Monday, May 24, 2021

Anonymous Asks (146)

“Is it okay to take communion at home?”

As is the case with many questions about the Christian faith, the answer to this one very much depends on the motive.

On the ‘yes’ side, there is plenty of New Testament precedent for taking communion at home.

The ‘Yes’ Side: The New Testament Pattern

During the first few centuries of the church’s existence, the vast majority of Christian gatherings of every sort were in homes. In an era in which believers were relentlessly persecuted for their faith, first by the Jewish religious authorities and later by Gentile rulers, church buildings were unknown.

The first converts in Jerusalem attended temple together and broke bread together “from house to house”. (This alone should dispense with the idea that an entire local church membership — which may in theory comprise thousands — must be present in order for their communion to be valid. These household gatherings in Acts were mere subsets of the church in Jerusalem.)

However, since there was only one temple, this early arrangement could only be maintained while the Christian faith was more or less exclusive to Jerusalem. Once persecution scattered the early followers of Christ, it became necessary to look for other options. Thus in Acts 12 we read of Mary, the mother of John Mark, who opened her home for at least one prayer meeting, and in Acts 16 of Lydia’s home in Philippi, where Paul and Silas found the brothers meeting. Acts 20 refers to a third story upper room in the city of Troas where Christians gathered to break bread. It seems highly unlikely this was a standalone church building so early in the church’s history, but rather a private dwelling or rented space.

The same pattern is found in the epistles. Greeting Prisca and Aquila at the end of Romans, Paul makes reference to “the church in their house”. The book of Colossians mentions Nympha and “the church in her house”. The letter to Philemon begins with a greeting to “the church in your house”.

All these gatherings met with the approval of the apostles, who were often found at them. So while there is no direct apostolic teaching as to where communion may or may not be taken, the established historical pattern was that the early saints broke bread together wherever they were in the habit of gathering. This is consistent with the teaching of both the Lord and the apostles, who put no special limitations on communion. There is no magic in gathering in a building dedicated specifically to the purpose.

Moreover, it should be noted that the institution of the Lord’s Supper actually predates the establishment of the church. While we are accustomed to associating communion with formal church meetings and church buildings, the Bible does not make that a rule.

The ‘No’ Side: Solo Christianity

On the other side of the question, we need to guard against the idea that normal Christian practice need not involve making any effort to gather together at all, or that it would be perfectly fine for an individual or family to establish their own regular private gathering for communion when other local Christians are readily available and willing to meet with them.

If it is argued, for example, that the church in Philippi meeting in Lydia’s home was primarily made up of members of her household, it seems highly unlikely this was still the case by the time Paul wrote to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons”. Then there is the fact that the word “church” itself is derived from a Greek word that simply means “assembly” or “gathering”. It is a contradiction in terms to speak of gatherings that don’t actually involve either our own physical relocation or else being joined by others not normally present. Moreover, the letter to the Hebrews specifically warns against “neglecting to meet together”.

Down through history, there have always been men raised up by God who walked more or less alone for much of their time of service: Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Gideon, Samson, Elijah and Daniel come to mind, not to mention John the Baptist, the greatest and maybe the loneliest of all. Some of them had disciples, but little in the way of a support system that would encourage and strengthen their faith.

Whatever value there may have been in toughing it out on one’s own, the church was not designed to operate that way. It is a body, “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped” which “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Communion, or the “love feast”, is a very significant part of that. The body can’t “hold fast to the head” if it has ceased to remember the head.

So then, where a local church exists and regularly breaks bread in a location where all believers are welcome, one has reason to inquire about the motives of anyone who decides he would rather enjoy communion exclusively with his own household than meet with his local church.

The Motive Matters

Let’s be clear that breaking bread with only members of a single household is far from demonstrably wrong. It is certainly not the case that the presence or officiation of elders is required in order to make communion ‘valid’: in scripture, devotion among the saints to the breaking of bread actually predates the appointment of elders in the churches, and certainly predates written teaching about the qualifications of such men. Today, in the chaos caused by the response of the secular authorities to the COVID‑19 crisis, many believers continue to meet to break bread with family members only because they consider non-compliance with civic authorities a poor testimony. They do so in good conscience, and the New Testament has nothing to say, positively or negatively, about such short-term solutions.

On the other hand, I believe it would definitely be a problem if these folks decide not to come back to fellowship with the saints when the opportunity arises. Fear is not a valid scriptural reason for forsaking gathering.

Likewise, home communion gatherings may be unhealthy, or at very least sub-optimal, when they arise out of divisions in the church, from a church discipline situation (picture the man under judgment in 1 Corinthians 5 deciding he was fine with simply breaking bread with supportive family members), or out of a man’s selfish desire to meet with a little group he can dominate rather than being subject to others. This last is the spirit of Diotrephes.

The motive for gathering to celebrate the Lord’s Supper only with Christian family members is highly significant to whether such communion is pleasing to the Lord, and the answer to our question very much depends on it.

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