I’ve suggested previously that the New Testament always describes the “Lord’s Supper” as taking place as part of a meal (for example, see “The Lord’s Supper as a Meal?“). Even when the elements (bread and cup) are mentioned, they are mentioned in the context of a whole meal.
One of the questions that I’ve struggled with, and had been unable to answer, is this: When and why did the meal turn into the elements only? Remember that even during the Reformation, the major argument concerning the Lord’s Supper revolved around the meaning of the elements not the meal, i.e. not the “Supper”.
Well, I may have an answer. In his book Making a Meal of It, Ben Witherington mentioned two councils that dealt with the Lord’s Supper and the meal associated with it: the Council of Laodicea (363-364 AD) and the Council of Trullian (692 AD).
Apparently, during these councils, the bishops attempted to deal with some improprieties (i.e., drunkenness) that were happening during the meal. These improprieties were being reported by people outside the church. This seems to be similar to what Paul was facing when he wrote 1 Corinthians 11. Paul decided to reign in the revelry and wantonness, but not the meal itself. However, in order to maintain appearances to those outside the church, the bishops decided to stop the meal altogether.
Here is a quote from the Council of Trullian (Canon 74):
It is not permitted to hold what are called Agape, that is love-feasts, in the Lord’s houses or churches, nor to eat within the house, nor to spread couches. If any dare to do so let him cease therefrom or be cut off.
I’m still looking for information from the Council of Laodicea. But, this begins to answer the question of when and why the Lord’s Supper changed from a meal (probably in homes) to a ritual of bread and cup in church buildings.