The Gospel Coalition

Editors' Note: Weekly communion may be standard in Anglican churches, but it's become a badge of honor in a growing number of Presbyterian and Baptist churches. Is this a good trend, and should other churches celebrate the Lord's Supper every time they meet on Sunday? We solicited three perspectives to help you make up your mind. See also:

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Living in a land of drive-thru cappuccinos and customizable DVR TVs, Christians have often been tempted to engage with the church in a similar fashion---quickly, easily, and preferentially. The Lord's Supper provides us with such an example. Mistakenly seen by many as a traditional accent to an already packed worship service, this time of communion has easily slipped into becoming something other than what Christ originally intended for it.

The Lord's Supper was instituted by the head of the church---Jesus Christ. Taking the history and imagery already understood by the account of the Exodus and God's salvation of his people, Jesus shifted Christians' attention from a blood soaked mantle to a blood soaked cross and the salvation found in him alone. He ordained that this practice should continue in the church until he returns again.

Unfortunately, the history of the church shows such observance of the Lord's Supper became only an annual observation, if not even less frequently. As the Reformation returned the Word of God to its authority, the Reformers also returned to regular times of observing the Lord's Supper. But then they needed to determine just how often was often. Today such discussion continues. Some contend for weekly. Others contend for every time the church gathers, meaning several times throughout the week in some cases. Others contend for frequent but not necessarily weekly partaking. Everyone seems to have their favorite person from church history to support their position.

I am in that latter group practicing it regularly but not weekly. I won't try to pit Luther against Calvin. I won't try to exegete a Greek word to win my position. I think the point is much easier to make. Scripture is silent on this matter as it applies to being prescriptive for us today.

Our Practice


It has been our intentional practice as a church to observe the Lord's Supper on the first Sunday of each month. Why? The warnings attached to the Lord's Supper in Scripture are concerned with drunkenness, selfishness, unrepentance, and other displays of partaking in an "unworthy manner" (1 Cor. 11:17-34). So Castleview Baptist Church (CBC) has chosen to have our observation be in a predictable pattern of the first Sunday of the month. This allows a sense of anticipation and preparation of our people of that important time. We rally around the work of Christ seen in the displays of the bread and wine ("fruit of the vine," i.e. grape juice, for those us influenced by the American temperance movement). We are called to remembrance, repentance, restoration of Christian relationships, and a reminder of a reunion to come, all for the honor of Christ.

Carefully considering our religious landscape and a possible inclination toward meaningless repetition, we have chosen to find a cadence of practice that calls for our regular remembrance, repentance, and reminder of his coming return without a frequency that inclines us toward ritualism.

I applaud what has happened in many evangelical churches of late, namely the return to frequent, if not weekly, observance. Such desire to find the balance between remembrance and ritualism seems to only set the table for the more important matters, such as the "fencing of the table," which has been missing for far too long. May our frequency be characterized by such commitments as we remember that "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). To that I say, "Maranatha!"


Comments:

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dwainlove

April 24, 2012 at 07:56 AM

Meanwhile billions of people die and spend an eternity in hell separated from God forever! Never hearing the good news of Christ. Many people who call themselves Christians are deceived into thinking they are ok.

Will Barrett

April 22, 2012 at 06:43 AM

Agree with those arguing that the claim of repetition is unfounded and, indeed, unfair. Would be nice if TGC could find a response from an Anglican minister.

James K.

April 22, 2012 at 03:37 PM

Acts 2:42 clearly shows the pattern of the early New Testament church. "They devoted themselves to the apostlesí teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Thus, it was done more than once a year. They regularly listened to the teaching (God's Word), prayer, fellowship and breaking of bread. In this regard, many Plymouth Brethren assemblies are a great example. These churches have breaking of bread or remembrance meetings every Sunday for one hour in addition to the regular Preaching/Teaching meeting. The remembrance meeting is central because it is about the cross. We cannot forget the cross or Gethsemane because it is the foundation of our faith. It will be the theme through eternity and central to worship. So to disregard the breaking of bread and the suffering and cross of Christ is a model that is against the New Testament pattern.

David Hoffelmeyer

April 20, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Thanks for a great, thoughtful answer. I still think you're wrong. :-) But I have a lot to learn about Jewish history and tradition. It is good to see someone taking the whole counsel of Scripture into account on the matter. I just think it's a stretch to use the initial command to the Israelites as the prescription for the New Covenant church. But thank God we can go to different churches and still be brothers in Christ!

David Hoffelmeyer

April 20, 2012 at 11:47 AM

I agree, John Carpenter, that the Word is most central to the church's worship, and certainly it is the most foundational mark of a church. The Protestant tradition holds the preaching of the Word and the right administration of the two biblical ordinances/sacraments- the Lord's Supper and Baptism- as the primary marks of the church.

I'm not drifting into superstition. The article above was about communion and its frequency so I meant in my use of "central" that communion is an essential part of corporate church worship in my framework for understanding new Testament worship. That's all.

We don't make sacrifices for our sins anymore; we remember that Christ became our sacrificial Lamb every time we gather around the Lord's table.

I share your zeal for the Word and the need to protect the church from a works-based, extra-biblical sacramental system.

kevin c.

April 20, 2012 at 05:02 PM

"Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Corinthians 5:8 ESV)

just one of many biblical example of an initial command to the Israelites ("the festival" being Passover/Unleavened Bread, not the so-called Lord's supper, obviously) as the prescription for the "new covenant church."

Zechariah (ch. 14) prophesies that the nations will keep the festival of Sukkot/Tabernacles at some point in the future.

Isaiah 56 praises the gentile who will keep (future) the (biblical) Sabbath, and the list could go on. spiritualize the texts in whatever way one can, but they say what they mean and mean what they say.

it saddens me that the "new covenant church" has largely cut itself off from its past roots AND from its future fruit (due to ignorance at best and rank anti-semitism at worst), and exchanged the feasts of Adonai for man-made traditions...but, that's a whole other conversation, i suppose, and of course eventually we'll all get it figured out (as Zech 14 promises).

and yes, i would encourage everyone to learn some more of that "jewish history and tradition," since its really just biblical history and tradition.

again, thanks for the good-natured tone of the discussion, and i agree, baruch HaShem, we can differ about all these things and still be united in Messiah. certainly willing to continue the conversation off-line, if desired, but don't want to keep filling up this thread.

shalom,
KC (kcozzi33@comcast.net)

John Carpenter

April 19, 2012 at 09:12 AM

That would only be true if you preach the same sermon and sing the same songs every week. Bad analogies.

John Carpenter

April 19, 2012 at 09:11 AM

Dustin, If you had a scripture to support weekly communion you'd be quoting it right now. Pastor Bancroft is correct. There is no such scripture.

As for his statement about annual Lord's Supper, while it is condensed, it is effectively accurate. See: http://www.reformedworship.org/article/march-1990/lords-supper-how-often

Larry

April 19, 2012 at 08:57 AM

"Carefully considering our religious landscape and a possible inclination toward meaningless repetition, we have chosen to find a cadence of practice that calls for our regular remembrance, repentance, and reminder of his coming return without a frequency that inclines us toward ritualism."

My reply: The same thing can be said of the preaching of the Word, singing of praise songs, etc.

The logic that the regularity of religious practice leads to empty ritual is fallacious.

[...] Eric Bancroft: We Celebrate the Lord’s Supper Frequently But Not Weekly [...]

[...] Frequently, but not Weekly (Eric Bancroft) [...]

Dustin

April 19, 2012 at 07:09 AM

Eric,

you suggest that Church History has witnessed times when the church did not celebrate communion but once a year. Also, you suggest the reformers placed a higher emphasis on the eucharist than the pre-existant congregations.

As a fellow student of Church history and liturgy, I would appreciate if you offerred specific examples to back up your argument. As a holy sacrament, Aquinas had a 'high' view of communion (not to mention the numerous Orthodox church Fathers). On the flip side, reading the reformers on the Eucharist seemed to deal more with their struggle of fitting the 'Lord's Supper' into their 'non-works' paradigm because of the prominence placed in the Roman Catholic church thanks to Aquinas's theology.

Therefore, you're lack of information seems intentional to support your "scripture has nothing to say on the matter" stance. Perhaps scripture is not as blatant. In this world of presuppositions and prior knowledge, we must acknowledge our own tendencies to read scripture in a way that supports these presuppositions. The lack of evidence you portray here suggests your reading of scripture is through the lens of your presuppositions.

Please emphasize what you have read to develop your preconception that Church History is as flippant about the Eucharist as you seem to suggest.

Michael Wiley

April 19, 2012 at 06:03 PM

I've read all three of the articles on this subject, Ray Van Neste: Three Arguments for Weekly Communion; Kenneth J. Stewart: The Frequency of Communion Calmly Considered and this one, We Celebrate the Lord's Supper Frequently But Not Weekly.
They are timely articles concerning my own thoughts over the past few months. I grew up, was educated in, and now have pastored over 16 years in the Christian Church / Church of Christ. Therefore, for "all" of my life, I have observed weekly communion. recently however I have questioned my own heritage/practice for one primary reason: [1 Corinthians 11:27-30] Here Paul says, "if you eat and drink in an unworthy manner, you drink judgement on yourself." Her'es the rub: In a typical evangelical church, or I would assume, any church, we have non-Christians (seekers) in our midst. We can all agree that the Lord's Supper IS NOT for non-Christians. So a weekly Sunday observance has Christians and non-Christians in attendance. Do you "call-out" the non-Christians EVERY Sunday and tell them they can participate in every other aspect of the service --- but NOT this one --- or do you minimize the segregation and leave it up to their own conscience/belief? I'm a church history buff. In the liturgy of John Chrysostom the Eastern Church has been using for 100s of years, theres a point when the Priest yells, "The Doors! The Doors!" This literally means, get all of the non-believers out of here, lock the doors, because we are getting ready to partake of the body and blood of the Lord (don't wonder off in your theology about that statement - stay with me). From Scripture and the historical practice of the church we can surmise that communion (the Lord's Supper) is a very serious thing. Non-Christians should not partake, but we risk alienating them when they are in our midst.
This thought was compounded a few weeks ago when after a Membership class I taught, a woman came up to me frantic, almost in tears, because I had referred to the above passage in the class. She said, "After you pointed that Scripture out, I didn't hear another word you said because I kept thinking, 'Am I damned' for taking communion.'? She continued, I mean really, I don't know what I believe yet. I'm still searching."

It seems to me that partaking of communion in more intimate services where only Christians are invited or typically attend may be a better way to go than a weekly observance even though I've partaken practically every week of my life along with non-Christians in my midst.

Thanks for the articles

kevin c.

April 19, 2012 at 05:38 PM

david h,

(1) re: "interpreting Scripture with Scripture:" that is exactly my point - "do this" means something defined by previous Scriptures, and here it means "do Pesach/Passover," which is commanded to be an annual occurrence (Leviticus 23, etc.). it is certainly not a novel ceremony. nothing in Scripture indicates such a new ceremony unless one is coming to the text with the so-called Lord's-supper-ceremony-as-we-now-know-it already in mind. 1 Cor 11:20 is the only place the phrase is even found in the Word: "you are not really eating the Lord's supper/supper of the Lord," and this could simply mean, "the way you guys are celebrating this (Passover meal) is not at all in the Spirit of Messiah." anyway, i agree with Scripture interpreting Scripture (rather than later gentile tradition interpreting Scripture) which is precisely why i would maintain an annual celebration is all that was ever envisioned by Yeshua/Paul (in the non-omnipotent usage of the word "envisioned").

(2) re: the phrase "as often as:" the instruction "as often as (perhaps better translated "whenever" or "every time") you celebrate your anniversary, be sure to buy your wife some flowers" surely does not mean you are to start doing that daily or weekly or monthly, it simply tells you what to do when you celebrate it. it is the definition of anniversary that informs us of the frequency, just as it is the definition of Passover that informs us of the frequency of this annual memorial meal that has been enriched with another layer of significance for its participants...we can't just change that on a whim.

(3) re: "breaking bread:" the phrase simply means sharing a meal and is unlikely to be any sort of technical term. it is a traditional jewish practice prior to a meal to separate a loaf of bread and say the "hamotzi" blessing before eating ("blessed are you Lord our G-d, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth" / baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha'olam, ha motzi lechem min ha'eretz). we see Yeshua doing it in Matthew 14:19, as one example...once again, not some new institution, just plain ol' eating. Acts 2:42 merely states the community hung out together, studied the teachings of the Apostles, said *the* prayers and shared a meal with one another. in that sense, i would agree with you that "breaking bread" is central to the church's meeting - sharing meals is such a great way to build family-like community, however i would disagree that the institution now known as the "Lord's supper" has much place at all, other than it being a sentimental ceremony for some. it simply is not the "this" in "do this."

(4) re: timing, we just celebrate at twilight from Nisan 14th to 15th like God said. relying on the hebrew calendar seemed to work fine for everyone in the Bible. maundy thursday not so much...sounds catholic.

(5) and lastly, re: how we "intentionally craft (our) worship services around Christ without the Lord's supper," we read the Bible and find Him on every page, we pray thru Him, we sing of Him and we counsel His words to one another around the dinner table...pretty central fellow.

thanks for the questions; i hope none of the above came across as (too) confrontational, just trying to give you detailed answers to support my position. i appreciated your response and your polite disagreement ("miserably uncomfortable" aside ;-) ).

shalom,
KC

[...] Eric Bancroft: We Celebrate the Lord's Supper Frequently But Not Weekly [...]

Chris

April 19, 2012 at 04:34 PM

The purpose of the supper is, in my mind, to remember, reflect on, and experience the Gospel through our senses, so that the lies we believe would be dispelled and we would live day by day in greater fidelity to our Lord Jesus, and to live in his joy. If we keep this in mind and heart, why would we ever NOT go to the table when gathering? The only reason I can come up with is that we as leaders are not doing a good job of discipling our people in the joy of communing with God and one another at the table. And wouldn't the root of that be that we are not finding much to celebrate there ourselves?

Larry

April 19, 2012 at 03:19 PM

Sacramentalism is a spiritual problem, not a problem of regularity.

Larry

April 19, 2012 at 03:17 PM

It should be noted that i have never even insinuated that the Lord's Supper should be taken every week.

If you are unwilling to see the distinction between the elements and the circumstances there's little that i can do to convince you.

And why is the line drawn at weekly observance? Perhaps monthly observance is too routine as well.

There is no objective way to make the "so often it becomes ritualistic" coherent.

John Carpenter

April 19, 2012 at 03:05 PM

The meal is NOT central to the church's meeting. That's just false. The Lord is, as proclaimed in the Word and (sometimes) remembered in the Lord's Supper. To make the meal the center of the church's worship is the road to sacramentalism (which uses the Lord's Supper to draw people into superstition and away from Christ). In my mind, it's worth only having the Lord's Supper once a month if that's what we have to do to avoid sliding into sacramentalism.

John Carpenter

April 19, 2012 at 03:01 PM

That's just a dodge. The content of the sermon does change but usually the content of the Lord's Supper does not. I like what Ryan says above and I agree that the Lord's Supper can be received weekly profitably. But to make it an uncompromisible principle is divisive and wrong. And to deny the obvious that doing the same thing every week isn't going to be potentially routine and meaningless is simply disingenuous.

David Hoffelmeyer

April 19, 2012 at 02:36 PM

Now Kevin C., your interpretation is the most interesting of the above conversation, because you actually dealt with Scripture! It's funny, then, that I disagree with you most vehemently of all the position's above.

The Reformation tradition of interpreting Scripture with Scripture makes it practically impossible to support your particular position on the matter. There's just no imperative anywhere that tells believers when and how often to take it. What does it say? Just a few verses later, the Apostle Paul does tell us that Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

The phrase, "as often as you drink it", is the only qualifier that sheds light on the frequency of communion. However, it's difficult to say that Paul was saying anything more than to make Christ the center of the Lord's supper. We must do it in remembrance of Christ. That's the command.

The only other reference that I personally find helpful- although I don't think it is authoritative enough to make a doctrine of it- is the Acts 2 account of the church. What did the church do each time the believers met to hear the apostle's teaching, to fellowship and to pray? They broke bread.

The meal was central to the church's meeting. Now, I have trouble imagining the fledgling church had enough money to afford an elaborate feast for each gathering- even when each member held everything in common. To me, then, it's much more likely that the Lord's Supper was the thing to which they devoted themselves.

Hence, I personally think the Lord's supper was instituted much more often than once a year by the earliest church. This still does not adequately found any doctrine that says how often a church should institute the Lord's supper. I personally prefer to have it each week. I won't throw stones at any church that takes it more or less often with adequate biblical reasoning.

Your position makes me miserably uncomfortable, but I won't even say that you're absolutely wrong. One of the greatest beauties of the Lord's Supper is that it draws the church back to Christ each time it's instituted. I would ask your church how you intentionally craft your worship services around Christ without the Lord's supper. And I would also ask, do you really think the historical context of the Lord's Supper gives you adequate ground to say with authority that God wants churches to remember Christ through the Lord's Supper only during the calendar meeting that best corresponds with the Passover? And would this be on Maundy Thursday, or could you even trust the modern calendar formulations? Must we rely on the Hebrew calendar only?

All that said, I think you're wrong, but I'm glad you love Christ and the the Word.

John Carpenter

April 19, 2012 at 02:34 PM

That's why we sing praise, pray and preach once a week. So the issue is NOT whether we should "engage in "remembrance, repentance, restoration . . . on a weekly basis". The issue is HOW we do that. Does it have to be through the Lord's Supper? If so, I would expect the Lord to have told us so. But He didn't.

John Carpenter

April 19, 2012 at 02:31 PM

That's an interesting approach. I would agree with those who say it does appear that the Apostolic church was having it more frequently than once a year. But you're right to suggest that the frequency is a matter of liberty.

John Carpenter

April 19, 2012 at 02:30 PM

Hi Dustin,

The church history he's referring to in which people effectively only partook once a year is from the medieval era, not recently. I believe today's Catholic church serves the "Mass" to parishioners every week.

I've left several comments under ay Van Neste's post. There are no scriptures that tell us to have the Lord's Supper weekly or else you would have picked it up from him and repeated it here.

Ryan

April 19, 2012 at 02:18 PM

One way our church keeps away from "meaningless repetition" is to change the way we take communion. Sometimes we approach the elements. Sometimes the elements are passed out to us. Sometimes we gather around and pass the elements to each other. Sometimes we tear and dip. Sometimes it is already broken for us. Each time the pastor/elders explains why we are taking communion in this way. Not that anything in the sacrament changes, but changing these details emphasize different aspects.

But even when we have done it the same way for weeks on end, I never found it to be meaningless repetition.

Larry

April 19, 2012 at 02:11 PM

You are confusing the elements and the circumstances of worship. The element of the sermon never changes...it is the Bible. The elements of the Lord's Supper never changes...it is the bread and wine.

The circumstance of the sermon does change...the sermon preached. Just as the circumstance of the Lord's Supper changes...at the very least because the sacrament is attached to the word preached and does not stand on its own apart from it.

Ryan

April 19, 2012 at 02:06 PM

Is it too much to demand of God's people that they engage in "remembrance, repentance, restoration of Christian relationships, and a reminder of a reunion to come, all for the honor of Christ" on a weekly basis? Even more so, what is wrong with our church if we would be drinking in an "unworthy manner" if it were celebrated every week? I'm really not trying to be snarky, but I could use this same reason as an argument for observing it every week.

Dustin

April 19, 2012 at 02:06 PM

John,

my point is that this phenomenon is condensed in consideration of the history of the church. If we only consider the recent history, we lose much of the perspective gained through the church's existence.

Secondly, if you would like one example of supportive scripture for the Lord's supper, check out Ray Van Neste's posts. Although it could be argued that my presupposition of the prominence of the Lord's supper is biased to read "breaking bread" as communion, I would also suggest the opposite is true, that one's presupposition to downplay the Lord's supper, because of a cultural taboo against 'ritualism', interprets "breaking bread" as a meal time together.

kevin c.

April 19, 2012 at 01:25 PM

do "this" in remembrance of Me = do "Passover" in remembrance of Me. once a year is clearly commanded in Scripture. doing it more frequently is probably not sin, but there is certainly nothing but man-made tradition supporting such practice (again, not that that makes it wrong).

Jeff Gardner

April 19, 2012 at 01:17 PM

I personally find both sides of this conversation compelling. However, I am weighing in briefly not to join in debate but simply to share our practice and reasoning. We celebrate Communion one a month and have since our inception ten years ago. We do not do so on any particular Sunday of the month. Rather, we look at the topics of our current series for the month and determine the date of Communion based on those. We choose the Sunday of the month in a way that allows the preaching to best highlight and lead into the sacrament. For what it's worth...