FELLOWSHIP MEALS, LOVE FEASTS AND JUDE 12
Joe R. Price
Those among churches of Christ who advocate church-sponsored social events believe they find scriptural support for their practice in Jude 12 where we read of "love feasts" (feasts of charity, KJV). The text says:
"These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots" (Jude 12, NKJV).
By assuming "love" (agape) in verse 12 means a "fellowship meal," the conclusion is drawn that churches today may legitimately plan, promote and provide social activities, such "fellowship meals," as a part of their spiritual work.
Is Jude 12 referring to fellowship meals provided by first century churches as a part of their congregational work? Can we find in this verse the modern "fellowship meal" which has become the custom in many churches of Christ? Did early churches of Christ provide social meals for the sake of generating, promoting and enhancing love among the brethren? Does the New Testament of Jesus Christ endorse, encourage and entitle churches to provide such love feasts today? The answer to all of these questions is simply, no. The fact is, nothing in the context of Jude 12 compels one to conclude the love feasts are the ancient counterpart to modern-day fellowship meals arranged and offered by churches.
Please do not misunderstand. We would not for one moment suggest it is wrong for brethren to eat together. It is not wrong. We encourage all Christians to use their opportunities to share time together with brethren outside the worship assembly. Neither are we saying there is no benefit to be derived from brethren eating common meals together. There is. Joy, appreciation, caring, sharing, trust and more are increased and enhanced by such occasions. What we are saying is simply this: The New Testament gives no scriptural basis to any church of Christ to plan, promote or provide the "food, fun and frolic" atmosphere which is commonly defined as "fellowship." The "love feasts" of Jude 12 do not suggest or support such a conclusion. The proper oversight of and provisions for meals which feed the body is given to the individual Christian within the context of the home (1 Cor. 11:34, 22). The proper oversight of and provisions for the "meal" which feeds the soul is given to the local church within the context of the assembly of the saints (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20-22, 33).
We will study the text and context of Jude 12 to see what it actually says and does not say. We will also look at the historical significance of the expression "love feasts" and whether authority is found there for modern, church-sponsored fellowship meal. We will see how other scriptures are being misapplied in a misguided attempt to find Biblical support for church-sponsored "fellowship meals."
The Text and Context of Jude 12
The early churches were being infected from within by false teachers who "crept in unnoticed" and whose doctrine and character was "ungodly" (Jude 4). Jude was compelled to write this epistle of exhortation so that faithful brethren would "contend earnestly for the faith" against all false doctrine and its promoters (Jude 3).
False teachers turn "the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). False teachers dishonor God with their false teaching. Just like the unbelieving Israelites, the angels who sinned against the authority of God and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, false teachers are evil workers marked for eternal condemnation (Jude 5-7).
False doctrine appeals to the flesh rather than the spirit (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3-4; Rom. 16:17). As was true in Jude's day, even so now, false teachers with their false teaching "defile the flesh, reject authority and speak evil of dignitaries" (Jude 8-10). In so doing, false teachers corrupt and condemn themselves as well as those who are seduced by their pernicious error (cf. Jude 4; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; Acts 20:29-30). God's judgment against every false teacher is as sure as His judgments were against those whose sin their error emulates: Cain, Balaam and Korah (Jude 11).
It is within this context that Jude continues to warn faithful saints of the deceptive and destructive work of false teachers:
"These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots." (Jude 12)
False teachers are "spots" (rocks, hidden reefs) in your "love feasts" (feasts of charity, KJV). Just as hidden rocks present a constant danger to ships, even so false teachers and their false teachings among God's people are ever-present dangers and must be exposed for our own spiritual safety. The false teacher does not hang a sign around his neck announcing "I am a false teacher -- beware!" Therefore, we must "contend earnestly for the faith," always vigilant in the defense and proclamation of the truth. False teachers should be made afraid to "feast with you without fear." Selfishly "serving themselves" with their false teachings they offer nothing of spiritual substance or satisfaction. They are truly "clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots" (Jude 12).
The word translated "love feasts" in verse 12 is a form of "agape" (love). "Feasts" has been supplied by the translators. The verse literally says, "they are spots in your love." False teachers and their false doctrines offend love - for God and His truth, for the brethren and for the lost (Jno. 14:15; 1 Jno. 5:2-3). Jude's point is that false teachers must be rooted out and exposed for their lack of love, lest they corrupt the true love presently existing among the saints.
Dear reader, did Jude say anything about church fellowship halls, fellowship meals and church-sponsored potlucks in verse 12? No, not in the least! Jude does not directly mention the Lord's Supper. Jude does not directly mention the local congregation. Jude does not mention a common meal provided by the local church. We must be careful to not assume upon the silence of God's word. We must not put words into Jude's mouth! (2 Jno. 9)
The History Of "Love Feasts"
One can search in vain for unanimity among commentators on what the "love feasts" are in Jude 12. As one writer observed:
"Some believe the expression originally was just another designation for the Lord's supper. Some think the word referred to meals which Christians ate together in their own homes as in Acts 2:46. Others feel that it referred to the type feast which Christ recommends in Luke 14:12,13 to which the poor are to be invited, rather than wealthy friends. On the basis of the information we have in the New Testament, the above suggestions may be considered as possible, but we cannot know for sure.
"Many commentators, however, make the definitely erroneous statement that the love feast in N.T. times was a meal in the assembly either before, or after, the Lord's supper. No doubt influenced by them, some brethren have suggested that we should or may do this." 1
Comments from early church history further demonstrate the futility of using Jude 12 to authorize church sponsored suppers as is done by many churches today. While it is true that Ignatius (30-107 AD), Clement of Alexandria (153-200 AD), Tertullian (145-200 AD) and others wrote of love feasts in the early church, that in no way proves they were akin to what is being called "love feasts" today. Indeed, these early writers distinguished between common meals and the 'agape' (love feast), describing them as events which benefited the needy.2 Several likened them to the feast discussed by Jesus in Luke 14:12-14.
There is no conclusive and compelling reason to interpret "love feasts" of Jude 12 to mean church-sponsored and provided social activities such as pot-luck suppers or "fellowship meals." Those who persist in so using Jude 12 do so without the approval of scripture or the support of early church history.
Of course, our concern is not whether we are in harmony with "early church history," but whether we are in harmony with "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). It is the apostolic tradition we must agree with in all we say and do (2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Cor. 4:17; Col. 3:17; 1 Pet. 4:11). The New Testament is silent on approving church-sponsored social events, including the modern-day "fellowship meal." That ends the debate for all who refuse to add to the word of God (1 Cor. 4:6).
1 Corinthians 11
"Love feasts" are never mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11. Neither do we find there church-sponsored "fellowship meals" held in "fellowship halls." Those who tell us such fellowship meals are in 1 Corinthians 11 force them into the context by assuming the "love feasts" of Jude 12 are church-provided "fellowship meals."
The Corinthian Christians were abusing the Lord's Supper and promoting division and class distinctions in that abuse. "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not (possible, ASV) to eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk." (1 Cor. 11:19-20) Paul's inspired solution to this problem makes God's will abundantly clear about church-sponsored and/or supplied social activities. The solution? "What! 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." (1 Cor. 11:22)
To avoid division among the saints and to emphasize the proper nature of the Lord's Supper, the apostle says our houses are where we should eat and drink. Eating and drinking which satisfies the body is a matter of individual responsibility and not congregational work. "But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home" (1 Cor. 11:34). This is the correct "order" concerning the Lord's Supper and common meals (1 Cor. 11:34).
What Are The "Love Feasts" of Jude 12?
At least three explanations of "love feasts" in Jude 12 satisfy Jude's context without doing violence to the rest of the New Testament which bears upon this topic.
1) Jude's "love feasts" could refer to the continual life of the Christian as he lives in the truth of God. This seems to be Paul's use of the term "feast" in 1 Corinthians 5:8: "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Under this explanation, Jude is warning Christians of the apostates who pretended to love God, His truth and the brethren, but who were in fact harmful "rocks" among them.
2) Jude could simply be referring to the Lord's Supper. It is the one supper the church has been commanded to observe (Matt. 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 11:17-34). We partake of the "table of the Lord" to remember His death for our sins (1 Cor. 10:21; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:26). Under this explanation Jude is warning of false brethren who "crept in unnoticed." Although they partook of the Lord's Supper with faithful brethren, their error was in fact dangerous (hidden "rocks") and jeopardized the spiritual life of the saints.
3) Jude may have in mind the meals which Christians ate together "from house to house with gladness and simplicity of heart" (Acts 2:46; cf. Lk. 14:12-14). If so, the passage would at the most be advocating individual action - not church-sponsored meals.
Jude 12 warns us against false teachers who disrupt brethren's faith and corrupt the cause of Christ. One such disruptive and corrupting doctrine is that local churches have the scriptural authority to provide and/or promote social activities (such as pot-lucks, i.e., "fellowship meals") for its members.
The context of Jude 12 is a warning against false teachers and their false teachings. It does not contain a commandment, an apostolic-approved example or a necessary conclusion that the local church has a scriptural right to engage in any part of the social gospel.
Jude 12 does not authorize church-sponsored social gatherings. They simply are not in the text or its context. Neither can they be found in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 or Acts 2:46. Relying on Jude 12 to approve church-sponsored social gatherings is a futile appeal to the wisdom and will of man (Col. 2:8, 22). Beware!
To ignore the false teacher and his false teaching is even more dangerous than a
ship's captain ignoring the presence of reefs and rocks in the ocean. Hidden rocks can
take a seaman to his death. False teachers, when hidden among us, will take souls with
them into eternal destruction! (2 Pet. 2:1-3)
1 Roy Allen Davison, "Worship," www.oldpaths.com/Archive/Davison/Roy/Allen/1940/worship.html
2 Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch. 8; Clement of Alexandria, Instructor, Book II, Ch. 1; Tertullian, Apology, Ch. 39; Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book II, Sec. IV, Ch. 28