Gathering in Christ - Eating & Discussion

On the first day of the week, as we gathered together for a meal, Paul was holding a discussion with them. Since he was leaving the next day, he continued talking until midnight.

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.

On the first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and continued his speech until midnight.
-Acts 20:7 (CEB, NRSV, WEB)

When Christians gather together, Christ is the center.  Jesus taught the first disciples to remember him when they met together, in the meal that they ate together.

Later on, this was changed to the Roman Catholic way of taking a sip and a nibble from a priest.  The Protestant Reformation changed this a little, but we are still not celebrating or remembering or communing with Christ the way that he modeled and the way the church in the NT did.

The meeting of the church is for Christ and about Christ.  I want to find Christ in a Christian gathering.  Why do you go to church?

The early church, recorded in scripture, gathered together to break bread or have a meal.  Some would argue, and I agree with them, that breaking bread means having communion (The Eucharist, The Lord's Supper) in the context of a meal together.

That's church.
The breaking of bread probably denotes a fellowship meal in the course of which the Eucharist is celebrated (cf. Acts 2:42).  -F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (1979)
The first thing is that they gathered for a meal.  The second thing is that Paul had a discussion with them.  It was a dialogue, a back and forth; discourse and response, living room style.  I love these words about this sort of thing from Michael Green, that Dave Black quoted:
The home is a priceless asset. It is informal and relaxed. It makes participation easy. The teacher is not six feet above contradiction and there is no temptation to put on a performance.
Having a dialogue or a discussion is so much better than listening to a speech.  That was what Paul did here.  Paul might have done the majority of the talking, but there were questions or responses from the others and possibly, interruptions.  I'm betting that Paul liked it.

Hungry learners ask lots of questions.  Discussions and dialog-ing are far more productive for learning than monologues or speeches.

We could make the case that Jesus instituted having a celebratory, remembering meal; when his disciples gather.  We could also say that he never said that we should have a sermon when the church gathers.

The modern sermon tradition has its roots in the 3rd & 4th centuries, in how the church changed; and in the protestant reformation and puritan tradition. You can read all about it in Frank Viola & George Barna'a book, Pagan Christianity (chapter 4).

We tend to read the Bible through the lens of our traditions. I have heard or read preachers argue for weekly preaching on the basis on Acts 20:7. Often, the translators themselves are biased toward traditions.

Sermons have fallen on hard times in many places.  Stuart Murray Williams wrote:
Research into the effectiveness of sermons has uncovered worrying evidence that all preachers need to take seriously. North American and European studies have produced similar results: somewhere between 65% and 90% of those interviewed directly after the meeting ended could not say what the main point of the sermon was or what issue it was addressing. Again, it is possible to argue that sermons are about more than information, that they impact the heart as well as the mind – but is that an adequate response?

How much preaching is a sheer waste of time? We pray, we study, we reflect, we craft a sermon, we illustrate it with stories, we deliver it with passion and integrity – but it has very little impact on those who listen to it. They are too polite to say so usually, but it did not really engage their attention, address their concerns or affect their lives. Some give up after a few weeks or several years and leave our churches. How many of the thousand people a week who have left British churches in the 1980s and 1990s did so because they were bored by our sermons? Others remain and listen to perhaps 100 sermons a year, but with what result?

Jeremy Thomson, a lecturer in Religious Studies at Birkbeck College, has explored this topic in a Grove booklet entitled Preaching as Dialogue: Is the Sermon a Sacred Cow? He writes in the introduction: ‘For all the effort of preparing, delivering and listening to sermons, most church members are not as mature as we might expect as a result. Why is this? Of course, there are bad sermons, and there are preachers whose lives are inconsistent with their teaching. But people may listen week by week to the best prepared and presented sermons, given by thoroughly sincere preachers, and yet make little progress in Christian discipleship. Some preachers blame congregations for a lack of expectancy that God will speak, for an inability to listen to a “solid exposition”, or even for disobedience to what they hear. But I suspect that there is a more significant factor in the failure rate of the sermon than the quality of the preacher or the responsiveness of the hearers. I want to suggest that the problem lies in our concept of preaching itself.’

Jesus said, "do this in remembrance of me".  Do what?  He said to eat together, with him (the Lord) in our midst. That's the Lord's Supper!

People naturally talk when they are eating.  Except, don't talk with your mouths full!  Christians, who have Christ in them, bring Christ in them, when they gather.  There will be sharing, dialogue and discussion.  Welcome to a meal with Christ!

This is the church as described in the snap-shots that we have of it in the NT.  Other snap-shots show an interactive body of people, where everybody has a voice and a hand.  There is no clergy/laity divide in the NT.  We are all priests, we all have Christ in us.  Some are gifted to teach, but that's not all we do.

I believe that we should have a higher view of preaching, in the Karl Barth & Dietrich Bonhoeffer tradition AND I believe that church gatherings can be and should be so much more than one person talking.

I remember hearing the story, in which God showed someone what this new church would be like, and he said that it would be like when people gather in a kitchen.

Talking, eating, some standing, and some seated.  Casual, not pretentious; shared life together.  This would be the essence of this new church.

Jesus is the builder of the church.  What does his church look like?

-This post was first published in 2014.

For further reading & study:

Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola & George Barna
Interactive Preaching by Stuart Murray Williams
Eric Capenter - Acts 20:7 Gatherings