October 20, 2017

“Love Feasts”

By James E. Cooper

In an effort to justify "Fellowship Halls" and "Fellowship Dinners"or church supported banqueting  certain brethren are claiming that the Bible does not give examples of church buildings, but it does of church feasts, meaning the "love-feasts."

No one, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that the Bible gives specific examples of church buildings. Consequently, if the Bible doesn't give examples of church buildings, it doesn't give examples of "fellowship halls" as part of, or in connection with, church buildings. We all understand (don't we?) that a church building of some kind is authorized in the command to assemble (cf. Heb. 10:25). We have long contended that it is expedient, under this general authority, for congregations to erect meetinghouses in which the divinely authorized actions of the congregations can be conducted.

The point at issue is thisis feasting a divinely authorized church action? Those who are arguing on the basis of "love-feasts" say it is. We propose to examine the evidence behind this claim.

The term, "love-feasts," occurs but one time in the BibleJude 12. It is translated from the Greek word Agapai. Thayer defines the word and then comments as follows: "feasts expressing and fostering mutual love which used to be held by Christians before the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and at which the poorer Christians mingled with the wealthier and partook in common with the rest of food provided at the expense of the wealthy. Jude 13, 2 Pet. 2:13 (according to some authorities he lists), cf. 1 Cor.11: 17; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7."

While we have no quarrel with Thayer's definition itself, "love-feasts," we do question the accuracy of his comments following his definition. For instance, he applies Acts 20:7 as an example of a "love-feast." If this is a "love-feast," as per his comments, it is not the Lord's Supper, and there is no authorized time at which the Lord's Supper is to be observed. Could this be the reason why some are now denying that Acts 20:7 is a binding example for when the Lord's Supper is to be observed? If this was a common "fellowship dinner," why wait until the first day of the week? My brethren have long contended that Acts 20: 7 is specific authority for taking the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. I still believe that it is.

Thayer cites Acts 2:42, 46 as examples of "love-feasts," but verse 46 says emphatically, " . . . and breaking bread at home (my emphasis, JEC), they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart." It says nothing about "love feasts" of any kind.

There can be no doubt that the Corinthian Church engaged in feasting when they came together. In fact, this is the only real reference to a church feast in the New Testament, and it is mentioned only by way of condemnation. Yet, this condemned feasting is evidently the basis upon which Thayer and others argue that the "love-feasts" were observed in connection with the Lord's Supper. In condemning their feasting, Paul said, "What, have ye not houses to eat and drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not?" (1 Cor.11: 22). After telling them of the things he had received of the Lord and delivered unto themthe manner of observing the Lord's Supperhe said, "If any man is hungry, let him eat at home; that your coming together be not unto judgment" (v. 34). Some of my erring brethren of today say that Paul was wrong. He should have told them to eat in the "fellowship hall!"

Was this a "love-feast" in connection with the Lord's Supper that had been abused? Note the comments of Albert Barnes on this point: "Besides, I know not that there is the slightest evidence, as has been often supposed, that the observance of the Lord's Supper was preceded, in the times of the apostles, by such a festival as a love feast. There is no evidence in the passage before us; nor is any adduced from any other part of the New Testament. To my mind it seems altogether improbable that the disorders in Corinth would assume this formthat they would first observe a common feast, and then the Lord's Supper in the regular manner. The statement before us leads to the belief that all was irregular and improper; that they had entirely mistaken the nature of the ordinance, and had converted it into an occasion of ordinary festivity, and even intemperance; that they had come to regard it as a feast in honor of the Saviour on some such principles as they observed feasts in honor of idols, and that they observed it in some such manner; and that all that was supposed to make it unlike those festivals was, that it was in honor of Jesus rather than an idol, and was to be observed with some reference to his authority and name" (comments on 1 Cor. 11:21, emphasis his).

In commenting on 1 Cor.11:22, "Have you not houses to eat and to drink in? " Barnes says, "This whole verse is designed to convey the language of severe rebuke for their having so grossly perverted the design of the Lord's Supper. Do you not know that the church of God is not designed to be a place of feasting and revelry: nor even a place where to partake of your ordinary meats? Can it be that you will come to the place of public worship, and make them the scenes of feasting and riot? Even on the supposition that there had been no disorder; no revelry; no intemperance; yet on every account it was grossly irregular and disorderly to make the place of public worship a place for a festival entertainment."

2 Peter 2:13 describes false teachers as "reviling in their deceivings while they feast with you." The word "feast" leaps out at those who would like this to justify church supported feasts, but it does not necessarily infer that the feasting was a '`love-feast," conducted in the church's "fellowship hall." Some have inferred that it does, but the inference is not a necessary one.

This brings us down to Jude 12, the one verse in the Bible to use agapai, and translated "love-feasts." Again, I would like to quote Albert Barnes to show that the reference is not a necessary inference of church banqueting. "The reference is probably to the Lord's Supper, called a feast or festival of love because (1) it revealed the love of Christ to the world; (2) because it was the means of strengthening the mutual love of the disciples: a festival which love originated, and where love reigned. It has been supposed by many, that the reference here is to festivals which were subsequently called Agapae, and which are now known as love feastsmeaning a festival immediately preceding the Lord's Supper. But there are strong objections to the supposition that there is reference here to such a festival. (1) There is no evidence, unless it is found in this passage, that such celebrations had the sanction of the apostles. They are nowhere else mentioned in the New Testament, or alluded to, unless it is in 1 Cor.11:17-34, an instance which is mentioned only to reprove it, and to show that such appendages to the Lord's Supper were wholly unauthorized by the original institution, and were liable to gross abuse. (2) The supposition that they existed, and that they are referred to here, is not necessary in order to a proper explanation of this passage. All that it fairly means will be met by the supposition that the reference is to the Lord's Supper. That was in every sense a festival of love or charity. The words will appropriately apply to that, and there is no necessity of supposing anything else in order to meet their full significance. (3) There can be no doubt that such a custom early existed in the Christian church, and extensively prevailed; but it can be readily accounted for without supposing that it had the sanction of the apostles, or that it existed in their time. (a) Festivals prevailed among the Jews, and it would not be unnatural to introduce them into the Christian church. (b) The custom prevailed among the heathen of having a 'feast upon a sacrifice,' or in connection with a sacrifice, and as the Lord's Supper commemorated the great sacrifice for sin, it was not unnatural, in imitation of the heathen, to append a feast or festival to that ordinance, either before or after its celebration. (c) This very passage in Jude, with perhaps some others in the New Testament (compare 1 Cor.11:25; Acts 2:46; 6:2) might be so construed as to seem to lend countenance to the custom. For these reasons it seems clear to me that the passage before us does not refer to love feasts; and, therefore, that they are not authorized in the New Testament. See, however, Coleman's Antiquities of the Christian Church, chapter 16, paragraph 13 (Notes on Jude 12).

From the above considerations, it would appear that those who are trying to justify church banqueting in church "fellowship halls" are making the same mistake as did many in the early days after the close of the apostolic era. They were trying to "christianize" some of the customs they had picked up somewhere other than in the authority of Christ and His apostles. Banqueting, even under the guise of "love-feasts," is not authorized by the doctrine of Christ.

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 11, pp.14-16
August 1966

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