Doing “church” (and all its accompanying habitus) is a hermeneutic for reading the NT and for making church related application. Herein is our hermeneutical problem: NT documents tend to be read (heard) divorced from the most likely venue wherein they were originally read, heard, and repeated as instruction, that is, at a symposium after a gathered-church had reclined at a household deipnon (supper). NT documents should be read within such an authentic venue-hermeneutic, that is as a gathered-church set at a common meal (this is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me), the lifting of a cup to celebrate the Lord Jesus (this cup is the new covenant in My blood), and the ensuing symposium where instruction would have occurred. There is significant hermeneutical and interpretive value to the household-venue and, as such, is important for faithful and relevant trajectory application.
A Meal and Table of Unequals. As most experience the Lord’s Supper, we find no NT equivalent nor within the first 150 years of church history. Despite the NT calling it a supper, most contemporary forms are foreign to the NT, that is, small crackers and a thimble-sized plastic cup (i.e., tokens of bread and wine), with congregants sitting in theater-like rows (i.e., pews or chairs), and all the action and authority “up-front.” The NT Lord’s Supper habitus centered on who reclined at table; whereas, most modern Lord’s Supper habitus is about the appropriate distribution of the tokens. Something happened at those NT/early church gatherings that was culturally subversive and sociologically seditious. The gathered-church formed its identity within the context of “household” amid habitus that was instructive to them and hermeneutical to us.
In the Greco-Roman world, food occasions were a means for creating community and bonding that community together—meals were encoded, social habits were established, and status defined. The habitus of each meal-gathering was a message “about different degrees of hierarchy, inclusion, exclusion, boundaries, and transactions across boundaries.” Men were at the center of such meals and where one reclined at table indicated one’s ranking in society and among his associates. Invitation only. Women and slaves served and did not recline at table. Children were not permitted. However, it was acceptable at these meals for entertainment to include sexual encounters “between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys.” Depending on social class and wealth, there would have been plentiful entertainment, namely “flute girls, party games, gambling, dramas, mimes, strippers, jesters, moral poems, talks, debate, political, religious, moral, abusive, to erotic discussions” and “sexual liaisons and promiscuities were very common.” Classes did not ordinarily mix. The household banquet-meal was a built-in means for social formation, “a miniature reproduction of Roman society,” serving as a virtual classroom where one’s social status was taught, practiced, and formally enculturated. Social mapping was practiced, a habitus marking identity and social boundaries. The banquet-meal was the imperial instrument for maintaining “social control of the polis” and was utilized “to dominate people and keep them in their place.” This was interrupted by the household gathered-church where women, children, slaves, and men from differing classes and economic status were welcome to recline at table as equals—literally an open table of unequals.
The gathered-church adapted, from its NT origin and as the early church took root in the ensuing century, the customary “pattern found throughout their world,” the Greco-Roman household banquet-meal (deipnon) and symposium. Greco-Roman banquet-meal hosts and guests all acknowledged “the gift of food to the gods,” who were understood as the real hosts of the meal. Such meal-gatherings always honored Caesar and some patron deity, which made such meals a blend of social and religious habitus. However, while Romans lifted a cup to Caesar and national deities, local gods, or a household emulate at the bridge between deipnon and symposium, Christians raised “the cup of blessing” in honor of Christ (1 Cor 10:16; cf. 11:23–28). This made each gathered-church at table seditious, for it was not only affirming a traitorous allegiance to another Lord and God, the occasion created a habitus that taught and maintained new identities, removed boundaries, and promoted counter- and cross-cultural relationships.
However, the nature of the gospel and trajectory application of the cross brought about a challenging social-mapping: an ecclesial-demographical mapping of unequal people outside the banquet hall, yet who reclined as equals at table. Adapting the Greco-Roman evening deipnon/symposium set a household gathered-church on the eve (i.e., Saturday evening) of the Lord’s Day (i.e., Sunday), which accommodated the poor and slaves and working children that could not have attended an early morning “service,” for history had yet not giving us a 6-day work week with Sunday off. The wealthy and upper-class church attenders had more power to adjust their daily schedule; the poor and destitute could not. Furthermore, this history and a household-venue hermeneutic allows a fair reading of the deipnon-table and Lord’s Supper issue in 1 Corinthians 10-11 to be about “haves” that were separating (or distinguishing) themselves through food habitus from the “have nots” at the Lord’s table. In this way, the gathered-church-temple (1 Cor 3:16–17; cf. Eph 2:18-22) was being destroyed (1 Cor 11:18–22). These meal-occasions failed, literally at table, to display love toward one another (the reason for chapter 13), thus they had ceased to eat the “Lord’s’ Supper,” abandoning the gospel-ecclesial social-mapping and habitus purpose of the meal.
 Mary Douglas, “Deciphering a Meal,” in Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology (London: Routledge, 1975), 249–75, 249.
 Jamir, Exclusion and Judgement, 17; less so among Jewish households, but still drinking and other forms of merriment were very central to the latter, symposia, part of the banquet.
 Ibid, 16.
 Ibid, 17.
 Street, Subversive Meals, 9. Italics original.
 Ibid, 15.
 Street, Subversive Meals, 11.
 Jamir, Exclusion and Judgement, 15.
 Ferment, 191; note: Justin, 1 Apol. 67.3; Origen, Hom. Luc. 38.6
 Street, Subversive Meals, 37; a similar venue-hermeneutic reading can be made of the James 2 “church” text.
Part 1 | Part 2a | Part 2b | Part 2c | Part 3 | Part 3a | Part 3b | Part 4a | Part 4b | Part 5
For the entire thread (remember to scroll backwards for previous posts) << Gathered-church >>
If these blogs and teachings benefit you in some way, please consider supporting the ministry of Christ Presbyterian Church in The Hill. Our church plant and ministry in the Hill is dependent on the kind and generous financial support from outside the Hill. The Hill is one of Connecticut's poorest and under-resourced, self-sustaining neighborhoods; we will be dependent on outside support for some time. Please consider supporting us with a one time donation or join us as a financial partner in ministry.
You may donate online through our website or send a donation to our anchor church marked for CPC in The Hill @ 135 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06510 (checks are to be made out to Christ Presbyterian Church or simply CPC; and in the memo please indicate Hill/CA). For more information or to receive our Hill News Updates, please contact me, Pastor Chip, through this email address: ChipCPCtheHill@gmail.com.