The Lord’s Supper was not a Common Meal

July 21, 2009

As eating becomes a more and more important part of American culture, churches are trying to make eating a more important part of the church culture. For years, fellowship meals and fellowship halls have been deemed an integral part of really being a church-despite the utter lack of scriptural authority for the church to accomplish these tasks. In recent years, this desire to make eating part of the church’s work has stepped up a notch. No longer do we simply hear about fellowship, we hear this is what the Lord’s Supper was really about. In fact, even recently an anonymous commenter on this blog claimed the way we at the Franklin church participate in the Lord’s Supper “doesn’t even come close to replicating the NT common meal.”

Frankly, I’m at a loss. I’ve searched my Bible repeatedly and yet to find any place that shows the Lord’s Supper was properly taken as a common meal. However, I’ve heard the three arguments posited for it and I will show what I believe the Bible actually says here.

Argument #1: When Jesus established the Lord’s Supper with the apostles, it was part of a larger common meal.

No doubt, Jesus established the Lord’s Supper during His observance of the Passover with the 12 (cf. Matthew 26:17-29). However, we need to note two very important things.

1) The Passover is hardly a common meal. It was an Old Testament memorial. What a perfect time to establish the New Testament memorial.

2) As the disciples ate the Passover, they were not participating in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper was not the Passover lamb with all of its trimmings. The Lord’s Supper was the bread Jesus broke among them and told them to eat in memory of Him. It was the fruit of the vine He divided among them and told to drink in memory of Him.

Jesus did not tell the disciples to eat the Passover in memory of Him and then take the Lord’s Supper in the midst of it also in memory of Him. He used this period of Old Testament memorial to establish a new memorial. If we want to take that memorial, we will eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine in memory of Him as He charged the apostles.

Argument #2: In I Corinthians 11:17-34, the Corinthians were clearly doing more than just eating some bread and drinking some fruit of the vine. They were having meals in which people could get full, in fact stuffed.

This argument most amazes me. Obviously the Corinthians were going beyond taking the Lord’s Supper. But Paul is rebuking them here. In fact, as you read the context, his very rebuke is that they weren’t eating the Lord’s Supper, they were eating their own supper. They had turned the Lord’s Supper into a common meal and Paul rebukes them.

I’ve heard all kinds of arguments from this text. I’ve heard folks say Paul’s point was not about the eating of the meal but about their attitudes and selfishness. No doubt, he rebuked their attitude and selfishness. However, I just can’t get past a few of his statements.

“What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (I Corinthians 11:22). Yes, I see that he rebuked them for humiliating those who had nothing. However, his direction was not simply to share better at this supposed common meal. His direction was for them to eat their meals at home. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial, not a meal.

“If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home–so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (I Corinthians 11:34). I’ve heard the attempts to get around this verse. To me they ring empty. They smack of those who want to deny the plain statement of scripture. This verse doesn’t say, “If you’re really, really hungry, take the edge off at home,” as those who turn the Lord’s Supper into a common meal claim. It simply says, “If you are hungry, eat at home.” In other words, if you want a meal that is about your hunger, eat at home. The Lord’s Supper is about remembering the Lord. It is not about having a common meal.

To turn the Lord’s Supper into a common meal is not following an approved example in the New Testament. Instead, it is following an explicitly condemned example.

Argument #3: The love feasts were clearly common meals and we have historical records that prove those feasts were how the early church partook of the Lord’s Supper.

I have dealt with this question in more depth elsewhere on this site. However, I will say simply this. Please, stay within scripture and prove what the love feasts of Jude 12 is. The mere fact that we have to go to historical records of the second and third centuries to turn these love feasts into common meals held by the church should say something to us. If these feasts were so obviously common meals combined with the Lord’s Supper, we would think we might find some more scriptures that show that.

Please, don’t just toss out “love feast” without giving some biblical proof about what that is. 

To see the reasons why this argument falls short of turning the Lord’s Supper into a common meal. See the sermon presented on February 15, 2004: What Are Love Feasts?

As always, we are just trying to see what was authorized in the New Testament. We need more than just a declaration by fiat that the Lord’s Supper was a common meal or part of a common meal in the New Testament. We need some kind of actual proof from Scripture that was the case.

If I’ve missed something here, please feel free to let us know.

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