Len Sweet is one of the most influential Christians in North America. So when he writes a book (From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed) that espouses principles that we who are involved in the simple/organic/house church movement hold dear, I sit up and take notice.
From Tablet to Table examines the importance of meals in the life of Jesus and the early church and why this is significant for us today. Jesus performed much of his ministry and teaching around the meal table, and the early church placed a heavy emphasis on “sharing meals from house to house.” In fact, the New Testament contains many examples of hospitality–of being both a host and a guest. Why the importance?
In the New Testament, the communion table was not a wafer and sip of wine, but occurred in the context of a full meal. We live in a day of fast-food and drive through meals. As a culture we have largely lost the benefit of sitting together, enjoying our food in a leisurely fashion and telling stories that will live down through the generations. Meals together form relationship and community. So what might happen if we brought shared meals back into the life of our churches and gave the table a place of pre-eminence in our interactions with the communities we live in?
Another facet of this book I appreciated was the idea that the Scriptures can be a spiritual feast from which we gain sustenance for our souls. God nourishes us through his word and gives us strength to live our lives as his ambassadors here on earth.
There are many good and practical ideas in this little book. It’s definitely worth reading!
(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publishers.)
Only too often, I come across this kind of sad story of spiritual control:
“I committed some “offense” (usually not a sin but something that went against the church’s “rules”), and the pastor /church excommunicated me. No one else in the church is allowed to talk to me. My old friends avoid me in the grocery store. The ones it hurts most are my kids, who just don’t understand….”
As far as I’m concerned this is control and abuse. It’s an application of the “heresy” of covering.
Control takes other forms too. Like baptism. Only someone who is ordained can baptize. Show me that in the Bible! Or communion. It takes a special sacred person to give communion.
Often it’s applied specifically to women. Women can’t baptize. Where’s that in the Great Commission?
Give me a break!
There are a number of activities that have traditionally been limited to men. However, I find no scriptural warrant for not including women in them:
- Baptism: this is traditionally done by the pastor. When baptism is delayed so that it can be performed by a special person, it slows the growth of any disciple making movement. In some countries, like India, women are not allowed to be touched by a man unless they are a family member. Although there are no Scriptural examples that specifically describe a woman baptizing, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) indicates that the person who leads someone to the Lord should be the one to baptize them.
- Teaching: First Timothy 2:11-12 is often used to stop women teaching. (See my posts (beginning here) on a different interpretation of this passage.) But there are plenty of indications to the contrary. For example, Priscilla (mentioned first) and Aquila taught Apollos. First Corinthians 14:26 encourages everyone to take part in the meetings including teaching (no mention here of this being a “men only” activity). Other lists such as 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 that list teaching include activities we know were open to women. We are to teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16).
- Giving communion: Our traditional practice of communion with a wafer and sip of wine is probably unscriptural. Communion was more like a meal (otherwise why does 1 Corinthians 11:21 talk about some going hungry and others getting drunk). While there is nothing to say that women are allowed to “give communion” there’s nothing to say that men are either.
- Leadership: Leading is one of the gifts given to the body of Christ. In Romans 12: 6-8, it is included in a list of things that God gives to us. Included in that list are gifts that we know women can use–for example, prophecy (Acts 2:17-18) If women were to be prohibited from leading, that might have been a good time to mention it!
- “Government”: There are examples of women in government. For example, Deborah led and judged the nation of Israel. We see Junia as an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied, Phoebe was a deacon (Jesus used the same word in the context of leadership.) I find nothing that says that women cannot be elders. (There are no examples of women elders, but I can think of no named examples of Gentile ones either.)
What similar activities can you think of?
Photo Credit: Mars Hill Church via Compfight cc
The third of the four things that the early disciples devoted themselves to was "breaking bread." The second half of 1 Corinthians 11, which discusses the problems caused when some people ate all the food without waiting for others to arrive or even got drunk (!), makes it plain that this was in the context of a full meal (verse 21). It isn't referring to a fragment of cracker or bread and a thimbleful of wine or grape juice taken solemnly and silently together! We know too from Acts 2:46 that the new believers shared their meals together.
Most simple/organic churches meet in the context of a meal. There is something about eating together that enables fellowship, and it's harder to be "religious" where food is involved. Eating together usually involves laughter and sharing, good-natured banter and deep heart-to-heart discussions. As one of our friends likes to say, "How do you spell fellowship? It's four letters:
Most groups that we know share a potluck meal–it is reproducible and doesn't leave too much work with the host family. A lot of fellowship goes on too over the preparation of food and the clean-up later. Some groups may even have their whole time together around the dining table.
What about communion. We often add taking the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus' death on the cross into the context of the meal. Maybe we break into smaller groups to share together, or have each person share with someone they would like to pray for. The Lord is very creative and again, and if we avoid repetitious practices, it doesn't become a religious ritual.