From the beginning, when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in the early church, it included a feast or fellowship meal that became known as a “love feast” or “agape” meal, for which each person brought his own food. This meal was followed by the celebration of “Communion” (koinonia – fellowship). This would have been a very natural practice since many of the New Testament churches met in peoples’ homes.
In I Corinthians 11, we find the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthian church about this fellowship meal. At the beginning of chapter 11, Paul praises the Corinthians for their willingness to obey what he has been teaching them. When he gets to verse 17, his tone changes 180 degrees. He prefaces his comments by saying that he does not praise them in the instructions that he is about to give them. He tells them that when they get together, they are doing more harm than good.
Paul was the one who planted this church. He was their spiritual daddy. What a scolding they were getting here! Why would he say such a thing? He says, “First of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.” He returns to the theme with which he started his letter. He is addressing the divisions in the Corinthian church. What we learn in chapters 1 and 3 is that the Corinthian church met together in cliques (I Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-9, 21-23). Some followed Paul. Some followed Apollos. Some followed Peter. Some didn’t follow any man; they only followed Christ.
In verse 19, Paul makes a very interesting statement. He says, “For there must also be factions among you that those who are approved may be recognized among you.” We have to divide ourselves into groups so that everyone can see who the real believers are. I mean, how else will the new people recognize the really spiritual ones, if we all just mix ourselves up with each other.
Another way that they divided themselves was in their material possessions. Some of the believers were rich. Some of them were poor. This division was particularly noticeable when they came together to observe the Lord’s Supper. Some scholars believe that they celebrated communion every time they met; others believe that it was only occasionally. Personally, I believe that it was probably more often than not. Again, if they met in peoples’ homes, it would have been a very natural thing to have a meal together when they met for “church.”
Those who had plenty would bring what they had but would eat it themselves and not share it with those who didn’t have enough. Paul says, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you” (verse 22).
So, we don’t know how often they met for the Lord’s Supper. What we do know is that when they came together, the Corinthian church shared a meal together. Paul says in verse 20 that they had lost sight of the purpose of their meeting. Instead of coming together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and then sharing a meal, they had put the meal first and instead of the Lord’s Supper, some ate too much. Those who had more than they needed, ended up getting drunk and those who didn’t have enough, ended up going without. Those who had plenty were guilty of gluttony and their excess shamed those who did not have enough. They had lost sight of the unity of the Body of Christ.