Why Weekly Communion?

The Rationale For Weekly Observance of the Lord’s Supper

By Rev. John Orlando

 

The Lord’s Supper has been celebrated by Christians for over 2,000 years. Nevertheless, in the history of the church there has been much disagreement about many aspects of the Supper, to include, but certainly not limited to, the nature and meaning of the sacrament, and the frequency that it is to be celebrated, which will be the focus of this paper.

To lay some of the groundwork for that discussion, Hughes Oliphant Old traces the development of the church’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper down through ages. He notes that by “the end of the New Testament period the Christian celebration of this meal…had become a weekly celebration held every Lord’s Day…”[1]  However, by “…the end of the Middle Ages, the Lord’s Supper had already a long time before become the sacrifice of the Mass. It was a sacred drama that reenacted the sacrifice of Christ on the cross…The awesome idea of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood led to the practice of receiving Communion but once a year…”[2]

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century brought a recovery of biblical authority and the Scriptures as the sole infallible rule for faith and practice, and with that a recovery of the gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in and by Christ alone, all to God’s glory alone. Related to this was also a change in how the sacraments were understood, both in terms of their nature and meaning, and its practice. While the Reformers disagreed on various aspects of the sacraments, “there was agreement about the most pressing liturgical reforms needed in the celebration of the Communion service.”[3]

Part of this included more frequent observance of Communion. Calvin, for example, strongly condemned the practice of yearly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and argued that based on both the authority of Scripture, and the practice of the early church, the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated whenever the church is gathered for corporate worship: “Plainly this custom which enjoins us to take communion once a year is a veritable invention of the devil…For there is not the least doubt that the Sacred Supper was in that era set before the believers every time they met together…the Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually.”[4] Unfortunately, as N.R. Needham points out, Calvin “…had to make concessions to the Genevan magistrates and accept a celebration of communion only four times a year, at Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and the frist Sunday in September.”[5]

Today, there is still uncertainty and disagreement regarding the frequency of the Lord’s Supper among Evangelical and Reformed churches, with most opting to celebrate it either once per month, or quarterly.[6] Part of the difficulty for many is the belief that the Scriptures simply have not spoken clearly about the issue, and have more or less left it up to the leadership of local congregations to determine the frequency.  For example, this article from a broadly Evangelical perspective states, “Since the Bible does not give us specific instruction as to frequency, there is some latitude in how often a church should observe the Lord’s Supper.”[7] We see a similar conclusion, however, reached even by the Westminster divines, the authors of the Westminster Standards of 1646, who state in the Directory for Public Worship, “The communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated; but how often, may be considered and determined by the ministers, and other church-governors of each congregation, as they shall find most convenient for the comfort and edification of the people committed to their charge.”[8]

While one can appreciate the historical context in which the divines wrote and some the challenges in thinking as already noted that existed around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, can it really be said that the Lord simply leaves it up to us to determine how “frequent” is frequent? Are the Scriptures really that ambiguous as to how often the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated as the church gathers for corporate worship? Can we say with such certainty that there is latitude in how often we should observe the Lord’s Supper?

It is my contention that the Scriptures consider the Lord’s Supper to be a vital element of the weekly worship service, and the pattern that we see in the Scriptures is that when the New Testament (NT) church was gathered in corporate worship on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated, and this set the pattern for the church of all ages to follow until the return of Christ.  I will examine this thesis by exploring 1) the Scriptural rationale for weekly Communion, 2) the practice of the early post apostolic church, 3) the theological rationale, and finally 4) answer some common objections to the practice of weekly Communion.

Scriptural Rationale for Weekly Communion

The Synoptic Gospels provide the account of our Lord’s institution of the Lord’s Supper:[9]  In those passages, we find Jesus and His disciples gathered to eat the Passover meal.  This context is crucial to understanding the significance of the Lord’s Supper. The Passover meal was “the first of all the annual feasts, and historically and religiously it was the most important of all…[it] commemorated the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt and the establishment of Israel as a nation by God’s redemptive act.”[10]  It was in this Passover meal that “…God met with his people and, on the basis of the sacrifice made and accepted (Ex. 12:27; 34:25), united himself with them in joyful celebration.”[11]

During the meal, Jesus redefines the meal in light of the redemptive, substitutionary, sacrificial work that He was going to perform.  First, He took the bread (the unleavened bread served at the Passover meal[12]) and broke it and told them to “take, eat; this is my body.” (Matt 26:26) The unleavened bread represented the bread of affliction that God’s people ate when they came from the land of Egypt (Deut 16:3). When Jesus breaks this bread, and says that it is His body, He “…makes it refer to the redemption that he is about to accomplish by his own suffering.”[13] His body was going to be broken (i.e., He would suffer physical death) on the cross for the affliction caused by our slavery to sin—all of the guilt, and brokenness and curse and wrath of God (Isa 53:4; Gal 3:10-14).

After this, Jesus takes the cup of wine and gives it them to drink, and tells them, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins …” (Matt 26:27-28) Jesus’ words have a direct connection to the confirmation of the old covenant in Exodus 24. After God delivered His people from Egypt, He brought them to Mt. Sinai where He gave them His eternal Law and made a covenant with them (Ex 20).  In Exodus 24, that covenant is sealed by God as Moses sprinkles them with the “blood of the covenant.” (Ex 24:8) Then, just prior to entering the Promised Land, the Lord reaffirms His covenant with His people, and spells out the stipulations of the covenant in Deuteronomy chapters 28-29, which can be summed up as “blessings if you obey, but curses if you disobey.”  Unfortunately, Israel disobeyed the stipulations of the covenant in the Promised Land, and were eventually exiled from the land (2 Kgs 17:22-23; 25:1-21).

God though, through the prophet Jeremiah, tells them that He is going to make a new covenant with His people, not like the old covenant that was made on Mt. Sinai that the people broke (Jer 31:31-34). In this covenant, God would write His Law, not on tablets of stone, but on the hearts of His people. They would all know the Lord and He would forgive their sins. Likewise, the Lord, through the prophet Ezekiel, also speaks of this new day and the blessing of this new covenant, saying that He would sprinkle His people with clean water, and give them a new heart and put a new Spirit within them to cause them to walk in His statutes. (Ezek 36:24-27)

Thus, by “…fusing the two texts together (Exod. 24:8 and Jer 31:31), Jesus interprets his impending death as the sacrifice that establishes the new covenant associated with the second exodus.”[14] Jesus is essentially saying “The time of that second exodus is now!”  The gracious promise of salvation that was conceived of and initiated before time (Eph 1:3-6), proclaimed in Gen. 3:15, filled out in the eternal covenant to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3;15; 17:1-14), and which was to be fulfilled in this new covenant (Jer 31:31, Gal 3:16-18), has now reached its fulfillment in Christ. The new covenant in Christ’s blood is the full blossoming of the beautiful flower of the overarching covenant of grace of salvation by God’s grace alone through the work of His mediator, the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, who would crush the head of the serpent through His sacrificial death on the cross for His people, and whose triumph would be ultimately seen in His bodily resurrection from the dead.[15]  Every single aspect and benefit of that salvation was secured and sealed by the blood of Jesus, the true paschal lamb of God, whose blood is now poured out for the sins His people and powerfully effects their salvation as it is applied to them by the Holy Spirit.

In summary then, Keith Mathison states, “In the transformed Passover of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus announces that in and through Him a New Exodus is begun.”[16] And that New Exodus will not be completed until He returns again. This is what Jesus meant when He goes on to tell them that that He would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when He drinks it new in the kingdom of God (Matt 26:29).  Jesus here is speaking about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that is going to happen at the end of time, when all of God’s people—the many for whom Jesus poured out His blood from every nation, tribe and tongue (Rev 5:9)—are gathered together to dine with King Jesus, clothed in the glorious robes of the righteousness of Christ, forever set free from the penalty and power of sin, and then at that day, from the very presence of sin!

Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper then “as a permanent “good” for his church. It is a benefit added to all the other benefits to signify and seal the latter. And it will endure until the time of Christ’s return. His death must be proclaimed until he comes. For in this dispensation the cross is and remains the source and cause of all blessings, the center of the church’s remembrance…Christ instituted the Supper as an act of remembering his suffering, as a proclamation of his death, as a means of his abundant grace.”[17]

Moving on from the institution of the Supper and its significance, we must now examine the practice of the early New Testament church as found in the Scriptures.

Acts 2:42-44

On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church, we read that over 3,000 people were added to the church that day (Acts 2:41). Acts 2:42 then describes the early worship practices of the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…” Here we find four key elements that marked the worship of the gathered covenant community:[18] They devoted themselves to 1) The apostles’ teaching (i.e., the Word of God); 2) the fellowship; 3) the breaking of bread; 4) and prayer.[19]

Of particular concern related to the question of the frequency of the Lord’s Supper is determining what is meant by “the breaking of bread.” Some commentators see this as referring merely to common meals shared by believers;[20] however, the phrase “the breaking of bread” in this context and its usage elsewhere (Acts 20:7,11; 1 Cor 10:16) indicate that this is another way of referring to the Lord’s Supper, where the covenant community gathered together in fellowship would remember the person and work of Christ and feed upon Him by faith.

Besides the context and comparison with other texts, Dennis Johnson notes how the Greek text has the definite article in reference to “bread”—the phrase literally reads: th/| kla,sei tou/ a;rtou—(yet, the definite article is lacking in English translations). The force of the definite article may add more exegetical support that this in fact a reference to the Lord’s Supper:  “Luke’s reference to “the bread” (tou/ a;rtou, with the definite article) suggests that he is referring not to the meals that believers often shared together, but to the Lord’s Supper…”[21]

While there is uncertainty by some commentators as to whether the phrase “the breaking of the bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper (at least in some sense), such an understanding nevertheless has much support from commentators down through the years and from various traditions:

Matthew Henry: “They frequently joined in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper. They continued in the breaking of bread, in celebrating that memorial of their Master’s death, as those that were not ashamed to own their relation to, and their dependence upon, Christ and him crucified. They could not forget the death of Christ, yet they kept up this memorial of it, and made it their constant practice, because it was an institution of Christ, to be transmitted to the succeeding ages of the church.”[22]

Evangelical Commentary on the Bible: “Another activity is the “breaking of bread,” Luke’s expression for the Lord’s Supper which is celebrated as they eat together regular meals.”[23]

The International Bible Commentary: “The breaking of bread in this context is equivalent to the Lord’s Supper (taken as part of a common meal), as only a fundamental activity of the church would be put alongside teaching and prayer.”[24] (emphasis mine)

This text then shows the four key elements of the corporate worship of the early church, and among those elements was the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. While it is true that the text here does not prescribe, but only describes, what the early church did at that particular time, it nevertheless lays the groundwork for the pattern of NT worship, and in-turn provides, at the very least, a justification of the practice of weekly Communion.

Building off of this text, there are three other passages in the NT that shed more light and fill out more what we see in Acts 2:42 in terms of the practice of the early NT church:

Acts 20:7  “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread…” Paul was in Troas, and Luke mentions how “we” (the church that was in Troas) came together on the first day of the week specifically “to break bread.”  The mention of the first day of the week is significant, as it refers to the change in the time when the NT church would gather for worship, moving from Saturday as was the custom of the church under the Old Covenant, to Sunday, the first day of the week.[25] Just as important is the fact that the text makes it clear that they gathered specifically to break bread. As Keith Mathison states, “What is especially significant about this passage, however, is that Luke tells us the reason or purpose for the Christian gathering: it was in order “to break bread.”…Luke indicates in the book of Acts that Christ’s command on the night of the Lord’s Supper is the reason for weekly Christian worship on the first day of the week, and that to gather together without obeying that command is to defeat the purpose of the gathering.”[26]

Again, the issue becomes what precisely is meant by the breaking of bread. With it occurring in the context of the gathered covenant community on the first day of the week, and therefore the weekly corporate worship gathering, and the fact that “breaking of bread” is clearly shorthand for the Lord’s Supper (depending on context), I believe this is indeed a reference to the Lord’s Supper. If that is the case, then this is a powerful indicator of just how central the Lord’s Supper was to the worship of the early NT church every week, and by extension ought to still be today, unless there is a clear indication in Scripture that it should not be. Instead, as we consider other texts, it becomes clearer that the Lord’s Supper was an integral part of the weekly worship of the gathered church, and should be today as well.

1 Corinthians 10:14-17 – “14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15  I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Paul is exhorting the church at Corinth to not do as ancient Israel had done in rejecting the Lord in favor of idols (verses 1-15). Paul is building a redemptive historical case based on Israel’s exodus and their experience in the wilderness. When they were delivered through the sea (baptized into Moses), they all had the “same spiritual food” (a reference to the manna) and the same spiritual drink (the rock that followed them, which Paul says was in fact Christ).

Paul then moves to the NT church by analogy, and speaks of the new food and drink that we have at the Lord’s Table. If the food and drink under the old covenant were spiritual food and drink, how much more the food and drink under the new covenant that is served at the Lord’s Table? To add even more substance to this, in v. 16, Paul speaks of the “cup of blessing” and the bread that we break as a “participation” (KJV “communion”) in the body of Christ.  What this all shows us is that the Lord’s Supper is much more than a bare memorial; rather, it is indeed a means of grace. Herman Ridderbos states, “This redemptive historical analogy also casts clear light on the New Testament Supper. As Israel was in Moses once led out of Egypt and further kept alive in the wilderness by God’s miraculous power, so for the church not only does its once for all deliverance lie in Christ’s death, but its continual food and drink as well. The Lord’s Supper, as a communion in the body and blood of Christ delivered up in death, is also spiritual food and drink…Therefore, this food and drink may also be called “spiritual,” pneumatic, not only because it is from heaven, but because it makes us live out of Christ’s self-surrender, and this imparts his Spirit (Rom 5:5).[27]

With reference to verse 16, we also note that Paul speaks of “the bread that we break.” This helps us see that in the mind of the NT writers (specifically Luke and Paul), to speak of breaking bread in the context of the gathered covenant community is a reference to the Lord’s Table.

Though there is no direct mention of frequency, the text merely states what is presumed to be a key element of the worship of the gathered covenant community. In the context of this passage and the appeal to flee from idolatry, Paul calls attention to the Lord’s Supper as the covenantal meal that the risen and ascended Lord invites His covenant people to, so that they might celebrate and experience continued communion with Christ and His people and participate and share in all of the benefits of the meal.

1 Corinthians 11:18-26

 

In verses 18-19, Paul speaks of the divisions he hears that are among them when the church comes together (for corporate worship), and as a result he says in v. 20 “ When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” (emphasis mine) The clear inference in this passage is that every time the church gathered for worship (“when you come together as a church” (v. 18, emphasis mine) “when you come together…” (v. 20)), central to that gathering was the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The divisions among them revolved specifically around the manner in which they partook of the sacrament (v. 21), which undermined a key aspect of what the sacrament was about, namely, their communion with one another. The meal, as a remembrance of the person and work of Christ and our union in Him through the sacrificial work of Christ, among other things was also a unique showcase of our union with one another in Christ by the Spirit, and as such it was a meal that the covenant community was to share together, since we are one body. Paul highlighted this fact earlier in 1 Cor 10:17 “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

Thus, the Corinthian disunity around the Table is in direct contradiction to this significant aspect of the purpose of the Lord’s Supper, so much so that Paul just plainly states in v. 20 “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.”[28] (emphasis mine) Again, Paul’s expectation was that each Lord’s Day (the first day of the week) when the church gathered, they would partake of the Lord’s Supper, but by their actions they demonstrated that they were not really eating the Lord’s Supper, even though they thought that they were!

Then in verses 23 – 25 Paul recounts the words of institution which he says he received from the Lord, and in v. 26 alludes to one of the key purposes of the meal: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes…” Here we see that the Supper itself is a proclamation of death and return of Christ. As Mathison states, “The Lord’s Supper is a visible sermon in which Christ’s death is visibly proclaimed.”[29]

Of particular note in this text though with reference to frequency are the words “as often as…” This phrase largely accounts for the differences in terms of the frequency of celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is thought that the Lord has not clearly prescribed how often the church ought to celebrate the Supper. Rather, the words “as often as” are taken to mean that each congregation is more or less free to determine the frequency. The following quote is in response to a blog article about the frequency of the Lord’s Supper that serves as an apt example of this mindset:

“Rudy Tidwell says: For more than 50 years of serving as a pastor, I served churches that observed the Lord’s Supper the first Sunday of each month, and others the first Sunday of the quarter, or every 5th Sunday. My belief is that we must observe it often enough to make it a vital part of our ongoing worship services, but not so often that it becomes merely ritual. Too often can cause the people to lose [its] real meaning, and observing it so seldom can cause us to forget what it is all about. If we neglect to observe the Lord’s Supper we are in direct disobedience to Christ. His command to us is “do this, AS OFTEN as you do it, in remembrance of me.””[30] (emphasis in the original).

Mr. Tidwell’s thoughts here are common; however, from the passages we have observed earlier, and in the context of this passage itself, it is clear that this is not what is intended by the phrase “as often as”. The point is simply that every time you celebrate the Lord’s Supper—which, as v. 20 makes clear is “when you come together” (that is, when you gather together as a covenant community to worship the Lord)—you are proclaiming Christ.

In summary of the Scriptural rationale for weekly celebration, while we cannot say that the Scriptures absolutely prescribe the practice of weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, they do give us insight into the pattern of worship of the early NT church, and central to the worship gathering on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, was the observance of the Supper.  Larry Wilson summarizes the point well:  “The Lord’s Supper was such a significant part of early church worship that their whole gathering could legitimately be designated by its climax, communion with the resurrected Christ in his Supper.”[31]  The real question, then, is not “should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly?” Rather, it is “What are the biblical grounds for not celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly, and what are the biblical grounds for any other frequency other than weekly observance?” These passages clearly indicated that there is biblical grounds only for weekly observance (or, when the church is gathered corporately for worship), and any other frequency (monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc) is totally arbitrary and lacking completely in biblical support.

 

The Practice of the Early Church

 

While Scripture alone is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice, and our worship must be regulated by the Word (WCF 21.1), the practice of the church in the earliest years after the apostles is helpful for us to examine, since we might presume that the worship tradition of the church would have had less time to have been corrupted.

With regard to the worship of the early church, Larry Wilson states: “Clear and early references to the practice of weekly communion in the Didache, in Justin Martyr’s First Apology, in Hippolytus’s Apostolic Tradition, and in Tertullian’s Defense of Christianity confirm this understanding that the apostolic church celebrated the Lord’s Supper weekly. It’s true that this evidence does not carry the authority of God’s Word, but surely it is a significant testimony to what the church understood God’s Word to teach! Isn’t it telling that so soon after the time of the apostles the Christian community observed this practice, apparently without controversy?”[32]

As noted earlier, this was in fact the practice likely up until the Middle Ages. The key point here is that what caused the church to cease celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly was not because there was ambiguity on the issue of frequency; rather, it was due to a false theology that arose regarding the sacrament.  This leads naturally to the next point of consideration:

Theological Rationale for Weekly Communion

The theological rationale derives from the Scriptural rationale (since our theology is and must be derived from the Scriptures). In the absence of any clear command to celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly, our theological understanding of the sacrament will help shed light both on the nature of the sacrament, and in-turn why the Scriptures place such importance on its practice.

From what we have observed, the pattern of the church was to celebrate the Supper weekly, and the theology of the sacrament in part helps us understand why. The Westminster Confession helpfully summarizes the nature of the Lord’s Supper and shows the theological import of it when it describes the Lord’s Supper as “…a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with other, as members of the same mystical body.”[33]

The key point in all of this is that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is means of grace.  Robert Reymond states, “…the communion envisioned is more than a mere mental bringing to mind of Christ’s death; it is a renewed appropriation of the spiritual benefits of Christ’s redemption represented by the elements.”[34]  Howard Griffith also remarks, “…the Lord’s Supper is more than a meal of memorial. It is a real fellowship with the resurrected Christ by means of the action of His Spirit.”[35] Griffith then goes on the quote the beautiful words of the Belgic Confession, article 35: “Though Christ always sits at the right hand of His Father in the heavens, yet does He not therefore cease to make us partakers of Himself by faith. This feast is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates Himself with all His benefits to us, and gives us there to enjoy both Himself and the merits of His sufferings and death: nourishing, strengthening, and comforting our poor comfortless souls by the eating of His flesh, quickening and refreshing them by the drinking of His blood.”[36]

The theological rationale then is simple: since the sacrament is all that the Westminster and Belgic Confessions that I have quoted say that it is, we ought to celebrate the sacrament as frequently as is warranted by Scripture, and Scripture clearly shows that the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper every time it met for its corporate worship gathering on the Lord’s Day. To not do so deprives God’s people of a significant means of proclamation of Christ and spiritual nourishment.

Answering Objections

 

The objections are usually similar to those of Mr. Trudy above: celebrating the Supper too frequently will diminish its special nature, and turn into something that is rote. As many others who support weekly observance of the Supper have noted, we do not raise a similar objection to any other thing that we do each week in worship. Yet, for some reason this objection is raised in connection to the Lord’s Supper. One reason for this may be because of a concern among some Protestants with abuses in the understanding of the sacrament such as is found in the Roman Catholic communion. However, as Mathison notes, “..what the Roman Catholic Church does or does not do is not the final standard of faith and practice. It is true that the Mass is celebrated at every Roman Catholic service of worship, but the same is true of the reading of Scripture, the praying of the Lord’s Prayer, and the preaching of sermons.”[37] The argument holds no weight.

Maybe even more to the point, the arguments against weekly Communion are based solely on conjecture. There is little to no reference to Scripture. If there is, there is usually the objection that there is either no clear command to practice weekly communion, or, the Scriptures leave it up to the church to determine how frequently to celebrate the Supper. Just because there is no clear command does not mean that the Scriptures are silent on the issue, as we have seen. Further, on that line of reasoning, we might argue that there is no clear command to do many of things we currently do in worship. In the absence of clear commands, we observe patterns, and make justified inferences on what God would have us do in worship. The great irony is that when we do that, what we find is that the Lord’s Supper, as much as any of the other elements of worship that we take for granted, is singled out as something that the church always did when it met in corporate worship.

As for the assertion that it is left up to the church leadership to determine the frequency, such a claim undermines the authority of Scripture, since there is no clear guidance to that effect, as well as the nature of the sacrament itself.  The Lord has not left us so in the dark about such a vital a means of proclamation and communion with the resurrected Christ and the body that He would leave it up to the whims of sinful men to determine when they should observe the Supper. Far from that, the Scriptures are clear that 1) the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper to be a means of grace for His church, 2) central to the church’s worship is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, 3) The gathered church always celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and in point of fact, it is stated that they gathered for that express reason (1 Cor 11:18).

Conclusion: Every indication in Scripture is that the Lord’s Supper is an essential element of the corporate worship of the church whenever it gathered together, and it is viewed as a vital means that God uses to nourish His people spiritually. This was the prevailing view of the church until the Middle Ages, when false doctrine obscured the meaning and significance of the meal, and resulted in less frequent observance. With the advent of the Reformation and a recovery of the gospel of grace and the authority of the Scriptures, the church once again can see the significance assigned to the Lord’s Supper as an important means of grace that God has provided (along with the preaching of the Word, and prayer) to spiritually nourish His people as they partake of the sacrament by faith. That being the case, the church ought to celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly when it gathers together for its corporate worship on the Lord’s Day, for the good of the people, and the glory of God.

[1] Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship: Reformed according to Scripture, Revised and Expanded Edition (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press) 120. As for the disagreements on the nature of the Lord’s Supper, see Robert Reymond’s summary in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith of the standard Protestant views (Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Reformed/Real Spiritual Presence): Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Second Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 960-961.

[2] Ibid., 126

[3] Ibid., 126

[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Vol 2, Book 4, chap 17, para 46 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1424.

[5] N.R. Needham, Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation, 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power (London, England: Grace Publications Trust, 2004), 221. In footnote 31, Needham goes on to explain the magistrate’s rational for that, saying, “the Genevan magistrates opposed weekly communion because they wanted the Church’s power of excommunication to be kept as far out of sight as possible.”

[6] For example, D.G. Hart and John Muether mention the tradition of quarterly observance that the OPC inherited from the American Presbyterianism: D.G. Hart and John Muether, The Lord’s Supper: How Often?, Ordained Servant, vol. 6, no. 4 (October 1997), accessed Oct 2, 2017, https://www.opc.org/OS/html/V6/4l.html.  In my own experience over the past 23 years, I have seen or been associated with churches from a wide theological, and cultural, cross-section of churches that engaged in monthly observance: Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, charismatic (to include Sovereign Grace churches), nondenominational churches that are predominately White to others that are predominately Black, Bible Fellowship Churches, and Reformed churches from denominations such as the PCA, OPC, and UNRCA. See also the comments on this blog thread, where folks are all over the map in terms of frequency: Chris (no last name), How Often Should Christians Celebrate Communion?, Gospel.com,  November 30, 2009, accessed September 29, 2017, http://www.gospel.com/blog/index.php/2009/11/30/how-often-should-christians-celebrate-communion/

[7] How often should the Lord’s Supper/Communion be Observed?, Got Questions, accessed September 28 (2017),  https://www.gotquestions.org/Lords-Supper-observed.html. Interestingly, we do not find a clear command that the Scriptures must be preached each week that the church is gathered for worship either, yet, we make the inference and do so.

[8] The Directory For the Publick Worship of God, Of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Center For Reformed Theology and Apologetics, accessed September 29, 2017,  http://reformed.org/documents/wcf_standards/index.html. I find the language of here of “convenience” unfortunate. If the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is merely a matter of convenience, then certainly this would tend toward less frequent celebration. After all, it is inconvenient to prepare the meal, even if it is just thimbles of wine and little pieces of bread or crackers. Plus, it extends the service time by about 15 minutes—another inconvenience for those of us in a rush to get home and watch the eternally significant football game at 1pm (and who can be adequately prepared for the game unless one watches one or more of the pregame shows?!).

[9] See Matthew 26:17-29; Mark14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20. We also see a reference to it by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 11:24-25. There are differences in some of the wording between these accounts; however, the substance of what is communicated is the same. With reference to these differences, Howard Griffith states, “In light of the inerrancy of Scripture as God breathed, we should be certain that each account preserve Jesus’ words truly, though not with maximal precision…the multiplicity of accounts presents us with a rich and nuanced divine revelation of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.” Howard Griffith, Spreading the Feast (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015), 42-43.

[10] Steven Barabas, Feasts, New International Bible Dictionary, revising ed. J.D. Douglas, general ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 350. One might argue for yearly observance of the Lord’s Supper since it has replaced the Passover, and the Passover was only yearly. This fails to consider, among other things, how the Lord transforms the meal as a sign and seal of “…the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ, and his benefits; and to confirm our interest in him.” (WCF, 27.1) With that transformation also comes a change in practice, as is evident at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the practice of the church as seen in the Scriptures thereafter (Acts 2:42, 20:7; 1 Cor 10:14-17; 1 Cor 11:11-26).

[11] Griffith, Sacred Feast, 43

[12] R.T. France states, “a;rtoj is not itself determinative of the type of bread, but the Passover context leaves little doubt.” R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek New Testament Commentary, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002) 568 n48.

[13] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, I Corinthians, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, eds. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 736.

[14] Ibid., 736

[15] In their book Sacred Bond, Michael Brown and Zach Keele make the point that “the new covenant is new in relation to the Mosaic covenant, but not the Abrahamic.” Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored (Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 2012), 137. They then define the new covenant as, “God bringing forth the new creation in his people through the finished work of Christ, in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.” (138). Bavinck states, “The Old and the New Testaments are different dispensations of the same covenant of grace and are related as promise and fulfillment (Acts 13:32; Rom. 1:2)…The new thing in the New Testament, therefore, is the shedding of the nonarbitrary but still temporary sensory national forms under which one and the same grace was revealed in the old day.” Herman Bavink, Reformed Dogmatics, vol 3, Sin and Salvation in Christ, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 223. Taking all of this into mind, my own definition of the new covenant is that it is the earthly fulfillment and administration of the eternal redemptive plan and promise (oath-bound commitment) of the Triune God accomplished in history by the person and work of Jesus Christ, the full benefits of which are sovereignly applied by the Holy Spirit to those who are united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, in and by Christ alone, all to God’s glory alone.

[16] Keith Mathison, Given For You (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 235. Thus, as Bavinck states, “…the rite of Passover first served as an offering of atonement and was then used as a sacrificial meal to signify God’s communion with his people. All this Christ transfers to himself. He is the true Passover lamb, who by his death, by the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood, effects atonement with God and lays the foundation for a new covenant.” Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol 4, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, 546.

[17] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 549.

[18] With reference to this passage and these four elements, Calvin remakes: “It became the unvarying rule that no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper and almsgiving.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol 2, Book 4, chap 17, para 44, 1422.

[19] While singing is not mentioned, I believe it can be subsumed under the heading of the apostles teaching (God’s Word) (Col 3:16)

[20] See IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Acts, Bible Gateway, accessed October 2, 2017, https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Acts/New-Testament-Church-Life.

[21] Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997), 75.

[22] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Acts, Bible Gateway, accessed October 4, 2017, https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Acts.2.42-Acts.2.47

[23] William Baker, Acts, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 889.

[24] E.H. Trenchard, Acts, International Bible Commentary, New Edition, ed. F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986) 1275.

[25] Old says, “The first day of the week was the day of resurrection, the day when Jesus came to his disciples and broke bread with them. Jesus took the initiative of making this the day of Christian worship, the day of remembrance, the day on which, with the break of the bread and the sharing of the cup, the church celebrated the memorial of Christ’s passage from death to life…The earliest Christians worshipped on the first day of the week because this was the day the risen Jesus came to them.” Old, Worship: Reformed according to Scripture, 25.

[26] Mathison, Given For You, 227

[27] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 420, quoted in Griffith, Sacred Feast, 52.

[28] Griffith states, “Their ill treatment of each other at the Supper had prompted Paul to rebuke the church at Corinth. God was actually bringing judgment to “many” in the Corinthian church (v. 30). Verses 21-22 indicate that there as a humiliating of the poor brethren of the church and so a shaming of them (“one goes hungry”), as well as overindulgence in the meal (“another gets drunk”).  The behavior of the wealthy was divisive and thus it undermined the very meaning of the Lord’s Supper.” Griffith, Sacred Feast, 64

[29] Mathison, Given For You, 233.

[30] How Often Should Christians Celebrate Communion? Gospel.com, http://www.gospel.com/blog/index.php/2009/11/30/how-often-should-christians-celebrate-communion/

[31] Larry Wilson, “On Weekly Communion – Some Pastoral Reflections,” Ordained Servant, Vol 14, No. 1 (March 2005), 16, accessed October 1, 2017, https://opc.org/OS/pdf/OSV14N1.pdf

 

[32] Ibid., 16.

[33] Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 168, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, accessed October 3, 2017, https://www.opc.org/lc.html

[34] Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 966.

[35] Griffith, Sacred Feast, 52-53.

[36] Ibid., 54

[37] Mathison, Given For You, 296.