The Love Feast (Greek: ἀγάπη agapē) Treasure of the Early Church
The Love Feast was a practice of the early church in obedience to Christ’s command: do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19). It was a meal that included bread and wine taken in remembrance as a means of communion with the Lord and with one another. As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it… (Matthew 26:26). He took the cup after supper… (Luke 22:20). During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot… (John 13:2). Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God (Mark 14:25). These men are blemishes in your love feasts (agapē), shamelessly feasting with you but shepherding only themselves (Jude 12). Suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong, they count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you (2 Peter 2:13). When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own meal. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 33-34) Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart (Acts 2:46). In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily serving of food (Acts 6:1-2). When Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party (Galatians 2:11). The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain. A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine (Isaiah 25:6). The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son (Matthew 22:2). Then he said to me, Write, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, These are true words of God (Revelation 19:9). Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel, and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel, and they saw God, and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:9-11). Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20).
Zinzendorf and the Moravians revived the Love Feast in 1727. John Wesley wrote in his diary: After evening prayers we joined with the Germans in one of their love feasts. It was begun and ended with thanksgiving and prayer and celebrated in so decent and solemn a manner as a Christian of the apostolic age would have allowed to be worthy of Christ. It became a part of the Evangelical Revival and of early Methodist meetings. Influenced by German Pietists during the early 18th century, the Love Feast was instituted among Brethren before Moravians adopted the practice. A Love Feast seeks to strengthen the bonds and the spirit of harmony, brotherhood and unity as well as to forgive past disputes and instead love one another.
Although the Agape had an apostolic origin, it arose, not as the Eucharist did, out of a divine ordinance, but from the spirit of brotherly unity and friendly intercourse that marked the early Christian assemblies. Over all the Mediterranean world, in which Christianity had its origin, men and women were accustomed, long before the Christian Church began, to gather together on occasions for common meals. The nexus of these fellowships in the Roman Empire was generally trade interest, though bereavement and the memory of the dead also summoned them together. Such assemblies had often a religious character, according to the times and places. Specially was this true as regards the gatherings of Jews and Eastern cults. It was only natural, therefore, that the early Christians should meet as their neighbors everywhere did. They had even more reason to do so, their bond of union was not the pursuit of trade, but the New Experience which had come to them through Jesus Christ, and the new love (agape) towards each other that the Experience had induced. For nearly three centuries the Agape continued to be a familiar part of Christian worship in every locality in which Christianity has left us early records but towards the end of that period so many abuses had grown up around it that it gradually became obliterated. Church Councils and religious leaders raised their voices against it, and it was banished almost completely from Christendom. Not altogether, however, for in out-of-the-way districts, and in churches in imperfect communion with the main bodies of Christianity, the Agape persisted for several centuries further, and in some few cases has persisted to this present day. Even where the Agape itself is forgotten, certain interesting souvenirs of the ancient use are still to be found occasionally in the older churches. Further, there are a few instances where churches in modern times have readopted the Agape, as being at once a valuable and an apostolic institution.
Love-feasts, a history of the Christian agape (1919)
I. PAGAN PARALLELS OF THE AGAPE . . . . 17
II. JEWISH PARALLELS . . . . 35
III. THE APOSTOLIC PERIOD . . . . 44
IV. THE ORIGIN AND NAME OF THE AGAPE . . . . 59
V. THE AGAPE IN ASIA IN THE SECOND AND THIRD CENTURIES . . . . 67
VI. THE AGAPE IN EUROPE IN THE SECOND AND THIRD CENTURIES . . . . 82
VII. THE AGAPE IN AFRICA IN THE SECOND AND THIRD CENTURIES . . . . 93
VIII. THE AGAPE IN THE FOURTH CENTURY AND AFTER EASTERN CHRISTENDOM . . . . 112
IX. THE AGAPE IN THE FOURTH CENTURY AND AFTER WESTERN CHRISTENDOM . . . . 132
X. THE AGAPE AND IMPERIAL POLICY . . . . 147
XI. THE AGAPE IN THE CATACOMBS . . . . 165
XII. FUNERAL AND COMMEMORATIVE AGAPE . . . . l80
XIII. THE AGAPE IN THE CHURCH ORDERS . . . . I95
XIV. AGAPE RITES AND USAGES . . . . 213
XV. AGAPE RITES AND USAGES (continued) . . . . 235
XVI. THE DOWNFALL OF THE AGAPE . . . . 246
XVII. MODERN SURVIVALS OF THE AGAPE . . . . 257
XVIII. MODERN READOPTIONS OF THE AGAPE . . . . 268