The fourth distinguishing mark of the infant Christian church we look at in this series rests on the phrase “the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:46).” Some biblical scholars take this as a reference to the Lord’s Supper, while others take it as an idiomatic phrase referring to sharing a meal together.
Likely the phrase refers to both. Unlike in most churches today, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper followed a shared meal (see 1 Corinthians 11:19-21). We can look at each element of this distinguishing mark in turn.
Over legumes, eggs, olives, dates, figs, and fish, the believers shared their lives together. They shared their daily joys and challenges with each other, laughing with each other and crying with each other (Romans 12:15).
They did not just gather weekly, but nearly daily. The late, great British preacher Martin Lloyd Jones lamented the trend he saw emerging. Sermons normally lasted forty-five minutes and services well beyond the sacred hour or hour and half in most congregations today. Believers gathered not only on Sunday morning, but Sunday evening as well. Bible study, prayer meetings, and fellowship time littered the church calendar. Believers met regularly and often. In the early church, they met not only in the Temple complex, but also in one another’s homes. Their shared meals together marked them off as a spiritual family, and their commitment to one another was evident to all.
These meals climaxed with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We sometimes forget this sacred sacrament was first celebrated at a table as part of a shared meal. While different Christian denominations disagree on how Christ is present when we celebrate this sacrament, all Christians agree Christ makes himself present in a special way when we do.
The Lord’s Supper communicated with visible elements – bread and the fruit of the vine – Christ’s presence with the believers, even as they enjoyed one another’s presence. No meal remains an ordinary meal when believers break bread together.
As congregations move out from the shadow of this pandemic – at least as we pray for the shadow to continue to recede – may we all redeem the time. Instead of filling our calendars with petty things, let us create space to gather and break bread together. Shared times of gladness and sadness with Christians gathering around the Lord’s Table bears witness to the world of Christ’s reconciling work in his body, the Church.