*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 18th of April 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A quick look at the title might suggest that today I am going to answer a mailbag question from Arab Al. It’s actually a question from Lindsey in Arab, Alabama.
The town was to be called “Arad” after the founder's son’s middle name- but a typo with the post office left the name as “Arab,” spelled like an ethnicity, pronounced like a southerner.
Lindsey says folks in her neck of the woods prefer to say they are from the Huntsville region- which, as she notes and I have noted on this show before- is the home to the Rocket City Trash Pandas- not only my favorite name for a minor league baseball team but the AA team of my Los Angeles Angels.
I digress- here is the question:
“As someone who worships amongst a group of Christians born out of the Restoration Movement who try to emulate the first-century church, I loved this weekend's episode on worship in the early church.
Listening to it inspired a mailbag question about Communion. I know different groups recognize the Lord's Supper differently (e.g., sacrament vs. ordinance), but I'm confused by the frequency of partaking in Communion. Why do some churches only offer it sporadically? For me, the Lord's Supper is an integral aspect of weekly worship, and it makes more sense in my mind to not observe it at all if it is not recognized as something that needs to be partaken of consistently.”
Two parts here-
The first is the distinction in the early church between the “breaking of bread,” the “love feasts,” and the Lord’s Supper.
We know the Lord’s Supper and the Agape Feast were two separate meals in the first century- one would be a sacrament and the other a communal meal- like a soup supper but to feed the neighborhood poor and offer a communal setting. The “breaking of bread” seems a catch-all for fellowship (which would often revolve around a meal- sacramental, for sustenance, or both).
When it comes to the frequency of the Lord’s Supper- hear St. Augustine in the 400s: “Some receive the Body and Blood of the Lord every day; others on certain days; in some places, there is no day on which the Sacrifice is not offered; in others on Saturday and Sunday only; in others on Sunday alone."
But by the Middle Ages, the practice had slowed from Daily to Weekly to Monthly to Quarterly. The 4th Lateran Council in 1215 had to make it an article of faith that the faithful had to receive communion at least once a year!
And then, of course, only the bread was soon consumed as the fear of spilling the wine was too great. And perhaps the radical sacralization of the Lord’s Supper led to superstition and the idea that the Sacrament of the Altar became a kind of “going into the holy of holies,” and any slip up could spell doom.
The line between reverence and superstition is thin.
So- Lindsey from Arab- if you want to emulate the early church, it seems that regular partaking of the Lord’s Supper is the way to go. The larger question would be, “to what extent do we want to emulate the early church?” And that was, in part, where I was going with the Weekend Edition two weeks ago- to what extent can we?
A quick aside- when I lived in Scotland, we lived next door to our Church of Scotland church- I could go to church every day- a small chapel adjacent to the nave had two daily services. Now I live in big dumb Orange County, and it's hard to tell the churches from the Starbucks, and everything is a drive. I digress.
To what extent does the New Testament regulate our practice with its description of the early church? Ah yes- this is the question of the “regulative principle” and takes us into the world of “adiaphora”- that is, to what extent are practices left up to the spirit-led consciences of Christians today.
The Restorationist movement is fascinating, and I’ve been working through some of their literature for the past few months- we’ll take a more extended look at this movement down the line. Thanks, Lindsey- as always, smoke signals and Morse code over vacant FM frequencies are the best way to get ahold of me.
The last word for today comes from 1 Corinthians 5:
6 Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of April 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows that while Arab is an Alabama town named after a typo- there is a town in Kentucky called “Typo.” He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who has a soft spot for silly town names- gotta love Belchertown, Massachusetts, Ding Dong Texas, Hell Michigan, and Chunky Mississippi; I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.