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The Lord's Supper

by D.L. Miller | Nov. 17, 1892 | The Christian-Evangelist

"And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him" (Luke 22:14). "And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and said, take eat; this is my body" (Mark 14:22). None of the controversies which arose in the first centuries of Christianity were more bitter than that known as the Paschal dispute. It grew out of the question as to the proper time for observing the Lord's Supper and resulted finally in dividing the eastern and western Christians, and gave the world the Roman and Greek churches. But through all the disputes which arose and the differences that obtained in this great controversy, the validity of a full meal known as the Lord's Supper, or Agapae, in connection with which the cup and loaf of the communion were given to the disciples, was never questioned. All parties agreed that Christ ate a full meal with his disciples the evening preceding his betrayal and death and that "as they were eating Jesus took bread and blessed, and brake it, and gave it to his disciples and said, take, eat; this is my body." All further agree that the Apostles following the example of the Master introduced the Lord's Supper and Communion into the Apostolic Church. Both divisions of the church adhered to the example of Christ and the practice of the Apostles until it was set aside by the Romans. The more conservative eastern churches continued to observe the Love Feasts for many centuries and some of them still adhere to the Apostolic practice.


As intimated in the foregoing paragraph the New Testament clearly sets forth that Christ, the evening before his apprehension, mock trial and death, ate a meal with his disciples. Each of the evangelists gives an account of this meal, John and Luke calling it a supper. It was the principal meal of the day, and, as above indicated, was eaten in the evening. Just at the close of the meal Jesus instituted the communion, or, as it is sometimes called, the Eucharist. A difference of opinion obtained as to the exact time when the Supper was eaten, but this in no way changes the facts given above. The fact that there are persons who refuse to follow the example of Christ, and the practice of the apostolic church, and who, by way of derision, charge us with observing the Jewish passover, when, in accordance with divine example and inspired practice we hold our love-feasts, does not change God's plan, and, hence, should give us no concern.


The meal was observed by the apostolic church much the same as our people observe it today. All the brethren able to do so, brought together a portion of the meal. In the evening they ate together, each one helping himself from a common table. After eating an economical meal, the bread and wine, the emblems of the body and blood of Christ, were administered, and either before or after communion they saluted each other with the holy kiss of peace. The Supper was designated as a feast of charity, or love-feast, and was continued for several centuries, until it was swept aside by the corruption that flooded the church as a result of the increase of wealth, pride and power, which also set aside many of the simple teachings and examples of the Savior of the world.


If Christ ate a full meal with his disciples the evening before his crucifixion, and instituted the Communion in connection with it, and everybody admits that he did, and if his disciples established the practice of eating a supper in connection with the Eucharist in the churches which they organized, and if the apostolic practice of eating a supper on communion occasions was kept up during the first, second and third centuries, then we ask, Who has a right to set aside this part of God's plan? By whose authority was the primitive practice prohibited and set aside? History says it was finally prohibited by the councils of the Roman church. We prefer to follow the example of Christ and the apostolic practice rather than the mandates of human councils.


The first proposition in the last paragraph is, as was said, admitted by everyone acquainted with the New Testament; the second can be clearly shown by the epistolary writings of the inspired apostles, and the third is universally admitted by church historians. We will examine first the proof given by inspired writers, and then give the historical argument.




Paul refers very clearly to the practice of the early church, 1 Cor. 11:20-22. Here he calls the meal the Lord's Supper. Note that the Communion is never called the Lord's Supper in the New Testament. Neither is the Lord's Supper called the Communion. The Greek words from which these terms are translated are different. Some have interpreted Paul's language here as prohibiting the Supper, but such interpretation does violence to the text. Our best commentators say that it was the abuse of the meal, and not its use, that Paul condemned. Henry, in his exposition on this text, says, "Heathens used to drink plentifully at their feasts upon sacrifices. Many of the wealthier Corinthians seem to have taken the same liberty at their love-feasts. They would not stay for one another; the rich despised the poor, and ate and drank up the provisions themselves bought." It was this abuse that Paul condemned. Benson says, "Christ having instituted his Supper, after he had eaten the passover, the disciples very early made the rule to feast together before they partook of the Communion. The feasts were called Agapae, or 'love-feasts.'" With the views expressed here agree Lange, Schaff, Stanley and others.


Peter and Jude both refer in unmistakable language to the fact that the disciples held love-feasts in the early church. Speaking of wicked persons who found their way into the church, they used the following language: "Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceiving while they feast with you," 2 Peter 2:13. "These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear." Jude 1:12. Clarke, in his commentary on Jude, says: "The feasts of charity, or love-feasts, of which the apostles speak, were in use in the primitive church till the middle of the fourth century, when by the council of Laodicea, they were prohibited to be held in the churches; and having been abused, fell into disuse." Benson, on Peter's language, says: "These previous suppers, it appears from Jude, verse 12, were called agapae, love-feasts: because the rich, by feasting their poor brethren, expressed their love to them." These references are sufficient, and show conclusively that the apostles established the practice of eating a meal, which they called the Lord's Supper, or feast of love, in connection with the communion.




The universal agreement of church historians in regard to the practice of the apostolic church, constitutes a strong argument in favor of the practice of the Brethren in keeping the Lord's Supper. Dr. Schaff, one of America's most profound scholars, in his Church History, Vol. I., page 473, A.D. 1-100, says: "In the apostolic period the Eucharist was celebrated daily in connection with a simple meal of brotherly love (agapae), in which the Christians, in communion with their common Redeemer, forgot all distinctions of rank, wealth and culture, and felt themselves to be members of one family of God."


Again, in Vol. II., page 239, A.D. 100-311: "At first the communion was joined with a LOVE-FEAST, and was then celebrated in the evening, in memory of the last supper of Jesus with his disciples."


Speaking of the observances of the church from A.D. 311 to 590, Vol. III., page 402, the same author says; "Next followed Maundy Thursday in commemoration of the institution of the Holy Supper, which on this day was observed in the evening and was usually connected with a love-feast, and also with feet-washing." Waddington, in his History of the Church, page 27, says: "The celebration of the sacrament of the Eucharist was originally accompanied by meetings which partook somewhat of a hospitable, or at least, of a character, and were called agapae, or feasts of love. Every Christian, according to his circumstances, brought to the assembly portions of bread, wine, and other things, as gifts, as it were, or oblations to the Lord."


Jenkyn, in his exposition of Jude, verse 12, says: "The institution of these love-feasts was founded on the custom of the church, which immediately before the celebration of the Lord's Supper, used to have a feast, to testify, continue, and increase brotherly love among themselves; as also to the poor, who hereby were relieved."


From Mosheim, in his Commentaries, Vol. I., page 197, we quote as follows: "The expression, 'to break bread,' when it occurs in the Acts of the Apostles, is for the most part to be understood as signifying the celebration of the Lord's Supper, in which bread was broken and distributed. We are not, however, to consider it as exclusively referring to this ordinance of our Savior, but as also implying that feast of love, of which it was the customary practice of the Christians even from the very first, always at the same time to partake.”


Brown's "Bible Dictionary," under agapae, says: "This is a Greek word, and signifies properly 'friendship.' The feasts of charity, which were in use in the primitive church, were called by this name. They were celebrated in memory of the last supper which Jesus Christ made with his apostles, when he instituted the Eucharist. These festivals were kept in the church, toward the evening, after the common prayers were over, and the word of salvation had been heard. When this was done, the faithful ate together, with great simplicity and union, what every man had brought them; so that the rich and the poor were in no wise distinguished. After an economical and moderate supper, they partook of the Lord's body and blood, and gave each other the kiss of peace."


Coleman, in his "Ancient Christianity Exemplified," uses these words: "After the example of the Jewish passover, and of the original institution, the Lord's Supper was at first united with a social meal. Both constituted a whole, representing a communion of the faithful with their Lord, and their brotherly communion with one another."


Cave's "Primitive Christianity" has these words on the Lord's Supper: "Out of the oblations brought together they took provisions 'to furnish the common feast, which in those days they constantly had at the celebration of the sacraments, where the rich and poor feasted together at the same table.' These were called agapae, or 'love-feasts' (mentioned by Jude, and plainly enough intimated by Paul), because thereat they testified and confirmed their mutual love and kindness — a thing never more proper than at the celebration of the Lord's Supper."


Dean Stanley in "Christian Institutions," page 39, speaking of the Eucharist and the repast during the first two centuries, says: "The two remained for a time together, but distinct, the meal immediately preceding or succeeding the sacrament. Then the ministers alone, instead of the congregation, took charge of distributing the elements. Then, by the second century the daily ministration ceased, and was confined to Sundays and festivals. Then the meal came to be known by the distinct name of agapae. Even the apostolic description of 'the Lord's Supper,' was regarded as belonging to a meal altogether distinct from the sacrament. Finally the meal itself fell under suspicion. Augustine and Ambrose condemned the thing itself, as the apostle had condemned its excesses, and in the fifth century that which had been the original form of the Eucharist was forbidden as profane by the councils of Carthage and Laodicea. It was parallel with the gradual extinction of the bath in baptism."


Neander, who is called the father of Church History, says, in his History of the Christian Religion, Vol. I., page 325: "We now speak first of those feasts of brotherly love, as they were afterwards; when separated from the Supper of the Lord, they went under the name of agapae. At these, all distinctions of earthly condition and rank were to disappear in Christ; all were to be one in the Lord, — rich and poor, high and low, master and servant — were to eat at a common table.”


Lange, in his valuable Commentary on 1 Cor. 11:20, page 234, says: "By this the apostle designates neither the agapae (Jude 12), the so-called church feasts (as Romanists interpret, who would thus elude the argument furnished against their sacrificial theory of the Eucharist); nor yet the Holy Supper (verse 23), by itself; but the combination of the two as it was found in Christian churches, according to the apostolic custom, and in accordance with the first institution of the Supper, which, as we know, followed upon a regular meal. The Supper spoken of in the text was a festival, to which each one contributed a portion. But in Corinth such a meal as this, where all appeared as one family, living on common property, could not take place; since, by reason of the cooling of their love, each one kept and enjoyed, for himself the portion which he had brought."


Other historical evidences might be adduced, but these are enough to show that the practice of the early church was to hold love-feasts in connection with their Communions. With the foregoing facts before us, with the example of our blessed Master, with the practice of the inspired apostles, and with the usage of the early Christian church, all on one side of our practice, we do not feel much concerned about the criticisms that may be offered against it.


[Continued in November 24, 1892 issue]




In the introduction of Christianity the poor heard the word gladly and accepted the teachings of Christ willingly. Not many rich in this world's goods, or noble, as the world counts nobility, united with the church. Simplicity and humility were the leading characteristics of the new sect. Everywhere it was spoken against; it was poor in revenue but rich in love. The feast of love was then kept with singleness of heart. But as the church increased in numbers, it gained likewise in wealth. The rich came into the fold, and class distinction, born of wealth and pride, was felt. Then came the first innovations. Even in Paul's time the eating of the Supper had fallen into such disorder in the rich and opulent city of Corinth that he wrote to the church at that place, rebuking them severely, saying to them, You are not eating the Lord's Supper, but your own, because you eat in disorder and do not tarry one for another. (I Cor. 11:33, 34.)


It never occurred to the apostle that because the Corinthians abused this institution of the Church that therefore it ought to be set aside. The Holy Spirit did not lead him in that direction. He corrected the abuse and gave them directions how to eat the Lord's Supper: "When ye come together to eat, tarry one for another." If Christian teachers in all ages had followed Paul's example in dealing with abuses, the love-feast would be as generally observed today at it was in the apostolic church.


As to the sacred character of the meal at the first, and of the abuses that gradually crept into its observance, we quote Dr; Schaff, one of the most eminent church historians of our time. He says: (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia under Agape.) "Originally the character of the feast of love was strictly devotional; the feast culminated in the celebration of the Eucharist. At the same time, however, it was a social symbol of the equality and solidarity of the congregation. Here all gave and received the kiss of love. Here communications from congregations were read and answered. As now the congregations grew larger, the social differences between the members began to make themselves felt, and the feasts of love changed character. They became entertainments of the rich. In Alexandria 'the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs' of old (Eph, 5:19; Col 3:16), were supplanted by performances on the lyre, the harp, and the flute, in spite of Clement's protest. In other places the rich retired altogether from the meetings, and the feasts of love sank into a kind of poor house institution."


This change did not take place all at once nor without efforts on the part of many, who remained faithful, to retain the love-feast as it had been delivered to them by the apostles. The Council of Gangra, held probably before the middle of the fourth century, made the following decision: "If anyone despises the feasts of charity which the faithful make, who, for honor of the Lord call their brethren to them, and comes not to the invitation because he condemns them, let him be anathema." (Bingham's Antiquities, Vol. 5, page 487.)


But the anathemas of the Council availed nothing against the riches and pride which now, that Christianity had become popular, flowed into the Church. Forty years later the third Council of Carthage, A.D. 391, decreed that the Communion should be taken fasting, thereby separating the Eucharist from the Lord's Sapper. This decree was followed by others, forbidding the feasting in churches and prohibiting the love-feasts altogether.


The action of the various Councils did not fully suppress the Supper. In many of the churches the faithful few kept the feast of love. While the multitudes kept not the feast, the faithful adhered to the example of Christ and kept the Lord's Supper as it had been delivered unto them. But they were not allowed to observe it in peace. In A.D. 541 the Council of Orleans strictly prohibited the feasts. Still some did not give it up and it was found in some of the churches near the close of the seventh century, when the Council of Trullo A.D. 691 prohibited them under pain of excommunication.


Dr. Bingham, speaking of the efforts of the various councils to set aside the love-feast, says, "So difficult a matter was it to extirpate the abuses of ancient custom, without destroying the custom itself, which was innocent in the original and of so great service to the Christian Church, while it continued free from abuses, that it was the envy and admiration of the Heathen." (Bingham's Antiquities, Vol. 5, page 489.)


The more conservative Greek Church did not follow the example of the Roman Catholics, but adhered to the feasts of charity for many centuries, and it is said that in some of their Churches it is still observed.


The action of the Council of Trullo resulted in suppressing the love-feast in the Latin Churches. Those who continued to observe it were expelled from the Church. Thus, after the effort which extended over a period of about three hundred years, an institution of the apostolic Church was set aside.


The reason assigned for this action was that abuses had crept into the observance of the feast, but the real cause was that the wealth and pride created caste distinctions in the Church and the wealthy refused to eat with the poor. For a time an effort was made to make the feasts suit the upper classes, and orchestras and choir singing were introduced, and the simple meal of the apostles became a bacchanalian feast. Then the very men, who thus perverted the Lord's Supper, used these abuses as an argument against the institution itself; and, as we have seen, after a long time succeeded in having it set aside.


Why was it that no attempt was made to correct these abuses? This was done, but pride and wealth carried the day. The principle was lost sight of in the general demand to have the feast set aside, and the Councils weakly gave way to the popular clamor for a change. So it has been in all ages of Christianity. So it is today. The truth is set aside to please the carnal mind. One by one the practices of the apostolic Church, feet-washing, trine immersion, the love-feast, and other practices of the primitive Church, were set aside to meet the demands of those who were not willing to follow the Master in all things.


The Brethren in their reformatory movement sought to introduce again primitive Christianity. They have so far succeeded, but unless care is exercised, history will repeat itself and popular demand will result in setting aside many of the plain and simple commands of the Master. If abuses creep into the Church, let us correct them and not sacrifice the principle that is abused. There is about as much wisdom in such a course as was displayed by the man who, to destroy a few vermin that lodged in his house, set fire to it and destroyed the whole structure.


We close by quoting the eloquent language of our dear Bro. James Quinter, when speaking on the subject of the Lord's Supper. He says: "In celebrating the Lord's Supper, in the light in which we view it, while the sacred emblems, the bread and wine, representing the body and blood of the Savior, remind us of his death for us, and point us to his second coming, this feast of love may be regarded as a representation of the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb, which is to take place when the Savior comes, and his people shall gather themselves together from the East, and from the West, and from the North and from the South, and sit down in the kingdom of God. O my friends, do not believe that anything commanded by the Lord is a mere formality. If it be sustained that a thing is of the Lord, it cannot but be admitted that it must have good effects, if properly observed. And in this ordinance, this feast of charity, we find there is a power, there is a benefit, there is a utility; and for these reasons, — because we believe it to be commanded by the Lord, and because we have practically seen and felt its beneficial effect, — we contend for its observance in accordance with the custom of the apostolic church. I believe that in all things, the more closely we adhere to the practices of the apostolic church, the better. And if that is to be our model, then we must have a feast of charity; we must have something else that we can eat together besides the sacred emblems of the Communion." 

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