Sunday, June 4, 2023

Why Do Christians Gather Together?

 What I hope to communicate today is both simple and profound, drawing from the very heart of our faith: the Church gathering exists primarily for fellowship and the sharing of meals. This may sound surprising to some of you, but let's delve into the Scriptures together and discern the truth from the Word of God.

We begin in the early days of the Church, as described in the book of Acts. Acts 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Here we see the first Christians, their hearts ablaze with the newness of their faith, gathering not only to pray and learn but also to break bread — to share meals together. They were devoted to sharing meals together and to fellowshipping together. If we examine the typical modern church gathering, we are devoted to the apostles teaching and then we go home. We thus leave off three fourths of the aims that the early church was devoted to pursuing. We sell ourselves short on fellowship, we sell ourselves short on eating together, we sell ourselves short on praying together and for one another. Because in our modern arrangement we come, we sing, we listen, and we go. There's usually no eating together. There's usually no praying together. There's usually no fellowship together. There is simply the devotion to the Apostle's teaching. This is not good. We often think of the sermon as the main point, the main motive for gathering. We are gathered together to hear a sermon. But eating together was, at the beginning, one of the most primary reasons for gathering together in the first place.

This act of eating together was no casual, peripheral part of their gatherings. It was central to their experience of being a community, a body of believers, the Church. As they ate, they remembered Christ, his sacrifice, and his resurrection. The act of sharing food was symbolic of their shared faith, their shared hope, and their shared love.

Consider, too, the apostle Paul's rebuke of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:20: "When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat." Paul chastised the Corinthians for missing the point of their gatherings. They were not coming together in true fellowship and unity; they were not eating the Lord's supper as a genuine expression of their common faith. They were gathering together to eat together. That was the main reason for gathering. Paul corrects them because the wealthy were not waiting for the poor to get off work and come eat, but they were eating everything available so that when the poor would arrive, there would be nothing left. This was loveless and wrong. But again, why were they meeting? They were meeting to eat and fellowship together.

These examples in Scripture are not isolated instances; they indicate a broader biblical and historical pattern. In Acts 20:7, we read, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…" The breaking of bread is at the center of their gathering, and this passage just comes right out and says why they were gathered together, "when we were gathered together to break bread." The breaking of bread is the act that brings them together as a church, as the body of Christ.

Now, you may ask, "If this was the practice of the early church, why do we not see it emphasized today?" For that, we turn to early church history. Documents from the Council of Laodicea, held in the middle of the 4th century, reveal a significant shift. Canon 28 of this council prohibited the practice of hosting "Agape" feasts, communal meals of fellowship, in church buildings. The statement reads, "It is not permitted to hold love feasts, as they are called, in the Lord's Houses, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God." The reasons for this were complex and involved the misuse of these meals by some factions within the Church. However, it is crucial to note that it was not the principle of shared meals and fellowship that the Council disputed but their practice within the church building.

But should the Church not return to the roots of its earliest traditions? Why does Scripture repeatedly allude to a body which gathered together for the purpose of eating and fellowshipping primarily? Why do we usually not do any of that? We think it's time to fix that aspect of the church gathering, especially as hostility to the body is increasing.

Remember, that our Savior himself used a shared meal to illustrate the new covenant he was establishing. The Last Supper was not a solemn, standalone religious ceremony. It was part of a meal. Jesus literally gathered his disciples so that they could eat together, a Passover feast shared among friends. In this context, Jesus broke the bread and shared the wine, inviting his disciples to remember him in the act of shared eating and drinking.

When we gather as a Church, it should be more than a ritual; it should be a joyful coming together of believers, sharing in the bounty of God’s blessings, breaking bread and building relationships. It should be more like a family reunion than a formal Ted Talk. The Church, in essence, is a fellowship, a community formed around the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus established this fellowship to exist over a table of shared food.

To gather around the table is to affirm that we belong to each other because we belong to Christ. When we eat together, we bear witness to the grace of our Lord, who welcomes all to His table. And so, in the spirit of our Lord's invitation, let us reclaim the tradition of the early Church, the tradition of fellowship, of shared meals, and shared lives.

May we always remember that our gatherings as a Church are not only for prayer, singing, or hearing the Word of God, as vital as these are. They are also for eating together, for fellowship, for sharing our lives in the love of Christ, remembering His sacrifice and celebrating His resurrection. For it is in sharing our bread and our lives that we truly become the body of Christ. We're not trying to downplay the importance of learning the Scriptures or leaning the Apostle's teaching, but I'm trying to show that there are some very important aspects that are being overlooked.

So at New Covenant Church, you will find a group of believers who gather together and attempt to be devoted to all four aspects of the gathering which the early church practiced. Our gathering begins with food and fellowship and prayer for one another, then the Lord's supper, and then singing, and learning from the Scriptures. To these things, we are devoted. If you're looking for a church and want to try something that is a little different, but in a good way, we encourage you to come and experience New Covenant Church.

No comments:

Post a Comment