The Vital "Meal"
The object of this material is to both concisely and cogently examine the expression, "The Vital ĎMeal.í" I think we shall discover that there is a "vital meal" associated with pristine Christianity and, in addition, also a pseudo "vital meal" that is reflective of apostasy and a shift in emphasis relative to religion. Let us begin by noticing the common meaning of "vital." In the Random House College Dictionary, nuance number three for "vital" is:
"Necessary to the existence, continuance, or well-being of something; indispensable; essential" (p. 1472).
The only "meal" of which we read and which is exemplified as being a part, a regular and vital part of the work and worship of the early church, the church that Jesus built, is the Lordís Supper. This "meal" is seen as "necessary to the existenceÖindispensable, Öand essential," thus possessing the basic nuances for "vital."
Jesus introduced this memorial (Matt. 26: 26-30,
Mark 14: 22-26). He instituted it at the last Passover, the day of his betrayal
(Luke 22: 14 ff.). The Lord's Supper has apostolic sanction (Acts 20: 7).
Synonyms or words denoting the same memorial are: "Lord's Supper" (I Cor. 11:
20), "communion" (I Cor. 10: 16, 17), "breaking bread" (Acts 2: 42), 20: 7), and
Lord's table" (I Cor. 11: 21). The noun "eucharist" is derived from the Greek
eucharistia, gave thanks (Matt. 26: 27). However, Eucharist was not used for the
Lord's Supper until the Second Century (after inspiration ended).
It is apparent from I Corinthians 11: 23-26 that the Lord's Supper is essentially a proclamation. It proclaims Christ, he did live (vs. 24), he "vicariously" died (vs. 24), and he is coming again (vs. 26). The memorial proclaims the establishment of the Kingdom (Luke 22: 29, 30) and the New Testament (Matt. 26: 28, Heb. 9: 16, 17). The breaking of bread was a regular and static act of Lord's Day public worship performed by the Jerusalem church (Acts 20: 7; 2: 42). The emblems observed in the Lordís Supper are not meant for food consumption, but they stand for the pure body of Jesus and his powerful blood (Matt. 26: 26ff.).
Regarding the teaching found in the New Testament relative to the Lordís Supper, we can most assuredly say that it is "a vital meal."
However, there is another meal that man has introduced and that has evolved to the point of now being considered "vital" to the work and worship of the local church.
In a hand-out booklet, which I understand is common for a number of churches of Christ, there is material titled, "What You Can Expect When You Visit the church of Christ." In this material presenting what a visitor can expect, there is mentioned the matter of "singing," "prayer," "preaching," "invitation," "Lordís Supper," and "offering." Scripture is correctly provided for all these "what to expect" matters. The booklet then lists some matters that will be expected out of the visitors. It is immediately stated, "Nothing at all!" After an explanation of "Nothing at all," the next paragraph is titled, "Fellowship." I shall insert in full the paragraph titled, "Fellowship."
"Not only will you find opportunity to meet new friends before and after the worship service, we invite you stay with us and share our monthly fellowship meal together. We eat lunch together each month, usually on the last Sunday, after the morning worship services. This fellowship meal has been vital for us over the years as we have grown in love for one another. We welcome you to stay and join us. If you have not brought any food with you, donít worry about it! There is plenty for us all. We just want you to stay so we can all get to know each other better."
I want us to consider two expressions from the immediately above quotation, "fellowship meal" and "this fellowship meal has been vitalÖ."
"Fellowship meal." First, please do not think that this material is opposed to Christians getting together in their houses to have a meal and enjoy one anotherís company. Such togetherness is definitely taught (cp. Acts 2: 46). You will notice, though, that Acts 2: 46 distinguishes between the worship ("in the temple") and in what the early Christians did as individuals in contradistinction to the work of the church ("from house to house").
These meals that Christians enjoyed in their houses were never called "fellowship meals," (see addendum 1). In fact, "fellowship" has been so socialized and carnalized that it has come to simply mean a social meal (see addendum 2).
The fellowship meal mania which is now by most religions considered to be a part of their work and worship is part of the social gospel, a system that places more emphasis on the here and now, the material, physical food, and physical well being.
Another matter of interest is that many who have accepted the social gospel and fellowship meals have also come to think of the lost as saved. If you disagree, please consider how these fellowship meals have changed thinking and posture. Consider, again, the appeal: "We invite you stay with us and share our monthly fellowship meal together." Operative words are "share," "together," and "fellowship meal." Fellowship in New Testament vernacular and concept involves spiritual acceptance and approval (2 John 9-11). Hence, by inviting the lost to share a meal deemed as a "fellowship meal," the necessary implication is that these thus invited are considered to be Christians, those to be fellowshipped.
The teaching of the New Testament is not only explicit and plain regarding such matters as we are considering, but it even contains an example of people who wanted the physical food. Consider:
"26: Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27: Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed" (John 6).
Religion in general and many Churches of Christ in particular are getting away from any real semblance of the spiritual and are, from gaining members to keeping members, becoming secular in their basic nature.
"Öthis fellowship meal has been vitalÖ." Yes, once we accept the social gospel, it becomes vital to our existence. When people are "brought in" by social meals, these meals, etc. must be maintained in order to keep the people. We have now witnessed an anticipated progression. Many religions, including a growing number of "Churches of Christ" have graduated to all sorts of entertainment gimmicks in order to secularly placate people. It is becoming more common, even also "vital" to observe churches with the state-of-the-art playground equipment, pool and video game facilities, movie theaters that show regular, entertainment movies, etc. Once the door is opened, in comes all such. The religion that grows now (usually only numerical growth is meant) is the religion that outdoes the others in what they offer.
Forgotten is the soul saving spiritual gospel of Jesus Christ and His spiritual church, having its spiritual work (Rom. 1: 16, I Tim. 3: 15). The Lordís church is about souls, not stomachs, spiritual edification, not physical satiation; and heaven and hell, not just the here and now (I Tim. 3: 15, Eph. 4: 16).
We are for a fact now dealing with what some sociologists have called the "Pepsi generation," the "I," selfish people who are out simply to get what they immediately want. In our efforts to keep our young people out of the bars and "in the church," we have prostituted the gospel and degraded it into a comparative cheap system, designed to meet the needs of the worldly minded and the here-and-now people who have ceased believing in a here after.
Addendum 1: The only "fellowship meal" involving the work and worship of the church is the Lordís Supper (I Cor. 10: 16ff.). The Lordís Supper involves Christians participating (fellowshipping) in a spiritual act.
Addendum 2: These social meals have been made by man a part of the work and worship of the local church, even to the degree of being deemed "vital." They are announced in the assembly, church bulletins, etc., and they are commonly held on property own by the church, thus, often necessitating the building of church kitchens. These church kitchens and eating facilities for which there is no biblical authority are now commonly termed "fellowship halls." Again, meals "from house to house" are one thing, but as far as the church is concerned, only the Lordís Supper is seen as the fellowship meal.