Monday, November 27, 2006

Lord's Supper and Eating at Church

I posted yesterday on the Lord's Supper (by Ken Wimer). I also had a few thoughts about the following:

I Corinthians 11:22 - "What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God..."

I grew up with connections to some of our Baptists who didn't think you ought to eat at and/or in the church house. I suppose we attended enough singings with "dinners on the ground" that the "at" church part never bothered me. But I struggled from time to time with the "in" church -- including eating in the church building or building a separate kitchen/fellowship hall in which to eat. This may seem silly to some of you more enlightened folks, but, if so, then leave us be. Perhaps what I write will help some who still struggle with the issue.

Now I think this "not eating at church" was probably influenced by a sincere desire to literally follow Paul's instructions, while making at least two mistakes -- improper emphasis on the church building, and not remembering that the early churches met in houses (homes).

In introducing his teaching on the Lord's Supper, Paul wrote, "Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not."

We didn't (and don't) believe that the church is the building. It is nevertheless possible to place too much emphasis on the use of the church building. "Because the building was the church's place of worship, proper respect should be placed on what kinds of things are done in it." But, a building in the New Testament is just a building. The Lord removed the Old Testament emphasis of "church" and worship being associated with a place, and associated it only with a people -- "the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father...But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth..." Have we erred in re-associating worship and place? In
Were Persecution, Poverty, and Progression the Real Reasons for First Century House Churches?, Steve Atkerson writes, "...the original church held its meetings primarily in private homes..." and "...continued this practice for hundreds of years." Why the change? Was it a good one? As more than one house church proponent has noted, we have exchanged the face-to-face fellowship of the intimate home setting to the more formal fellowship with the back of our neighbour's head!

Whether or not one has any interest in house churches in our age, it should be understood that we must interpret "houses" in I Corinthians 11:22 in light of New Testament practice rather than the current model of church buildings. Note, for examples: Romans 16:5 - Likewise greet the church that is in their house. I Cor. 16:19 - The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. Colossians 4:15 - Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. Philemon 1:2 - And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: (see also Acts 8:3, 16:40, 20:20; James 2:3). So when we hear Paul say, "have ye not houses to eat and to drink in" we certainly should NOT think "eat at home and don't bring food to the church house". The emphasis is not on "houses", but on "ye". Each "taking his own supper" indicates a selfishness, lack of fellowship and unwillingness to share. If you don't eat the "fellowship meal"; if all you are thinking about is your own eating, then stay at your own home. Here -- in one place, all eating together, some got too much and some got too little. No wonder Paul spoke to their shame and could not praise them in what they were doing. When they came together to eat the Lord's Supper, they DID NOT come together to eat the Lord's Supper. Each gratified his or her selfish desire.

Much more could be said, but perhaps this will suffice. I would conclude that Paul addresses what was wrong with their eating, not that eating was wrong. I Cor. 11:22 does not forbid the assembled church eating together.

[Note: A goodly number of Bible students believe that a common meal -- love feast or feast of charity -- was held by the early churches in connection with the communion/Lord's Supper. Cf. Acts 2:46 20:7, 11; II Peter 2:13; Jude 12]

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