I recall once we started a church on the West Coast. After the service, we would gather at one of two homes for fellowship and a meal. I think mostly we overdid the meal, but it was always delicious. The two families who started the church, the guest preacher and his wife or family and a few families in the church would gather for these events.
When we moved to Bible School, the church where I was seconded as an ordinate in training would arrange that as a family we meet the congregation. Mostly this was done through Sunday Lunches after church. Again, a few families were present.
Once in the ministry, Jenny and I practiced this extensively … not just on a Sunday, but at other times during the week as well. The warden and his wife at the church where we serve at present do the same thing.
Whilst I am writing this note, our daughter and her family are traveling from Branson in Missouri to Naperville in Chicago. They will be stopping half way to have lunch (love feast) with friends they met in the Middle East. They themselves practice having church people around for meals regularly.
I want to use an extract from the Bible, although put negatively, to show where these meal gatherings came from.
Jude 1:3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 4 For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
The “certain men” of verse 4 that “slipped in among you” … were godless, practiced immorality and denied our Lord’s Sovereignty and Lordship (His Deity). It seems the people Jude wrote to were aware of these people but perhaps did not grasp the extent to which their evil ran. Skip a few verses:
Jude 1:12 These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
Jude is unreserved and unapologetic in the way he speaks of these wicked intruders.
Jude 1:12 These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves.
Jude speaks of them in the negative … but the issue I want to draw your attention to is “love feasts … eating”. It really was “feasts of charity” going back to Acts 2:
Ac 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Verse 44 speaks of “all the believers were together and had everything in common.” It was not just selling personal possessions to distribute finances to the needy and gathering for daily prayer … verse 46 continues … “They broke bread in their homes and ate together”. This is where the concept of “feasts of charity” came from. Those who were able made meals for those in need and invited them to celebrate their “commonness” together. Their commonness was Christ! The feast would start with prayer, progress to food followed by singing either Scripture or a personal composition and ended with prayer.
Both John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople (347-407), and Joseph Bingham an English scholar, divine and author of Antiquities of the Christian Church (1668 – 1723), wrote that at these feasts of charity there would be drinking, but insisted that the rules of temperance were observed.
We tend to focus on the “Love Feast” as a gathering for those who are our friends in the church or are newcomers to the church, where the true concept is “Feasts of Charity” where those who are able would create a meal for those who were poor or destitute. Let me say that I don’t think we are wrong with our interpretation, but we need to find ways of including the poor.
Now the poor in the Early Church of the First Century and the Centuries that followed were poor Christians because of their faith in Christ. In our times, the “poor Christian” might be the person who has fallen on hard times, might have a struggling marriage, could have experienced relational failure, be someone who has been bereaved recently, lost their employment, struggling with a sin issue, etc. Having such people over for a meal might help them to open up, share their hurts and at the same time enjoy good Christian fellowship and a healthy meal.
Included, the host could invite another Christian or Christian family to participate. Before separating, if not a round of prayer, at least two could pray for those present with special focus on the “poor Christian or poor Christian family”. This is where relationships are built and foundations for future interaction are set into place. I am extremely aware of our present COVID pandemic and its challenges. In time, these will pass and feasts of charity (love feasts) can resume.
Dear God, grant me a heart that loves people into the Kingdom and into a deeper walk with You. Amen.