I've been doing some reading about the love feast, or agape feast that the early church practiced. It seems the consensus is it was a full meal held on a regular basis. Those who had food would bring it, and everybody would eat. It seems the meal included breaking of bread to celebrate the Eucharist.
It is likely that the early church continued in this way naturally because this is the way Jesus and His disciples had lived. We think of the two records of Jesus feeding thousands in a miraculous way. But we also see the the disciples eating together in other passages as well.
Then of course there is the Last Supper, or Lord's Supper. "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”" Matt 26:26 (NIV). They were sharing a meal together.
Eating together was a regular part of early church life:
"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts," (Acts 2:46 NIV)Jude 12 may be the only reference to the love feast by that name: "These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves." (NIV)
1 Corinthians 11:20-34 is a popular passage for describing the Lord's Supper. The context also gives a gimps of some problems that occurred during these shared meals.
"So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. "Some were being greedy and eating and drinking more than their share. This was completely contrary to the point of these love feasts.
This 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 passage also shows us that the Eucharist, or Lord's supper was a part of a full meal.
Acts 20:7 - 11 is another passage to consider:
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left." (NIV)We don't know if preaching or teaching in a formal way was a regular part of these meals. Here is a situation where the church is gathered around the breaking of bread, and Paul uses the opportunity to speak. This may not have been the norm as it is the only record of someone falling asleep during such a time. :) I can imagine however that the early church would have frequently used the meal times as an opportunity to teach one another - even if it wasn't with long prepared speeches. Meals with friends and families are always great opportunities for great conversations.
The Didache (50-120 A.D) also mentions this common shared meal. There is a section about the Eucharist/Lord's Supper/Communion. Following the Eucharist are instructions about a thanksgiving prayer to give after the meal. ”But after you are filled, give thanks this way: ...."
It seems clear that the early church met by celebrating this love feast on a regular basis. The church today meets regularly, but with a different sort of main gathering.
Is there any reasons why we should not follow this example today?
Is there something better about the way we do things now? What sorts of things are we missing out on?
Some extra sources: