Stories, thoughts and reflections on the Bible from the WSFC Staff.
A couple of weeks ago I started bringing you a series of HELLO FRIENDS around the topics of COMMUNION and COMMUNITY. These writings are drawn from a research paper I wrote about 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, which is one of the most well-known passages of Scripture about The Lord’s Supper (communion). I trust you will find them immensely readable as well as applicable.
THE ORIGINAL HAPPY MEAL – PART 4
Paul finished the rebuke in 1 Corinthians 11 the same way he began it; by asking the church to wait for one another and share the meal together. The Love Feast and the corresponding Lord’s Supper were to be a point of rejoicing for all and by all. Yes, it was messy. But rather than do away with the meal entirely because of the mess, Paul restored order, direction, passion, and purpose.
The same cannot be said across the landscape of organized religion in the years to follow.
In the years that followed Paul’s admonishing words to Corinth, a progressive shift went into motion. The meal became something exclusive in which only the baptized could be allowed to partake. Rules that simply do not exist within Scripture would soon regulate the meal. Soon the meal would not function in its original form whatsoever. The Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), dated at the end of the 1st Century, declared that the Lord’s Supper was for baptized Christians, particularly those who repented of their sins. This document also regulated when the Lord’s Supper should take place and by whom, specifically that it should be governed by and prayed over by the cleric (priests).
By A.D. 110 Ignatius wrote, “It is not permitted either to baptize or to hold a Love Feast without the bishop, but whatever he approves is acceptable to God, so that everything you do should be secure and valid.” As the years elapsed, so did the value and validity of the Love Feast. By the 4th Century, at the Council of Laodicea, the Love Feast was banned by the church. This was reaffirmed at the Council of Trullian in A.D. 692. In conjunction with the abolition of the Love Feast, there was a move towards reductionism in regards to the Lord’s Supper. The elements (bread and drink) would become more regulated, disposable, and self-contained to the point that Bishop Will Willimon humorously (yet perhaps appropriately) asserts: “this is my body packaged for you.” Certainly it is not difficult to hear the tone of sarcasm in these comments, and yet in Protestant circles there is a propensity for the Lord’s Supper to become stale, lifeless, and void of community – no longer a meal – now a mess of another kind.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul’s words to Corinth carry weight for the church yet today.
Can the meal be recovered?
Can communion and community be reconnected again?
There was a time when Christianity was new, and the relatively few followers of Jesus on the planet could fit into a few homes and share everything in common. Those days are gone. The tiny upstart rag-tag band in the Book of Acts is now a full-fledged movement with 60-minute services on multi-site campuses. How do we reclaim the Love Feast in the McChurch era? How does community become a central part of communion again?
For some churches, that adjustment may be minor. Perhaps they could give more focus to the Lord’s Supper within the service instead of it being an afterthought or addendum. Perhaps small groups could become the epicenter of community life in which there is “breaking of bread” in homes, and true fellowship is shared within the context of communion. For other congregations, the shift may need to be more radical. If the worship has been consistently lifeless and cold, and community life is non-existent, then true reform may be appropriate.
Could reform be paramount in today’s church? Have we made a mess out of what was supposed to be a meal? There are so many practical implications to consider.
Does the church move back into homes?
Should a full meal be offered during every worship service?
Should smaller sanctuaries be built to make room for larger fellowship halls?
The answers are not immediate, but what remains is a desire for koinonia (fellowship) – that the church may truly celebrate “until He comes.” And when He does come again, all meals will be superseded by the great messianic banquet!
Praise God, yet another Meal awaits us!