Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jimmy Dunn on "The Lord's Dinner" - II

Did unbelievers ever partake of the "Lord's Dinner"? Can the eucharist be evangelistic? Here Dunn makes an interesting point:

"All this leaves unresolved the question whether unbelievers and outsiders were admitted to the Lord's dinner. The implication of 14.23-24, that such could be present when believers came together as church, may apply only to gatherings for worship. At the same time, we should not assume that the shared meals had a specially sacred character that disbarred unbelievers and outsiders from sharing in them [cf. Rom. 14.6]. Was every shared meal 'the Lord's dinner'? Was the bread broken and the wine drunk at every meal 'in remembrance' of Jesus (11.24-25)? We have already noted the same ambiguity with regard to Luke's references to the 'breaking of bread'. And it would be unduly hasty to assume that the hospitality which a Christian couple like Aquila and Priscilla extended to fellow believers and others would have had a markedly different character (in their eyes) from the meals shared when the whole church gathered in one place. Whether or not the Lord's table was seen as an evangelistic opportunity in these early years, we can be fairly confident that Christian hospitality did result in many guests and visitors coming to faith in the Lord of their hosts" (Dunn, BFJ 647).


Andrew said...

Fascinating questions.

Mick Porter said...

My view is that there may be continuity between "Jesus' meals with sinners" (as found throughout Luke's Gospel account) and the "Dinner".

If there is such continuity, then the dinner would be viewed missionally - an excellent time to demonstrate community, hospitality, generosity, etc.

We had a church functioning in Brisbane for a while that practised the Dinner that way; a full meal every Sunday that was fully inclusive.

John Thomson said...

Surely the meal is intended for the family of God. For example 'unworthy eating' will bring judgement, not a case therefore for casual eating by all. Paul forbids by pointing out the incongruity of eating at the table of the Lord and a pagan table.

We remember too it is those who profees to be his own that Jesus gathers in the upper room to 'dine' with. This was a special 'family' meal as was the passover.

E said...

As Dunn notes, there is abiguity.

1 Cor 10 & 11 suggest that the cup and the bread were partaken of as a reminder or renewing of, or a (re)dedication to, a covenant, and would thus likely be restricted to believers.

However, the "when you come together (as/in church)" language is used both for the Lord's deipnon in 1 Cor 11 and for the worship meeting in 1 Cor 14 (at which unbelievers could be present).

Jesus' pattern of meals in the Gospels did seem to be invitations for those outside to enter the kingdom, suggesting that the Lord's deipnon, if patterned after these, could include non-Christian participants. (It's true that for gentiles to enjoy the Passover, their males had to be circumcised. But circumcision was no longer an issue under the New Covenant, so it's hard to extend similar pre-conditions for the Lord's deipnon.) And the lack of discernment that resulted in judgment among the members had to do with their mistreatment of the other members of the body and overt lack of unity, not with misunderstanding some metaphysical nature of a cup and loaf that only believers could partake from.


John Thomson said...


I agree with your observation that the judgement is on believers who eat unworthily.

I would simply add that the meal is a 'physical word' of covenant. To participate in the meal is to express approval/union/confession/commitment to this covenant word. That is why those who eat are responsible and why non-christians should not be invited to eat. Eating signifies believing and belonging.

As an aside, this helps also to cast a light on why the slogan, 'belonging before believing' is so wrong-headed.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

The Lord's [Dinner] is a symbol of New Covenant between God and the new Israel (those who are indwelt, or circumcised, by the Spirit). If an unbeliever participates in it then they are saying something about themselves that is not true. They are identifying themselves with Jesus and his New Community when they are still under the dominion of a different Lord.

jeff miller said...

I have noticed that with the meeting centered on Jesus'commandments, and the emphasized point in common being loyalty to Jesus, that those who have no loyalty to Jesus quit the meetings. This seems to happen even when, through the reasonable hospitality of the group, the disloyal have participated in the meal.