Breaking Bread – The Early Church (Part 2)

A devoted church, is a church who eats together.  In this series, we’ll explore what Jesus said, what the early church did, and how we, the church, can become more devoted.

The idea of breaking bread has two implications: partaking in communion and eating together.  For the early Church, these usually occurred together.

What JESUS said about eating together…

Jesus did a lot of socializing.  Much like our culture, this included eating together.  We can see an example of this in Luke 19, when Jesus ended up becoming the guest of Zacchaeus:

[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through.  And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.  And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”  And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”[i]

Let’s briefly look at this.  First, Zacchaeus was a chief tax-collector[ii].  As a result, he wasn’t well liked by the general public and quite rich.  It’s safe to say that’s probably why Zacchaeus had a hard time seeing among a crowd.

Secondly, Jesus made the first move.  Jesus didn’t pass Zacchaeus waiting for him to speak, “he looked up”[iii] and asked to be a guest at his house.  Jesus associated himself with someone who was rejected by most people.

Thirdly, salvation was brought to a household because of their generosity.   That generosity, however, was sparked because Jesus choose to spent time with them.  He socialized and ate with a “sinner” and as a result, Zacchaeus’ whole mindset was transformed.

Jesus also taught his disciples to remember Him by sharing in bread and wine.  Shortly after the Zacchaeus story, Luke records:

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat ituntil it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God… And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”[iv]

Jesus “reclined” with his disciples for a meal before he continued with the symbolic portion of their last supper together.  While Jesus socialized with those he associated himself with, they both shared in a meal and prepared for the coming significance of the cross.  They broke bread together.

What the EARLY CHURCH did…

The early Church devoted themselves to breaking bread on a regular basis.[v]  That said, Paul had to do some correcting on the matter while writing to the church in Corinth:

When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you…When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?[vi]

Unity was the issue.  Instead of eating together, they ate on their own terms.  As a result, some were hungry while others had more than enough.   If there was unity, the church would have honored God by eating and sharing together.

It seems as though the early Church understood the last supper to be a Passover meal.  In remembrance of Christ, they too were “coming together”[vii] to break bread.  This also seems to be closely related to hospitality – an Old Testament principle with integral teachings in the New Testament.[viii]  The key here was inviting people into their homes to share in a meal which often included remembering Christ.  A mixture of Zacchaeus hospitality and scared communion; creating unity and remembering Christ.

What EARLY PENTECOSTALS did…

Pentecostalism started from a desire to leave organized religions.  Their goal was to spread the “good news” because they believed the fresh outpour of the Spirit was a true reminder of the imminent return of Christ.  How did they do that? Through friendships, social gatherings and divine participation.  Early Pentecostals participated together in unity during their services while often sharing the slogan “all are welcome”.

Eating together often meant three things: (1) celebrating with God; (2) celebrating with the faithful; and (3) celebrating the invitation.[ix]  For Pentecostals, partaking in communion and sharing in a meal helped them to be thankful for what Christ did, socialize with other believers, and present an invitation for others to experience salvation.  They were devoted to this process.

What the CHURCH TODAY needs to do…

I think we have a lot to learn from history.  Breaking bread should be seen as an activity which encourages unity.  Perhaps the best thing we could do is work on integrating hospitality and sacred time with God.  We need to make sure we are an inviting people who enjoy spending time with fellow believers, while remembering what Christ did for us.

So where does this leave us?  Perhaps we can start by thinking of ways we can make social times more sacred, and sacred times more social.  If we work towards integrating unity, our relationship with God and hospitality, we’ll start to experience what it actually means to break bread together.

Our assembly meets for a social and Bible Study Sunday nights, shares in communion once a month, gathers for socials throughout the year, and hosts campfires during the summer.  The challenge always remains – to make social times more sacred, and sacred times more social.

Will we be as devoted as the early Church was and break bread together?


[i] Luke 19:1-10, ESV.

[ii] Chief Tax Collectors – Would have collected from the extra taken from the tax collectors under them.

[iii] Luke 19:5.

[iv] Luke 22:14-16, 19-20.

[v] Acts 2:42; 20:7.

[vi] 1 Cor 11:17-22.

[vii] I Cor 11:18, 33.

[viii] James I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, William White, Jr., eds., Daily Life in Bible Times (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982), 109.

[ix] Wolfgang Vondey, “Pentecostal ecclesiology and Eucharistic hospitality: toward a systematic and ecumenical account of the church,” Pneuma 32, no. 1 (January 1, 2010), 49.