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What is a love feast?

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Question: "What is a love feast?"

A love feast or agape feast was a fellowship meal eaten by Christians in the early church. There is biblical evidence for the practice of these communal meals, during which Christians gathered not just for the sake of sustenance and socializing, but for the sake of fellowship (Acts 2:46–47; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34). The term love feast appears in the Bible in the book of Jude. The author of the epistle is talking about false teachers who come into the believers’ fellowship, pretending—they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. These false teachers are described as “blemishes at your love feasts” (Jude 1:12). The ESV calls the pretenders “hidden reefs,” pointing up the dangerous nature of false teachers and their potential to shipwreck Christians.

Hippolytus of Rome and Tertullian both wrote about communal meals, though Hippolytus does not use the term agape but calls the meals simply “love feasts.” In some traditions, these meals became associated with other rituals, such as the Eucharist. It is possible that the term agape feast fell out of usage because it became associated with certain abuses that were taking place during the feasts—including gluttony and favoritism, which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34. However, Christians have always practiced communal meals of various kinds. Communion, or the Lord’s Table, is an ordinance that Jesus gave the church, commanding that we partake of the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him. This was done in the early church at the love feasts (Luke 22:19). In the context of 1 Corinthians 11, it is clear that Paul equates communal meals with remembering Christ in this way, and that is one of the reasons why abusing the communal meal was so offensive (1 Corinthians 11:20–34).

Today, love feasts are still observed by the Moravians, Church of the Brethren, Old German Baptists, Dunkard Brethren, and some other denominations. In some cases, the fellowship includes a foot-washing ceremony, a meal, and the observance of communion. Some house churches have attempted to revive the practice of the love feast, though it is not always called a love feast. Sharing a meal can have spiritual significance because of the Last Supper that Jesus ate with His disciples, where He taught them to serve one another. Food brings nourishment, and wine brings gladness (Psalm 104:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7), and they can be symbols of the free gift of Christ, who is the bread of life and the giver of joy (John 6:35; Romans 14:17).

Recommended Resource: Love One Another: Becoming the Church Jesus Longs For by Jerry Sittser

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