My previous essay, The Scripture-Driven Church, attempted to define what a church is by taking a close look at Acts 2:41-42. “A local church is a group of baptized believers whom God has assembled for Bible study and fellowship, for the Lord’s Supper and prayer.” This definition is derived from Luke’s wonderful description of the church on the Day of Pentecost: “So then, when they had eagerly welcomed his word, they were baptized, and on that day about 3,000 souls were added. And they were continually devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
Please note the grammar of verse 42: “And they were devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” Here the expression “the breaking of the bread” is very closely linked to “the fellowship,” so much so that Luke describes the act of eating together as an essential element of a truly New Testament gathering.
This may well strike us as odd in a day when family mealtimes have become rushed and sporadic. Our fast-paced lives have transformed the traditional mealtime from a time for family, food, and spiritually-minded fellowship into a come-and-go buffet table, often accompanied by one’s favorite TV program.
How strange this would have seemed to a first-century Jewish family! Let us recall that the manner in which the earliest Christians observed mealtime was part of their Jewish cultural tradition. The Jewish dinner table, far from being just a place to eat, was an opportunity for family fellowship, praise, worship, and instruction in the Word of God. With the family reclining at table, the father led in prayer, in the singing of songs, and in the instruction of the Torah. In other words, mealtime was a time of “doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers”!
So we see that in the early church the Lord’s Supper was simply a full meal that included the elements of the bread and the cup. In an article on this very point, Steve Atkerson of the New Testament Restoration Foundation says:
This fellowship in feasting theme is continued on in the book of Acts, where we learn that the early church devoted themselves to “fellowship in the breaking of bread” (2:42, literal translation). In your English version, notice that in Ac 2:42 there is an “and” between “teaching” and “fellowship,” and between “bread” and “prayer,” but not between “fellowship” and “bread.” In the Greek, the words “fellowship” and “breaking of bread” are linked together as simultaneous activities. They had fellowship with one another as they broke bread together. Luke further informs us that this eating was done with “glad and sincere hearts” (2:26). Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? Many commentaries associate the phrase, “breaking of bread” throughout the books of Acts with the Lord’s Supper. This is because Luke, who wrote Acts, recorded in his gospel that Jesus took bread and “broke it” at the last supper (22:19). If this conclusion is accurate, then early church enjoyed the Lord’s Supper as a time of fellowship and gladness, just like one would enjoy at a wedding party.
Note that the purpose of eating together was not just for meeting physical needs. It was a spiritual exercise! Realizing that each Lord’s Day was “Resurrection Sunday” – a day to celebrate Christ’s risen life – and anticipating that each Lord’s Day could also be the day of Christ’s return, the early believers feasted at Christ’s table as in His presence. This fellowship meeting, at the very heart of which was a social meal centered on Christ, represented the communion that existed between all the members of the brotherhood, because all had a personal fellowship with their Lord.
For the earliest followers of Jesus, the Lord’s Supper created an atmosphere of intimate communion between members of Christ’s Body, regardless of their social status, gender, or ethnic group. According to Acts 2:42 and 20:7, this meal was, in fact, the focal point for the gathering of the New Testament church. It was a time of great celebration and joy. And it was at the heart of Christian fellowship – not at the periphery.
Today we have lost the regularity – not to mention the intimacy, the pleasure, the enjoyment – of the Lord’s Supper. The New Testament pattern of the breaking of the bread has become utterly foreign to us.
I wonder: Is this partly due to the fact that we have lost the joy and significance of eating together as families in our own homes?
February 17, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.