By Keith Clayton
Don’t you think we ought to do as the first century Christians did! Doesn’t Acts 2:46 and 20:11 contain the authority for Saints’ gathering together for the purpose of consuming a common meal? What about the “love feast” that early Christians engaged in?
These are a sample of the questions that are received by myself from people who are used to the denominational social concept of the Gospel. Being a Congregationalist and Episcopalian for the first 24 years of this earthly life, I can understand why people will be disconcerted at the idea that the church does not engage in “dime a dip” suppers. If one were to rightly divide the whole counsel of God, he would find that there is no authority for the church collective to engage in suppers, or any other purely social events (such as, marriages, receptions, guitar lessons, funerals, etc.). I lump most social events that others would have the church of our Lord to be involved in as the social gospel, or a gospel other than the spiritual one delivered by Jesus. People today are socially conscious. In other words, people think that everything should be done in a mass societal effort (Boles Home, Missionary Society, Herald of Truth, et.al.). People within, and outside the church sometimes confuse the difference between what an individual’s responsibilities are, and what a particular group’s responsibilities are. The church is an organization, whose founder is God, that is designed to do His work-save souls-not socialize. There is only one, so far as I know, social purpose that the church collective can engage in, and that is relief of destitute Christians (and Christians only. The individual Christian has obligations to fulfill that the church cannot and should not be involved in (i.e. helping neighbors, giving blood, etc.).
The church’s meeting house is not sacred, as seems to be the present denominational thought, but rather, is an expediency for the Lord’s people to gather in and bring in alien sinners into an atmosphere conducive to learning the Word of God, unto salvation. We must stop at this juncture and think, if a meeting house is erected (at great cost) for doing God’s work, then dare we use it for any purpose that Jesus, our master, has riot authorized? Shall we be guilty of the sin of presumption? I pray not!
Let’s examine Acts 2:46 and 20:11 to see if therein contains a request from the word to have common meals at the assembly or if we (the church) should gather, as a matter of faith, for the consumption of a common meal. Notice in Acts 2:46 that a set of circumstances existed, peculiar to that time. It was the day of pentecost, or shortly there after, and the church was just being established. The Christians were going from house to house (as opposed to from assembly to assembly) and bringing their meals with them (each brought his own meal). These are clearly individuals rejoicing because of their recent salvation. This is not authority for the church to do the same. Example: A brother moves to Milton, Vermont, buys a house, and settles in to work for the Lord. I find out and go to his house, bring some food and rejoice and we edify one another in the Faith. Is that the church meeting for a common meal, or is it individual brothers in Christ?
In Acts 20:11 we have another example of the churches meeting to hear a portion of the word of God, delivered by the apostle Paul. Note, the church did not gather for the purpose of eating a common meal, but rather to hear of things pertaining to Godliness. It so happened that Paul preached an extended amount of time and the people were hungry, and Paul had to go on a journey, so they nourished their bodies, as was necessary to sustain life. It does not follow that since the church collective can plan their worship such that a meal will have to be consumed. It does follow that individual Christian families can, and should gather in such manner and should prefer Christian fellowship and association.
Now we arrive at the “love-feasts.” The love-feasts are a very nebulus sort of aspect of early Christian life. It is possible that early Christians were, as individuals, exhorted to favor members of the Lord’s body over worldly persons (Gal. 6:10). Not very much is known about these love-feasts and it is only merationed twice in the New Testement, and one of those two times there is negative consequences of the feast (2 Peter 2:13). We certainly do not know enough to definitely say that Jesus wants us to engage in lovefeasts, as the church of Christ collectively. Here is what I know of them. Jude 12 and 2 Peter 2:13 both make only passing mention of the fact that such a feast existed, but nothing substantial can be derived as to whether is was a function of the church or individuals. Any historical accounts and commentaries that I have read on the subject would lend support to the notion that these feasts were taken on by individual Christians and not the assembly of Saints collective. The love-feast was an effort of “rich” Christians to share their wealth with less fortunate brothers and sisters. One way they did this was to share their food with less fortunate brethren. When we, today, help out less fortunate brethren, we are doing the same thing, we just do not call it a “love feast.” It is notable to observe that in 2 Peter 2:13, the love-feast had turned into a blemish on Christians. The word for love-feast, in this passage, has been translated differently in different versions. The New American Standard, for example, renders it as carouse, which is not a spiritual thing that Christians should be engaged in, individually or collectively (Gal. 5:19-21). The context of Peter 2:13 has to be considered because it shows that although something may seem good, it may not be expedient because of what the possible future implications are (read 2 Peter 2:12-16).
If a person has talked much about the subject of “eating in the meeting house,” I’m sure 1 Corinthians 11 was mentioned. Of course, the main thrust of verses 17-34 is abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Paul gives some precautionary advice on the subject and that is to not eat common meals at the assembly. I believe that a secondary application can be inferred. I think that we can infer that since Paul gave advice to eat at home, the mission of the church is not social, but rather, spiritual. If it were permissable to eat common meals at the assembly, Paul would have said to separate the Lord” Supper from your common meals, but, he did not! He said to eat your meals away from the assembly, at home (vs. 22 & 34).
Truth Magazine XX: 28, pp. 439-440
July 15, 1976