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.

**********

I am an avid proponent of weekly communion for our churches. This practice is not directly commanded in Scripture, so I am not accusing others of sin. The issue is the pursuit of "best practice," what best fits the patterns found in Scripture and makes best use of the resources God has given us.

First, then, I think there is strong evidence of a pattern of weekly observance in the New Testament. Already in Acts 2:42, we see communion listed as a central piece of Christian worship. The four activities listed here are not four separate things but the four elements that characterized a Christian gathering. One of the key things the early church "devoted" itself to was the "breaking of bread," i.e. the Lord's Supper. The wording suggests that each of these activities occurred when they gathered.

Perhaps the most striking reference to the frequency of the Lord's Supper occurs in Acts 20:7: "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight."

Paul, on his way to Jerusalem has stopped at Troas. Here "on the first day of the week" he meets with the local church, and Luke directly states that the purpose of their gathering was "to break bread," i.e. to celebrate the Lord's Supper. This passage need not mean the Lord's Supper was the only purpose of their gathering, but it certainly is one prominent purpose and the one emphasized here. The centrality of communion to the weekly gathering is stated casually without explanation or defense, suggesting this practice was common among those Luke expected to read his account. These early Christians met weekly to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

Of course the longest discussion of the practice of the Lord's Supper is in 1 Corinthians. Many issues can be raised here, but the fact that abuse of the Lord's Supper was such a problem in Corinth strongly suggests the Supper was held frequently. Could it have been such a problem if it only occurred quarterly? Is this the sense that arises from the passage? Notice the wording of 1 Corinthians 11:20: "When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat." It is widely agreed that the terminology "come together" here is used as a technical term for gathering as the church. This wording suggests that when they gathered they ate a meal which they intended to be the Lord's Supper.[1] Though they are abusing the Supper, their practice (which is not considered odd by Paul) is to celebrate each time they gather. Even the wording in 1 Corinthians 11:25, "As often as you drink," which is often used to suggest frequency is unimportant, in context actually suggests frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper. Commenting on this verse, Gordon Fee notes, "This addition in particular implies a frequently repeated action, suggesting that from the beginning the Last Supper was for Christians not an annual Christian Passover, but a regularly repeated meal in 'honor of the Lord,' hence the Lord's Supper."[2]

Centerpiece of Worship

Second, in practical terms, in our man-centered age where so many services are shamefully devoid of any meaningful reference to the cross, could we not benefit from a move to a regular use of the Christ-ordained means for reminding us of the cross? If we want to be gospel-centered why not make the Christ-ordained portrayal of the gospel a centerpiece in our weekly worship? In an increasingly "visual" age might we not benefit from regular use of the visible, tangible portrayal given to us by Christ? In a day seemingly interested merely in Our Best Life Now, do we not regularly need the Christ-ordained means of reminding us of the Lord's return and the wedding feast of the Lamb? Might not the Bride be more pure if regularly reminded of the coming wedding? In the end, the issue, to me, is not whether or not we have to celebrate communion weekly but that we have the privilege to do so.

Questions will quickly arise on how to do this. Some doubt that this can be done well. Many Baptist churches in Scotland do this, and the practice flourishes. Also, my church has practiced weekly communion for about eight years, and members consistently testify that their appreciation of communion has only increased. We are often told by people who move away that they particularly miss weekly communion.

A typical argument against this idea is, "If we do this so often it will become less meaningful." At first this has the appearance of wisdom; but with just a little pondering the illusion fades. Do we apply this reasoning to other means of grace? Are we worried about praying too frequently? Reading the Bible too much? Shall we be safe and make biblical preaching less frequent? These practices become rote not because of frequency but because of lazy minds and hearts and the lack of robust biblical proclamation alongside the ordinance.

Some also say we can better appreciate communion when we set aside only certain Sundays for it and on those days focus directly on communion. However, we do not need more elaborate observance or contrived production, but regular observance of this simple rite tied into the regular preaching of the Word. We do not need to "build it up" with any extras. We need to preach the gospel and then display and participate in the gospel in communion.

Last, communion at the close of each service has a way of tying the service to the gospel. Too easily a well-intended sermon can end up preaching only the commands of Scripture, failing to undergird the people with the hope of gospel provision and power. The Table anchoring the conclusion of the service has a way of shaping all that comes before it, focusing on the cross of Christ and his return as our hope and joy. Unbelievers are also confronted visibly with the gospel as they see the work of Christ portrayed before them and yet are reminded that these benefits are only available to those who believe. With these benefits, why not celebrate communion weekly?

[1] So also Howard Marshall, "The Biblical Basis of Communion," Interchange 40:54, "it would seem that when the members assembled 'as a church' it was specifically to eat the Lord's Supper." 

[2] Fee, 1 Corinthians, 555.


Editors' note: A fuller version of my argument in the broader context of the practice of communion can be found in The Lord's Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes (B&H, 2011), ed. Thomas Schreiner and Matthew Crawford. 

Ray Van Neste is associate professor of biblical studies and director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University.

  • Print Friendly and PDF

Related:


view comments

Comments:


comments powered by Disqus

sponsors