Wednesday, January 26, 2011


IV. Eucharist (聖餐禮):  Celebrating Christian Faith

4.1 General Meaning of the “Love Meal” or “Agape Meal”

After baptism and (usually) confirmation, the convert comes for the first time to the Eucharist, literally the thanksgiving service, the meal celebrated on Sunday mornings in honor of the Lord’s Day by full members of the church. In the early church, candidates were excluded from this part entirely, even as observers; they could attend services only to the point where selections from the Bible were read and a sermon was preached. Their first communion after baptism therefore would have been a special event: At last they were part of the inner circle, the intimate community of the church. In the early decades this was indeed a small group, a dedicated band meeting quietly to avoid detection in times of persecution. Their meals, at which they ritually remembered Jesus and reenacted his last meeting with his disciples, would have been charged with tension, excitement, and joyous fellowship. Yet the meaning of the Eucharist did not depend on the feelings of the believers present; even when baptism and confirmation became less dramatic, the Eucharist remained powerful and mysterious. It continued as the heart of Christian worship for centuries.

4.2 Background of the Agape and „Lovefeast“ Tradition

The term Agape or Love feast was used of certain religious meals among early Christians that seem originally to have been closely related to the Eucharist. [1]In modern times it is used to refer to a Christian ritual meal distinct from the Eucharist.[[2] References to such communal meals are discerned in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, in Saint Ignatius of Antioch's Letter to the Smyrnaeans, where the term "agape" is used, and in a letter from Pliny the Younger to Trajan,[3] in which he reported that the Christians, after having met "on a stated day" in the early morning to "address a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity", later in the day would "reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal".[4] Similar communal meals are attested also in the "Apostolic Tradition" often attributed to Hippolytus of Rome (who does not use the term "agape") and by Tertullian, who does. The connection between such substantial meals and the Eucharist had virtually ceased by the time of Cyprian (died 258), when the Eucharist was celebrated fasting in the morning and the agape in the evening.[5] The Council of Laodicea of about 363-364 forbade the use of churches for celebrating the Agape or love feast. Though still mentioned in the Quinisext Council of 692, the Agape fell into disuse soon after, except perhaps in Ethiopia.[6]
A form of meal referred to as Agape was introduced among certain eighteenth-century Pietist groups, such as the Schwarzenau Brethren and the Moravian Church, and was adopted by Methodism. The name has been revived more recently among other groups, including Anglicans[7] and the American "House Church" movement.[8]
The earliest reference to a meal of the type referred to as "agape" is in Paul the Apostle's First Epistle to the Corinthians, although the term can only be inferred vaguely from its prominence in 1 Cor 13. Many New Testament scholars hold that the Christians of Corinth met in the evening and had a common meal including sacramental action over bread and wine.[9]

4.3 The Early Churches:

The synoptic gospels all show up in 1.Ko 11 and the implementation of the LORD’s supper.
Some scholars consider the Lord's supper to have derived not from Jesus' last supper with the disciples but rather from the gentile tradition of memorial dinners for the dead.[10] In this view, the Last Supper is a tradition associated mainly with the gentile churches that Paul established, rather than with the earlier, Jewish congregations.[11] Luke is the only Gospel in which Jesus tell his disciples to repeat the ritual of bread and wine.[12]
Bart D. Ehrman holds that these particular lines do not appear in certain ancient manuscripts and might not be original to the text.[13] However, many early Church Fathers have attested to the belief that at the Last Supper, Christ made the promise to be present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, with attestations dating back to the first century AD.[14] The teaching was also affirmed by many council’s throughout the Church's history.
The places where people met after Jesus left are the houses of the people. Today do not build their houses for worship but to show off.  The term "Agape" is also used in reference to meals in Jude 12 and according to a few manuscripts of 2 Peter 2:13.
            Soon after the year 100, Ignatius of Antioch refers to the agape or love-feast.[15] In Letter 97 to Trajan, Pliny the Younger perhaps indicates, in about 112, that such a meal was normally taken separately from the Eucharistic celebration (although he is silent about its nomenclature): he speaks of the Christians separating after having offered prayer, on the morning of a fixed day, to Christ as to a god, and reassembling later for a common meal.[16] The rescheduling of the agape meal was triggered by Corinthian selfishness and gluttony. [17]Tertullian too seems to write of these meals,[18] though what he describes is not quite clear.[19]
Clement of Alexandria (c.150-211/216) distinguished so-called "Agape" meals of luxurious character from the agape (love) "which the food that comes from Christ shows that we ought to partake of".[20] Accusations of gross indecency were sometimes made against the form that these meals sometimes took.[21] Referring to Clement of Alexandria, Stromata III,2, Philip Schaff commented: "The early disappearance of the Christian agapæ may probably be attributed to the terrible abuse of the word here referred to, by the licentious Carpocratians. The genuine agapæ were of apostolic origin (2 Pet. 2: 13; Jude 12), but were often abused by hypocrites, even under the apostolic eye (1 Corinthians 11:21).
In the Gallican Church, a survival or relic of these feasts of charity is seen in the pain béni; and, in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the ντίδωρον (antidoron) or eulogiæ, also known as prosphora distributed to non-communicants at the close of the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist), from the loaf out of which the Lamb (Host) and other portions have been cut during the Liturgy of Preparation."[22]
Augustine of Hippo also objected to the continuance in his native North Africa of the custom of such meals, in which some indulged to the point of drunkenness, and he distinguished them from proper celebration of the Eucharist: "Let us take the body of Christ in communion with those with whom we are forbidden to eat even the bread which sustains our bodies."[23] He reports that even before the time of his stay in Milan, the custom had already been forbidden there.[24]
Canons 27 and 28 of the Council of Laodicea (364) restricted the abuses of taking home part of the provisions and of holding the meals in churches.[25] The Third Council of Carthage (393) and the Second Council of Orleans (541)[26] reiterated the prohibition of feasting in churches, and the Trullan Council of 692 decreed that honey and milk were not to be offered on the altar (Canon 57), and that those who held love feasts in churches should be excommunicated (Canon 74).

4.4 Protestant Revival of Practice:

After the Protestant Reformation there were some groups of Christians in favour to return to the „Love Feast“ practice of the New Testament Church. One such group were the Schwarzenau Brethren (1708) who counted a Love Feast consisting of Feet-washing, the Agape meal, and the Eucharist among their "outward yet sacred" ordinances. Another was the Moravians led by Count Zinzendorf who adopted a form consisting of a simple sharing of a simple meal, and then testimonies or a devotional address were given and letters from missionaries read. John Wesley the founder of Methodism travelled to America in the company of the Moravians and greatly admired their faith and practice. After his conversion in 1738 he introduced the Love Feast to the Methodist Church. Due to the lack of ordained ministers within Methodism, the Love Feast took on a life of its own, as there were few opportunities to take Communion. The Early Methodists also celebrated the Love Feast, before it gradually disappearing again in the Nineteenth Century as the revival cooled.

4.5 The “Last Supper “Tradition

The “Last Supper” celebration looks at the LORDs table as a memorial feast, first instituted in a Passover motive. In all probability the disciple viewed the original supper as the Passover meal or at least a meal in preparation for the Passover (Mt 26:19-29; Mk 12:25; Lk 22:7-12). The Passover was a memorial, a thanks festival. Jesus used the unleavened bread and the red wine of Passover to symbolize his imminent death for the sins of the world. In I. Cor. 11:24, Jesus, through Paul, ordered His followers to repeat this new memorial to finished redemption. The significance of the Lord’s Supper is derived from the cross and resurrection. It looks back to the finished work of our Savior through the symbols of the bread and cup (I.Cor. 11:24-26). By partaking we declare our faith in the atoning work of Christ. The early church seems to have regarded the Lord’s Supper as a commemoration of the resurrection as well as the time when believers gathered to remember the Lord through the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is dynamic declaration of the Gospel (I.Cor. 11:26); of the church’s unity and fellowship – especially at the local church level ( I.Cor. 11:18-22; I.Cor. 10:17); and of the church’s blessed hope (I.Cor. 11:26; Phil 1:23).

The Lord’s Supper is for all believers who gather to worship Christ.  There is no priestly function which demands certain ordained people to be present in order for it to be observed. However, there is order in the observance. Those who partake of the Lord’s Supper must walk in fellowship with one another, proclaiming the reality of what the meal declares (I.Cor. 11:2,20,33). It is intimated in the New Testament and clearly evident in early history of the church that only baptized believers participated.

4.6 Contemporary

We can develop some sense of the meaning of the Eucharist by looking at the way it was most likely practiced in the churches of the first hundred years of Christianity. The rite began with a greeting from the bishop to the people: "Peace be with you." They responded, "And with your spirit." The congregation exchanged the kiss of peace, men to mean and women to women. The laypeople brought their offerings, a small loaf of bread and a little wine in a flask. The deacons received them and laid the month altar, pouring the wines into larger flasks. The bishop and the presbyters (elders, primarily church administrators) rinsed their hands and then laid hands on the offerings. The bishop recited the Eucharistic prayer of thanks to God. The deacons or bishop broke the loaves, they partook, and then the bishop himself distributed it to the people, saying, "The Bread of heaven." Presbyters and deacons then distributed the wine, and also water, to the people, who came up in a row to receive three sip from each cup. At each sip the one who held the cup said, "In God the Father Almighty," "And in the Lord Jesus Christ," and then "And in the Holy Spirit in the Holy Church," with the recipient responding, "Amen." After this the vessels were washed and the communicants dismissed.[27] 
Given that John Calvin believed only in the two sacraments of Baptism and the "Lord's Supper" (i.e. Eucharist), his analysis of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper were an important part of his entire theology. Also the text itself has nothing to do with the LORD’s Supper Calvin related the Synoptic Gospel accounts of the Last Supper with the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:35 that states: "I am the bread of life. He, who comes to me will never go hungry" (Mark 14:22-24), thus bringing the emphasize for the need of inner communion with Christ.
Calvin also believed that the acts of Jesus at the Last Supper should be followed as an example, stating that just as in 1 Corinthians 11:24 Jesus gave thanks to the Father before breaking the bread, those who go to the "Lord's Table" to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist must give thanks for the "boundless love of God" and celebrate the sacrament with both joy and thanksgiving (Mark 14:22-24).

Sources of Studies:

·       Augustine. Letter 22, 1:3, 10/7/2011.
·       Bart D.  Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. San Franciso: Harper Collins. 2005.
·       Carlo Carletti on L'Osservatore Romano of 1 November 2009.
·       Clement of Alexandria. Paedagogus II, 1., 10/7/2011.
·       Davies, J.D. The Early Christian Church (Holt Rinehart Winston 1965).
·       Funk, Robert W. "Mark," The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. San Francisco. Harper. Jesus Seminar. 1998.
·       Geza, Vermes. The authentic gospel of Jesus. London. Penguin Books. 2004.
·       Gibbon, Edward. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, first pubsl. 1776.
·       NET Bible, Agape., 10/7/2011.
·       Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005
·       Synod of Laodicea, canon 28., 10/7/2011.
·       Welker, Michael. What happens in Holy Communion? Chicago: Eerdmans Publishing. 2000.

[1] The word "Agape" in the inscription has led some to interpret the scene as that of an Agape feast. However, the phrase within which the word appears is "Agape misce nobis" (Agape, mix for us, i.e. prepare the wine for us), making it more likely that Agape is the name of the woman holding the cup.  A reproduction of this other fresco can be seen at Catacombe dei Ss. Marcellino e Pietro. An article by Carlo Carletti on L'Osservatore Romano of 1 November 2009 recalls that the same catacomb has in fact a whole series of similar frescos of banquets with men reclining at a banquet and calling on a maid to serve them wine. The names Agape and Irene were common among slaves and freedwomen at the time, but the fact that these particular names recur twelve times in the catacomb suggests that they were chosen not just as names for the maids but to evoke the ideas that the two names signify: Love and Peace.
[2]  Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005.
[4] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005
[5] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005.
[7] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005
[9] Michael Welker, What happens in Holy Communion? Chicago: Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), 75-76.
[10] Robert W. Funk , The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper: Jesus Seminar., "Mark," 1998.), 51-161.
[11] Ebd., 51-161.
[12] Geza Vermes, The authentic gospel of Jesus (London: Penguin Books. 2004).
[13] Bart D.  Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperCollins, 2005).
[14] The First Council of Nicea., 10/7/2011.
[16] "They met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal".
[17] J.G.Davies, The Early Christian Church (Holt Rinehart Winston 1965), 61.
[19] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005
[21]  Sed majoris est Agape, quia per hanc adolescentes tui cum sororibus dormiunt, appendices scilicet gulae lascivia et luxuria" Tertullian, De Jejuniis, 17,  in Edward Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, first pubsl. 1776.
[26] The Gospel Advocate, volume 3 (1823), Richard Lee Cole, Love-feasts: A History of the Christian Agape, The Antiquaries Journal (Oxford University Press 1975) and several other books mention a prohibition of the Agape by the Second Council of Orleans in AD 541. More numerous are the sources (which do not speak of the Agape) that put the Second Council of Orleans in AD 533.

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