If you want to turn your small group into a functioning New Testament church, consider eating together. That’s one of the four components of a meeting that Luke summarizes in Acts 2:42.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
“Breaking bread” refers to eating together. This was likely the Lord’s Supper, celebrated initially as a full meal (Keener, Acts, p. 171). By reducing the Supper to a token meal consisting of a bit of cracker and juice, we’ve lost a lot of the NT blessing associated with it.
Eating together was long a part of Christian worship. Eating meals with people characterized Jesus’ ministry (cf. Luke 5:29; 7:34, 36; 9:16-17, etc.), and Christians continued that practice (Acts 2:46), which was significant for several reasons.
First, the Lord’s Supper was part of Christian teaching. It was gospel preaching for visual and tactile learners. The person eating the body and drinking the wine could know that Jesus came and died for him, cleansed him from all his sins. It taught him eschatology, reminding him that Jesus would come again soon (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). Moreover, the one loaf symbolized the unity of the body (1 Cor 10:17).
Second, the Lord’s Supper provided practical help for the poor. At that time, most Christians were either slaves or lived at subsistence levels of poverty. They were chronically malnourished. In the ancient world, breakfast and lunch might consist of a piece of bread or fruit. The evening meal—the deipnon—was often the only full meal of the day—if they could get it. By eating the Lord’s Supper together, rich Christians cared for their hungry brothers and sisters.
Third, the Lord’s Supper supported missions. Itinerant preachers, teachers, and missionaries traveled from city to city. Instead of staying in dangerous inns, Christians would show hospitality by taking the missionaries into their homes and feeding them. Then they would send them on their way with food and money. John wrote about this:
Dear friend, you are acting faithfully in whatever you do for the brothers and sisters, especially when they are strangers. They have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God, since they set out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from pagans (3 John 1:5-7).
Fourth, eating together is one of the most basic ways of forging strong relationships. When you share a meal with someone, you can talk to each other, minister to one another, and become friends. “Sharing meals was a concrete way to identify with fellow members of one’s spiritual extended family” (Keener, Acts, p. 172). If you want to get to know someone, break bread with them.
Fifth, eating together countered racism and classism. Two of the biggest social problems the early church had to face were overcoming the racial hatred between Jews and Gentiles and the social tensions between the rich and the poor. The Lord’s Supper was a radical rejection of those divisions and the embodiment of equality in Christ. For example, Paul confronted Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles because that compromised the gospel (Gal 2:14). Meanwhile, in a typical Roman household, slaves were considered property on a par with sacks of grain. They would never eat with the owners of the home, but had to scavenge food from the kitchen. But what do you think happened when the household believed the gospel? They ate together—as equals! “When such a house owner became Christian and the house ekklesia assembled for worship, eating and drinking the Eucharist together, at which there is ‘neither slave nor free’ (Gal 3:28), how did they reconstruct the relationship?” (Osiek, Families in the New Testament World, p. 30). The Lord’s Supper was a direct challenge to the practice and logic of Roman slavery. Over time they did reconstruct that relationship, and as Christianity spread, slavery was outlawed in the Roman Empire. The same testimony can be demonstrated today—by breaking bread together, Christians can show that we reject ethnic and social divisions.
In sum, if you want to turn your home group into a house church, then eat the Lord’s Supper together as a full meal. It will reinforce the gospel, forge closer relationships, and be of practical help to the poor.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.