks of a “worship service.” That terminology comes from somewhere besides the Bible. What Luke does in these verses is describe the joyous response of the first Christians to the good news of Jesus.

They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching about Jesus and to their fellowship together. They were devoted to “the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

What is “breaking of bread”? Most of us, rightly, understand this to be the Lord’s Supper. In verse 46-47, Luke says, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God….” This was every day. They met in the temple courts and broke bread in their homes. In every place, they praised God with glad, sincere hearts.

How do the two times “breaking bread” appear in these few verses relate to each other? Alexander Campbell said that verse 42 refers to the Communion and verse 46 refers to common meals. Was he right? I am not so sure. He based his conclusion of the presence of the Greek article “the” bread in verse 42 and its absence in verse 46. He believed that this made a distinction between the Lord’s Supper and other meals.

Yet, in Acts 20:7 where the disciples in Troas “came together to break bread” and Paul preached to them, bread does not have an article with it. Neither does verse 11 in this chapter where, after raising the young man Eutychus from the dead, Paul went upstairs, broke bread and ate. Again, I have heard many people declare that verse 7 is the Lord’s Supper and verse 11 is a common meal, making a distinction between the two. The text itself does not make this distinction; we tend to assume it because that would make this text fit our current practice better. (This is the only text that directly associates “breaking bread” in a Christian assembly with the first day of the week, though some other passages may infer it.)

In the longest passage discussing the Lord’s Supper in the entire Bible, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul talks about an abuse of the Supper. Some, when the church assembled, were despising the church because they would not wait for those who could not arrive on time. They went ahead so that “one remains hungry, [while] another gets drunk” (verse 21).

That certainly sounds like they were having a full meal when they came together for the Lord’s Supper (verse 20). The abuse was not that they were eating a meal; it was that they were not waiting for their brethren – and were turning the meal they should be sharing together into a selfish, drunken feast. Paul does not rebuke them for the meal. He does say, in verse 34, that if anyone is hungry he should eat at home (I believe, so that he could wait for the later arriving brethren without having to rush into the meal as soon as they themselves arrived).

Jude 12 speaks of certain ones who “are blemishes at your love feasts.” Church historians say that in the early years of the church, the practice we observe among the early Christians was that they observed the Lord’s Supper as a “love feast.” It was not until the third and fourth centuries that the love feast and the Lord’s Supper were separated.

When I speak of the Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal, I am referring to the Lord’s Supper as a love feast in which we remember the Lord and encourage one another. The New Testament words “Fellowship” and “Communion” come from the same Greek word. Fellowship is communion and communion is fellowship. The Lord’s Supper is not to be me communing in isolation from you and you from me – but for both of us to be communing together with the Lord.

The current practice in the Churches of Christ is far from this. How can we change it? Changing anything is difficult – and changing something that is as deeply ingrained into our spiritual perceptions and presumptions as how we observe the Lord’s Supper is extremely difficult. Many congregations are horrified if some choose even to sing to one another during the Lord’s Supper. This, they say, interrupts their concentration on their meditation.

If we came together as a family to remember Aunt Sally just after her funeral, would we all sit in silent contemplation? Or would we talk together about what a wonderful person she was? Yes, we might have tears as we think of her passing – but it would be normal and right for us to use the family meal after the funeral to remember her and lift her up to those who may not have known her as well as those who knew her best.

Why should it be different for God’s family? Our elder brother (and Savior) has died – but is also risen! Is that enough to make us joyful? Why should God’s family not remember God’s Son together in His memorial supper with joy and with talking with one another about how wonderful He is (for He still lives!)?

If we would share this Supper together and talk together about our Lord, do you think it might help us to encourage one another as we share our love for Jesus? Would this help young people and new converts come to know Jesus and how to talk of Him openly more easily? I believe that it would. This is what I mean when I speak of the Lord’s Supper as a Fellowship Meal.

I do not mean a weekly pot-luck with the Lord’s Supper tacked on somewhere. In fact, the size of the “meal” is immaterial to me. A small cracker and small glass of the fruit of the vine is perfectly o.k. What I would really like to see, though, is God’s family opening their eyes, ears, and hearts to one another as they remember our Lord.

As I said, getting there from where we are will not be easy. But I would sure like to see us making an effort to move beyond looking at the backs of the heads of the people in front as we sit in stony silence!


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