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When Was the First Cell Meeting?

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Lay augustiniansApart from a search query on “Where was the Church founded”, there is also another one on “When was the first Bible cell meeting?”  I was thinking that this latter was about the Bible cell meetings we were having in the parish.  It turns out however that the one asking the question had another thing in mind.  He (she?) wanted to know where one can find an example of a Bible cell meeting in the Bible itself.  I had a good laugh after realizing that that was what he meant.  The question was intelligent but it was not formulated well.  Bible cell groups began to exist with the first basic christian cell communities.  It has to be distinguished from the Bible sharing groups which began to emerge (here in the Philippines, at least) around the 1970s when the charismatic groups came.  Bible sharing is not a Bible cell meeting.  People attending a Bible sharing group are asked the question “Which part of the text that has been read touched you?  Explain why.”  Bible cell meetings go deeper than that since their concern is not so much how the text “touched one” but how one can live out the message of the whole text during the week.  Basic cell communities began to be established in the Philippines in the rural areas (Northern Luzon and Mindanao) around the 1960s.  For these groups, the Word of God in Scriptures was an inspiration for building up their lives at a time when the central government was not providing for their needs.  These groups were confused with Communist cell groups administered by the NPA in the same areas and so were placed under suspicion.  These ecclesial cell groups  was similar to the ones engendered by the Word of God in Latin America.  Their purpose was to have a venue where they can listen to the Word of God in places which the parish priest cannot reach.  These were made up of families living in the same area who made it a commitment to come together and listen to the Scriptures and meditate on how the Word of God is inviting them to live their Christian commitment in an environment where the even the legitimate government would not raise a finger for them.

 The question is whether there was something similar in the life of the first Christians, and the answer is yes.  We have some evidences in the Acts of the Apostles that there were families of Christians coming together regularly to listen to the Word of God as proclaimed by the apostles in households.  The first clue is given right at the beginning of Acts

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts (RSV) 2:42)
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, (Acts (RSV) 2:46)

This description of the first Christian community of Jerusalem given by Luke is indicative:  the first Christians attended temple services together (this would be for the prayers) and broke bread in their homes.  This “breaking of the bread”  is the eucharistic meal where the memory of the Lord is celebrated.  A part of this act is the preaching of the apostle.

We know from Acts 20 that Paul went to Troas and broke bread in a household. 

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer; and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and embracing him said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. (Acts (RSV) 20:7-11)

Pay attention to the sequence of events in this particular Pauline session:  Paul was preaching and Eutychus fell out the window.  Paul raised him up and then proceeds to complete the breaking of the bread.  After which he stayed awake until morning talking to the people.  From this sequence, we can understand that the breaking of the bread

  1. was held on the first day of the week (Sunday, as in John 20), and during the “session”
  2. Paul delivers a speech  
  3. Paul breaks the bread

The first part of the breaking of the bread — apostolic preaching — would have been Paul’s preaching of his gospel.  I would imagine that he’d be doing here something similar to what he does in the synagogues: to open up the Scriptures and help those attending deepen their faith in the Lord.  A pattern of this process is provided by Luke himself in Acts 24, the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus.  There we find the Risen and unrecognized Lord explain the Scriptures to the disciples.  This ends in the breaking of the bread in Emmaus where the disciples finally recognize the Lord.  The “speech” then leads to the breaking of the bread which Paul does before he leaves the house at Troas to continue his journey.

The Christian “breaking of the bread” is the venue of the first “Christian cell meetings”.  Today, the first part of that “breaking of the bread” — liturgy of the Word — is extended  in our cell meetings whose members by commitment complete their hearing of the Word of God in the reception of the Eucharist

Originally posted 2008-07-08 03:38:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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