The Genesis account of the garden of Eden speaks of all the permitted array of foods, as well as the one forbidden fruit. The Old Testament sacrificial system involved offerings of food - some of which was burned, others of which were given to the priests and their families to eat. Much of the ceremonial law involved clean and unclean foods. It was a famine that drove the Israelites into Egypt. And the Exodus was centered around the Passover meal. The Lord provided Manna to the children of Israel in the Exodus. The promised land was a land of "milk and honey." In Psalm 23, we pray to our Lord the Shepherd to lead us to "green pastures" and to "prepare a table" for us. In Psalm 34:8, we are exhorted to "taste and see that the Lord is good." The prophet Ezekiel was given a scroll to eat, served to him by the Lord Himself.
The New Testament is likewise filled with the imagery of food. Our Lord begins His ministry by fasting. He participates in the Jewish feasts. His first miracle is at a wedding banquet. He gets in trouble for eating with sinners and because His disciples do not follow the table rules. He feeds the multitudes. And when He raises the 12-year old girl from the dead, he exhorts her parents to "give her something to eat." He tells us to consider the birds who do not sow or reap, and yet are fed by their Heavenly Father. Jesus tells many parables concerning feasts and banquets. Our Lord was even accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. He calls Himself the Bread of Life, and tells us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. The Book of Revelation is filled with glorious imagery, including the scroll that St. John, like Ezekiel, was instructed to eat and which was served to him by an angel, as well as the reappearance of the Tree of Life and its 12 types of fruit in the final chapter.
In America, we are generally not accustomed to simply eating what is set before us by a servant. We like to be in control. At a sit-down restaurant, we often substitute one item for another, or ask for our meal to contain more of this, less of that, or none of those.
And perhaps the most quintessential American approach to food of all is the buffet. You eat what you want, when you want, as much as you want. Service is kept to a bare minimum - if at all. You know exactly how much it is going to cost. You leave whenever you want because you have paid up front. You can simply feed yourself. You become the sole judge of what is best for you.
And along with the buffet, America gave the world TV dinners and microwave cuisine - designed for eating alone, "self-feeding" if you will.
This individualism has even had an effect on the Christian metaphor of feeding on the Word of God and in the non-metaphorical feeding of the Lord's Sheep in the Lord's Supper.
Here is an interesting snapshot as to how the "feeding" metaphor is employed by a Protestant and Emerging/Emergent church and pastor (or more accurately, the pastor's wife).
Notice the "self-feeder" language and the shift in emphasis from the Sunday Divine Service to the home. The notion of the Lord's people needing to be fed is even mocked in a crass way that is alien to the teaching of Holy Scripture. The author tries to make it seem ridiculous for people to want to be fed by recounting a stunt in which a "youth pastor" wore a diaper in the church. I find it hard to believe that any pastor has never fed the Lord's Word, if not His body and blood, to adults wearing diapers. In infirmity and in age (as well as in infancy) is where we often see the lowly service of our Lord to helpless sinners in their most humble estate. This is the theology of the cross and of the monergism of grace at their clearest. It is too bad that this is used as a way to discourage people from seeing themselves as in need of being fed by mocking such helplessness. Our blessed Lord Himself also wore diapers, and was cared for in love and holy service.
It's not my desire to throw stones at Pastor Kimball or his church. Rather, my purpose is to highlight the difference between the traditionalist, Catholic view - grounded in Scripture and the history of the Church - vs. the modern American Protestant view that tends toward the pragmatic. The two emphases are diametrically as opposed to one another as are the theology of glory and the theology of the cross.
Jesus never tells the people they must feed themselves as individuals. For if we could "feed ourselves" we could be saved by the law and would need no Redeemer. In fact, He explicitly tells the apostles: "You give them something to eat" (Matt 4:16, Mark 6:37, Luke 9:13). He specifically uses His ministers to serve the multitudes: "Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds" (Matt 14:19). Our Lord never tells the people they are on their own and must "self-feed."
In John 21:15-19, the Lord specifically commissions St. Peter, as the leader of the apostolic ministers, to "feed my lambs" (v. 15), "tend my sheep" (v. 16), and "feed my sheep" (v. 17).
This is not to discourage Bible study. Far from it. But pastors are given to the people of God to "feed" them with the Word and with the Sacrament of the Altar - nourishing them as a community in the faith that makes us all members of one body. This is why pastors are to be "apt to teach" (1 Tim 3:2). The modern American view of religion is, by contrast, individualistic and focused not only on "study" (rather than "mystery") but also on "self" (rather than "community"). Christian bookstores even sell individually packaged one-shot "communion" kits, with a plastic creamer-style container of grape juice and an attached wafer for individual consumption. To many, study Bibles take the place of attendance at a Bible class, and watching a sermon on TV has replaced attending a Divine Service in the flesh. We are a nation of do-it-yourselfers, even when it comes to our faith.
We Lutherans need to keep in mind what we confess about not only the Church but also about the Sacraments (especially Holy Communion - which is, by definition, communal) lest we fall into the trap of individualism and reducing the mysteries of God to intellectual knowledge or Bible trivia.
The eternal heavenly banquet, the marriage feast of the Lamb is not a self-centered buffet where you take what you want (and believe what you want), at your own convenience and according to your individual tastes and wants; nor is it a lonely mouthful of once-frozen industrial grog from a microwave oven, served in a PVC "dish," eaten alone hunched over a computer screen. No indeed! It is a glorious banquet eaten with all the faithful in the presence of the One who feeds us! The Lord has armies of servants - both there in eternity and here on earth - who serve the Lord's people.
The Christian faith has never been about being a "self-feeder." In fact, the one time we were entrusted with "self-feeding" didn't turn out well at all. By contrast, we confess in the words of the hymn from the ancient Liturgy:
Lord of lords in human vesture,
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heav'nly food. (LSB 621)
--- Rev. Larry Beane