the weblog of Alan Knox

Church and Meals

Posted by on Jul 2, 2009 in books, community, fellowship, gathering | 19 comments

I recently read through a section of Roger W. Gehring’s House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity. This book does NOT suggest that the early church only met in houses. Nor does Gehring suggest that the church today should only meet in houses. Instead, Gehring examines the importance of the house and household structures for the early church.

This time, I read through a section of the book concerning Acts 2:42-47. Here is the passage under consideration:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 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 2:42-47 ESV)

In one paragraph, he discusses the meaning of the phrase “breaking of bread” in 2:42 and its significance to the early church:

The community life of the Jerusalem church was experienced most intensively and was continually renewed in the join celebration of the bread breaking in individual houses. Scholars have reflected on and written a great deal about the character of these communion celebrations. In general, it is assumed that these celebrations certainly entailed a common meal (see Acts 2:46). We can be sure that the community of goods described by Luke in Acts included common meals together. (Acts 6:1-3 clearly demonstrates this.) The expression “breaking bread” also implies a meal: it is the designation for the act of tearing the bread, which, in addition to the word of blessing, forms the opening rite at the beginning of Jewish meals (Acts 27:35). Moreover, Luke also places “bread breaking” in the context of the worship service elsewhere in Acts (Acts 20:7, 11). (page 83)

So, according to Gehring, the phrase “breaking of bread” indicates, at least, a common meal. (And I agree.) Thus, he indicates that “the community life of the Jerusalem church was experienced most intensively and was continually renewed” through a common meal. Furthermore, he says that the phrase that the Jerusalem church “had all things in common” includes sharing meals. These meals, according to Gehring, were shared in various homes.

Gehring later says that Acts 20:7, 11 (the story of Paul in Troas) and 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-25 indicate the importance of these common meals to the early churches. Thus, the early church determined that sharing food together was important for building and maintaining community and for caring for those who needed help.

Gehring goes on to say that this common meal was actually part of the church meeting – the “worship service” of the early church. As most of my regular readers would know, I don’t like the term “worship service”. However, Gehring uses the term “worship service” to specify the church meeting and separate it from other types of activities that occur in a home. He has a long section that convincingly argues that “worship services” occurred in homes, not just in the Temple area. Sharing food together was part of the church meeting, and teaching may have taken place during the meal, not separately.

However, a few hundred years after this, the church decided that these meals were unimportant and even dangerous. The Councils of Laodicea (363-364 AD) and Trullian (692 AD) outlawed the church’s common meal, which was also called the Agape Feast (Jude 12). (See my post “Why just the bread and the cup” for more details and sources.)

If Gehring is correct, then when the church stopped sharing meals together, it lost one very significant aspect of community. When the meal was turned into a rite with only bread and cup (or only bread for hundreds of years), the horizontal community aspect of eating a meal together was lost. (Eating a piece of bread or wafer at the same time is not the same as “eating a meal together.”)

As many of you know, our church shares a meal together each week. (We also share meals together from day to day in our homes.) The meal on Sunday is a casual affair. People bring food for themselves, or food to share. Some people decide to stay for the meal, others can’t stay for various reasons. However, we consider the meal a very important part of our church meeting.

A few days ago, my friend Jon said this about our meal together (see the post “What are our church meetings like?“):

The meal was also very special. It gave everyone a chance to further connect and spend time together. I loved the fact that there was no sense of hurry or “look what time it is!” We were just content to share our time.

Like the early church, we’ve found that sharing a common meal heightens our community and fellowship. I’m glad that Jon recognized this when he met with us and shared a meal with us.

I often get emails from people asking about community. They are part of a church – big or small – that has good teaching, but they sense a lack of true community. They often ask, “What should we do?”

I never suggest that someone “leave their church.” Instead, I suggest that people began to build relationships with people who are already in their lives. One of the best ways to do this is by sharing meals together. If your church leadership will not let you share meals during or after your church meeting (“worship service”), then invite people to your house or to a restaurant. Share a meal with people during the week.

I think you’ll find as we have found – and as Gehring pointed out – that eating common meals together is a great way – an important and “most intensive” way – to experience and renew community.

Do you regularly share meals with the church? Do you share them in your homes or other places? Do you think that meals help your build and maintain community?


19 Comments

  1. 7-2-2009

    After our “worship service” we always have a potluck meal. It is what brings the body together. Our “worship service” is of the traditional style.

    We also have a small group gathering during the week and we have a potluck meal before we gather in the living room to pray, sing and discuss the Word.

  2. 7-2-2009

    We only have official meals once a month in our house church. But at our home we have meals with Church members and others nearly daily. Hospitality is the biggest part of our ministry and sharing a meal is indispensable in our relationships within the church and without. In the summer it is BBQ time and I am out cooking and telling our stories of God’s love with the guys. When I compare this kind of Church to sitting in pews back in the West it makes me sad for all those poor guys wearing ties in the summer heat.

  3. 7-2-2009

    Jack,

    Thanks for tell us about your meals. You said the meals are what “brings the body together”. So, do you agree that meals are important for building and maintaining community? Do you think meals are necessary?

    Strider,

    You said, “Sharing a meal is indispensable in our relationship with the church and without”. I agree. Sharing meals together is not just for special occasions and its not just a good idea, it is necessary for our fellowship and sharing with one another.

    -Alan

  4. 7-2-2009

    Alan,

    A church without meals is like a car without wheels!

  5. 7-2-2009

    Aussie,

    That rhymes LOL!!!

    More and more I am learing that a meal actually opens up so much more in the area of relationships. We get to share more, people become more honest and transparent, it builds trust and intimacy and you get to know people on a more personal basis, not just their “christian” life (false dichotomy I know) but their passions, their dreams, their background/story, we laugh more and actually function like a family. At http://www.lifelinebible.org we would do it every Sunday after church and one summer we did a program called Koinania where we went from house to house and the host house shared their stories and prepared a meal, it went on for hours I hate we stopped. But anyway yes meals are important and I think vitally connected and that is why Luke ensures he lists it in Acts 2 as instrumental in the development of the Church

  6. 7-2-2009

    Alan,
    I totally agree. From the beginning of out fellowship we have enjoyed a meal together after our meeting time. It provides time to fellowship, allows discussion and builds relationship. As well, eating together is a covenant activity. Indeed, there is clear evidence that the act of eating together is a leading indicator in strong families. I believe the same can be said of strong fellowships.

  7. 7-3-2009

    Aussie John,

    I like that.

    Lionel,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I’ve found meals to be vitally connected to the life of the church as well.

    Douglas,

    Eating together leads to strong families and strong churches? Yep, I think so too.

    -Alan

  8. 7-3-2009

    Good post and comments.

    This is one vital area of the life of the Church that the ‘modern church’ just doesn’t seem to get. The common meal builds relationships and teaches us so much. It teaches us that we are “together” or “one”, in Christ. It teaches us that we must deny self. It teaches us to be like Jesus.

    The common meal has been all but abandoned by the “modern Church” because is attacks our tendencies toward individualism. (IMO)

  9. 7-3-2009

    Wade,

    “Vital”… I think that’s a good description. Thanks!

    I also agree that meals help us understand our unity in Christ.

    -Alan

  10. 7-4-2009

    Sincerly,

    After reading your article, I could not help but be even more reminded on how often it seems that people often focus on concepts such as “how to have church” and never realize how often it may happen in simply living life—-as when one has a Barbecue or “Block Party” (as done often on my side of the street regarding Black folk….with everything from frying fish to blasting the music and playing games, etc), that’s as much of a church experience as anything else one can think of when it comes to discussing how believers are to fellowship. It’s in those momements, IMHO, where the things such as Gifts of Hospitality can shine forth best and people can truly be real/organic…..even though to many, it may seem insignificant….for in my experiences, it was in those times where it seemed that true ministry often occured.

  11. 7-9-2009

    Gabriel wrote: It’s in those momements, IMHO, where the things such as Gifts of Hospitality can shine forth best

    This jumped out at me in relation to what Paul teaches in 1 Cor 12 about the gifts we would consider to be “lesser”. When meals are central in the life of the church gathering, the gifts that “can shine forth best” are the ones that generally are not at all valued in western “church”. Oh, that we would let those gifts take precedence in our gatherings and stop putting the “glamor” gifts on a pedestal.

  12. 7-9-2009

    Steve,

    Yes, that’s a good point. Those “insignificant” moments around the table with “lesser” gifted people usually turn out to be the most significant and most important in terms of maturity and growth.

    -Alan

  13. 7-9-2009

    Thanks for sharing the thoughts, Bro—-though if wanting more information, there was another discussion I was in on the issue where more depth was given and One can go here for more info, especially in regards to how much emphasis there is many times to the way we do a paticular form of church (Whether “simple” or “traditional”) and yet no one’s concerned with simply living life and allowing the function to be of predecence rather than the paticular package it comes in. As one man said on a similar issue, “I do not care if the cat is black, white, red or yellow—-for as long as it catches mice, it’s a good cat..”

    Apart from that, I definately agree with you concerning how often there’s more emphasis placed on paticular gifts moreso than others—-especially in regards to how much no one talks on other giftings such as gifts of encouragements, helps, benevolence, hospitality, and many others and yet we talk all the time on teachers and pastors/prophets. To me, it’s even more interesting seeing that in the original Hebraic culture there was no such thing as chapter and verse with the epistles—which was added later–and that means that at one point there was no distinction, but a free-flowing letter simply discussing the gifts. The issue of Paul saying which ones came first seemed to do moreso with simple order rather than importance..

    .

    I

    Corinthians 12:27-29
    7Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And
    in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets,
    third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of
    healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration,
    and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[a]? Do all interpret?
    C ontinuing, these are the other Scriptures dealing with the issue:

    Romans 12
    4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his[b]faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

    Another one to consider:

    I Corinthians 16
    14Do everything in love.
    15You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, 16to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. 17I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

    P

    Here’s a clear cut example of how hospitality was by no means something that Paul considered to be “lesser” than his gift of preaching—as it aided in what the Lord was doing in Paul’s ministry just as meeting in the homes of others aids the church in ways that preaching/teaching from the pulpit cannot. Something else to consider would be the example of Lydia in Acts 16:40, Acts 16:13-15 , Acts 16 —as she came to Christ early but did much for the Gospel simply by sharing her home, but by todays standards many wouldn’t even give her a shout-out…..and would probably think that what made a difference was the PREACHING OF THE TEACHERS who’re seen primarily in public. Her hospitality, alongside those who do things such as this 24/7 is something to take note of regarding God’s Working….

    The same thing goes for Priscilla and Aquilla, who simply opened their home and made a difference (even though for them, that basic undestanding of the WORD helped another—Apollos– whose full calling was expressed in Apolegetics (Acts 18:1-3, Acts 18, Acts 18:1-8, Acts 18:17-19 , Acts 18:25-27 , Romans 16:3, Romans 16:2-4, Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 1 Corinthians 16:18-20 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 16 ). Ministry & Revival/God moving with them was a household issue where they could make a difference…but would they be recognized?

    I also must wonder about how often we seem to read the epistles and skip directly over the parts that Paul gave out saluations to others for how they were such a part of God’s work—with their actions being held in HIGH REGARD…and many times, it was for nothing more than simple friendship, as seen in Romans 16:1-16. One individual I know of in that passage was known by Paul as being one who was like a MOTHER to him in Romans 16:13—-and nowhere was she thanked due to her preaching or teaching but simply doing what moms do, which is encouragement and care. All of that means that there needs to be a radical shift in what it is that we in the body consider to be “true ministry”…

  14. 7-9-2009

    Gabriel,

    The form is not important, unless the form hinders the identity. If the church cannot be the church (i.e. the “one anothers” and the things that you mentioned) because of the form, then the form should change.

    -Alan

  15. 5-22-2012

    Have you read John Mark Hicks’ book Come to the Table? He asserted that “breaking bread” in the Lukan corpus meant communion, and that the early church celebrated the Eucharist daily. I disagree with him, but he does lend a restorative perspective to how the Lord’s Supper should be observed in order to recapture the practice and spirit of the first century.

  16. 5-23-2012

    The sharing of the meal together was the first thing our pastor took away from us when the trouble started. It was the most important aspect of my involvement with that church. When it was restricted, I no longer wanted to be a part of them. :(

  17. 5-24-2012

    Steven,

    I’m not familiar with that particular book, but I’ve read a few on the subject. Eating meals together is so prevalent in the NT that it’s difficult to understand why this is placed on the back burner today.

    Sheree,

    Several friends of mine faced that same situation. They began inviting people to their homes for meals and built fellowship that way.

    -Alan

  18. 11-14-2012

    An excerpt from Tim Chester’s book, “A Meal With Jesus.”

    “Church As A Meal” – http://lambblood.com/church-as-a-meal.html

    “Lord’s Supper Logic,” an article I wrote, delves into the significance of the Lord’s Supper as a special, Christ-centered fellowship/covenant-meal for the total life and health of the body: http://www.lambblood.com/lord-s-supper-logic.html

  19. 11-17-2012

    Rick,

    Thanks for the links. I’ve written several posts about the importance of sharing common meals together. I think the church misses alot when it comes to fellowship, discipleship, and teaching when we set aside sharing meals together.

    -Alan

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