You wouldn’t think such a simple subject could be so complex and controversial. But leave it to us to make things complicated. What’s the topic? Communion. The Lord’s Supper. The Love Feast / Agape Meal.
Depending on where you’ve been to church and what denominations or branches of Christianity you’ve been a part of, you’ve likely had very different experiences. This is what I’ve seen based on different services I’ve attended:
- For Catholics, this is the central aspect of the service. It is very formal. It is very exclusive: Catholi-church member only. It is very limited to a tiny cracker and a 1/10 of a shot of grape juice or wine. Everyone gets up, goes in a line, and does their thing, before coming back to their pew.
- For Methodists, this is also formal and a bit more inclusive. You don’t have to be a “member of the church” but you are supposed to be a believer. But instead of a morsel, you grab a chunk off a loaf of bread and you dip your chunk of bread into a large goblet to soak it with juice or wine. Everyone is up in line, does their thing, and comes back to the pew.
- For Baptists, still formal but a lot more inclusive. You certainly don’t stand up and get in a line though. Instead, the deacons come up and down the rows serving that infinitesimally small, pill-like thing that they call bread and that 1/10 shot of grape juice. Never wine! Can’t be getting drunk off those 1/10 shots in Baptist country! This communion is usually done once a month or once a quarter, certainly not every service like the Catholics. Another big difference is that it is up to the individual or the family to decide if someone is able to take it, so you’ll often see parents giving it to their little kids, sometimes, I’m convinced just to hold them off until they can go to lunch after service. *wink*
- For non-denominational groups, it just depends on where you’re at and what flavor of church it is. Basically, it could be any variation of any of those options above: every service multiple times a week or once a quarter or once a year. It could be wine or juice, goblet or 1/10 shot size. It could be dipping or separate. It could be formal or informal. It could be only people who are members in that church or it could be open to everyone and anyone. It could be stand in line or it could be served to you. The non-denominational churches have no rules, right?
Now, I’m just talking about the act of communion here. But there’s a completely separate discussion around what happens during that service, whether it actually becomes Christ’s blood and body or not. That’s a weird discussion to get into. It was a massive subject of the Reformation a few hundred years ago. My stance: I’m not a cannibal; I do understand symbolism.
There’s also a completely separate discussion around “love feasts” or “agape meals” or whatever people call those. Sometimes this is the good ol’ Baptist potluck every 3rd Sunday of the month. Sometimes this is the lunch at the end of special services, like a baby dedication or something, that the Nazarenes or Methodists might do. Sometimes this is interpreted as widely as running the soup kitchen every Friday, or getting together in home groups to have a monthly meal, or any variation of the sort. The point of these meals, again, is to honor Christ. But instead of just bread and wine, it might include a hodge-podge of all kinds of food. I know some Messianic Jews who still celebrate Passover and try to prepare the meal just like Jesus and his disciples would have done back in the day. I think there’s something cool to that, and I appreciate the attempt to get ourselves rooted back in the original events / feasts / celebrations because it’s so easy to lose that context and understanding in 21st century America. That said, the whole meal should still be designed to honor the death and resurrection of Jesus as Messiah, so we need to make sure that’s the focal point.
At the end of the day, Paul is saying whatever you do, however you do it, just make sure you’re honoring each other and honoring Christ. That’s the point. Don’t lose it.