The Disappearance of the Fellowship Meal

When we gather together for the Lord's Supper, it is a proclamation of the fellowship we have with one another. In 1 Corinthians 11, we see the fellowship meal and the Lord's Supper intimately linked. If I were to just read "Don't you have homes to eat and drink in?" (1 Corinthians 11:22a) or "If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home" (1 Corinthians 11:34a), we might conclude that the church is not supposed to share a meal together. Those verses if read in isolation could be seen as a proclamation supporting the modern church practice of not frequently eating together as a church, but when read in the context of the whole passage, Paul was giving instruction on how to participate in the fellowship meal. This meal, at least for the early church, was the context in which the Lord's Supper was remembered.

We see this fellowship meal throughout the New Testament. In Acts 2:46-47, we see that the early church shared meals together. This practice was still in practice 20 years later.  We can see it being addressed in 1 Corinthians 11. Jude also mentions the love feast in his letter which was written 30 years after the beginning of the church. The practice of sharing a meal together was practiced throughout the New Testament church; it is something that we would benefit from today if we practiced it more regularly. So let us read together Paul's instructions to the Corinthian church in regards to how they should share their meal together.

In an examination of 1 Corinthians, we see that Corinthian church had a major problem with the divisions within the body. Throughout the book, these issues of division were revealed. From the very first chapter where in verse 12 Paul wrote, “One of you says, “I follow Paul'; another 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.' All sorts of divisions manifested themselves in the Corinthian church.

In chapter 11, the divisions seemed to manifest themselves among economic lines and were exposed during the fellowship meal.
“For as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothings?”

Verse 21 shows that some people were getting drunk while others remained hungry. Verse 22 mentions that those who were hungry were those “who have nothing”.

In order to properly understand chapter 11 and the struggle with the abuse of the Lord's Supper, we have to picture the fellowship meal as it was at that time of the early church because it is an almost forgotten practice in our time. For the early church, the fellowship meal was the intimate time of family gathering in which the sacrifice of Jesus was remembered and the unity of the church was proclaimed. Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus implemented the Lord's Supper during a meal with his disciples. This shared meal continued to be practiced throughout the early church. In I Corinthians 5:11, where Paul commanded the church not to eat with the immoral brother, Paul was telling them to not allow that guy into the fellowship meal. The fellowship meal was supposed to be the sacred time in which the eternal fellowship of believers actually peeked through the veil of eternity and manifested itself in our physical reality. The fellowship meal was the church gathering. It should not have been violated by a self-proclaimed believer who refused to stop living in an intentional and flagrant sin.

We find ourselves on the other side of history. At some point from the time of the early church to now, the important fellowship meal and its proclamation have been discarded and the meal transformed into a token piece of unleavened bread and a sip of wine or grape juice. This happened to the detriment of the church because a result of the meal being thrown out was the eventual watering down of fellowship and a loss of its true meaning. No longer was the church a family that shared a meal together. They were just a collection of individuals who gathered together to worship and be educated. With the disappearance of the meal we see the eventual disappearance of fellowship.