Most of us are familiar with the story of King Arthur and the Round Table. King Arthur had his knights sit around a round table because he didn’t want his knights jockeying for position and honour. At a round table all were equal. This is a concept familiar to the Chinese who have their meals at round tables to make the same point. At a round table there is no differentiation of status. It also makes eating a face to face affair with each one facing all the rest.
I have come to conclude that Christianity is a ’round table’ faith with its emphases on equality and community. There is a great levelling in Christianity. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Similarly God’s good news of salvation is for all. Both in invitation and in the living out of the faith, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 TNIV)
When we eat at a round table we remember a few basic truths. We remember that we all need to eat and that without food we all die. This is true regardless of race, social status, or sex. Similarly, we are all dead in sin and without feasting on Christ we all die. Hence there is this great equalizing in the Kingdom. Whatever credentials we may carry on earth, it counts for naught when it comes to the free gift of salvation.
Which is why Paul was so mad at Peter when he stopped eating with the Gentile believers and began to sup only at the table with the kosher menu (Galatians 2: 11-14). It implied that Jewish Christians had a special deal with the Lord and that Gentile Christians were somehow second class. This was a compromise of the gospel and it called forth a very strong response from Paul.
Similarly Paul was mad at the rich Christians at Corinth who had the privilege of getting off work early and so showed up at the fellowship meals earlier than the the slaves and poorer Christians. They stared eating without waiting for their poorer brothers and sisters (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). Again Paul had tough things to say because the state of affairs, if allowed to continue, would imply that there were in fact two tables, one for the rich and one for the poor.
But Christ hosts only one table and all get to sit in the same way — responding to His gracious invitation through faith and repentance. You can’t tip the head waiter to get a better seat. They are all good seats.
Equality and community are so integral to the Christian DNA that it was to be experienced every time the church gathered. Our present experiences of church tend to gravitate towards church as school, where we all sit in rows to hear the Sunday sermon, or “church as theatre” where again we sit in rows to see the drama that takes place in the front of the auditorium, whether it is a Pentecostal drama of healing and deliverance, or the liturgical drama of the communion.
But the primary meetings of the early church resembled neither school nor drama. They were meals. The primary meeting of the church was a meal.
When we read that the church broke bread from home to home (Acts 2:46), we think that the church had some sort of formal communion service tacked onto some time of singing and teaching. I believe they had an equivalent of a sit down dinner and they remembered Jesus and talked about life and did all the things that Christians were supposed to do, as they ate. Somewhere in the middle of the meal they would break bread and remember Christ. I guess the singing came after the dishes were cleared.
The Christian faith was the original round table. It put a high premium on community. And all who belonged to Christ were equal at the table. The inclusiveness of the early fellowship meals both reinforced and illustrated this.
In his Introduction to the New Testament, David A. deSilva writes:
…Acts reminds us of the communal nature of Christian discipleship. Conversion to faith in Jesus meant joining a community of Christ followers and growing into maturity by means of constant association with and mutual sharpening of other believers (Acts 2:44; 46-47). In Acts a person cannot join with Christ without also joining the people of God as it was being renewed in Christ.
Luke presents the church as the place where the Old Testament ideals find fulfillment. First, the church is where “brothers and sisters dwell together in unity” (Psalms 133;1), enjoying the goodness, the peace, the pleasantness that God intends for mankind. Seeking God together with their whole hearts and spending significant amounts of time together in that pursuit they find themselves in harmony with one another.
Churches where Christ followers still get together ‘day by day’ for prayer, study, sharing of meals and worship will find that God will still add ‘day by day’ to their numbers, for such is the quality of community that thirsty human souls seek.
Increasingly I am disturbed that our churches’s primary manifestations are school, theatre, and well oiled effective organization. More often than not, they are schools, theatres and organizations where fellowship is superficial and all sorts of divisions reign. If we are to be true to the New Testament, the church must first be family and a family at dinner.
I am not here calling for some new activity to be added to our bloated church schedules. The pace of modern life is killing enough as it is. But we all have to eat anyway. Why not eat together with our Christ family whenever we can?
Your ‘burp’ brother in Christ, Soo-Inn Tan