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Love Feasts – Fellowship So Sweet

These are they who are hidden rocks in your love-feasts when they feast with you Jude 1:12

While there is just a little information on what this term “love-feast” means there is enough to get a sense of what it was, and know that its practice was very early on because of its mention in the book of Jude which scholars estimate was written in the late first century. So it may be hard for some who are used to sitting through the Sunday morning service today, who definitely felt some spiritual connection but nevertheless are used to going home afterwards for good to imagine that the original Christians also had a love feast later that day. But that is what happened in the original Christian communities. Original Christians met on Sunday mornings, prayed, listened to various readings, and had communion. They reaffirmed their commitment to the walk in Christ. And later that day they also met again to eat what was called a love feast. It wasn’t a feast because the meal was so sumptious. It was a feast of love, agape love. It was a wonderful time of eating, sharing, and loving one another with the love of God.

The love feast had to have had something that made it attractive. Critics to Christianity charged Christians with having licentious orgies. But they also charged Christians with being cannibals because of the Eucharist so we know that their charges could be outlandishly far from the truth. Nevertheless it rose to the attention of the Emperor Trajan, who was hearing complaints about Christians and was issuing commands to stop them. The Roman govenor Pliny explained in a letter to Trajan what he knew of their service:

They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal. From this custom, however, they desisted after the publication of my edict…i

Pliny wrote about 112 AD. The love feast practice continued. Look at what Tertullian wrote about a century later:

For you abuse also our humble feasts, on the ground that they are extravagant as well as infamously wicked…Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy; not as it is with you, do parasites aspire to the glory of satisfying their licentious propensities, selling themselves for a belly-feast to all disgraceful treatment, — but as it is with God himself, a peculiar respect is shown to the lowly. If the object of our feast be good, in the light of that consider its further regulations. As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste. They say it is enough, as those who remember that even during the night they have to worship God; they talk as those who know that the Lord is one of their auditors. After manual ablution, and the bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God, either one from the holy Scriptures or one of his own composing, — a proof of the measure of our drinking. As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed. We go from it, not like troops of mischief-doers, nor bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet. ii

Just like any other good thing love-feasts may have started out as unsupervised and later required oversight as occasionaly some may have abused the spirit of the meeting. The message in Jude 12 above is that there were blemishes. Ignatius wrote about 105 AD that love-feasts required an overseer. It was very important that the tone of the gathering remained godly. And it appears to have done so. Look at what Mark Minucius Felix wrote about 205 AD:

We practise sharing in banquets, which are not only modest, but also sober: for we do not indulge in entertainments nor prolong our feasts with wine; but we temper our joyousness with gravity, with chaste discourse, and with body even more chaste…iii

It is important to recognize that the quotes above are in response to criticisms. Romans, who knew nothing about Christianity, were charging Christians with cannibalism, having licentious orgies, and even incest. The responses above were composed to address those issues. The tone of the quotes emphasizes how sober and chaste these Christian banquets were. From the underlying facts we see that the love feast was a wonderful part of the original Christian life. in contrast to the early-morning services where believers for more passive and the service more structured, in the love feasts they actively ate and shared together of the great things of the faith. While the feast usually was overseen, opened and closed by prayer, the gathering was marked by the free interaction of the believers. Services are for the most part more passive and worship oriented events, banquets were more festive activities. Again it wasn’t that the meal was so elaborate that it was called a feast, what was feasted on was the love of God shared by the believers. It was a weekly event just like Sunday morning services.

Original Christianity had a far greater sense of community and fellowshipped to a greater degree than most of the churches today. That involvement was from the first:

And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart,
praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved.Acts 2:46-47

This involvement continued for centuries. Breaking bread together, feasting on the love of God between believers is the one of the models of Original Christianity for us to follow.

i. Pliny’s Letter to Trajan, available at http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/main/plinyy/01_pliny_letter_to_trajan.shtml
ii. Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 3, THE WRITINGS OF TERTULLIAN PART FIRST – APOLOGETIC, First Apology, Chap. XXXIX
iii. Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 4,The Octavius of Minucius Felix, Chap. XXXI. – Argument: The Charge of Our Entertainments Being Polluted with Incest, Is Entirely Opposed to All Probability, While it Is Plain That Gentiles Are Actually Guilty of Incest. The Banquets of Christians Are Not Only Modest, but Temperate. In Fact, Incestuous Lust Is so Unheard of, That with Many Even the Modest Association of the Sexes Gives Rise to a Blush.

(c) 2009 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

March 19th, 2009 Posted by | Original Christianity | no comments

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