An Advantage to Holy Communion Weekly?

I was reminded recently that Swiss reformer John Calvin wanted to observe the Lord’s Supper weekly but city officials of Geneva wouldn’t let him, so he had to settle for it once a month (while Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers continued in their weekly observances).

1. Today, I know we can add the Anglicans, churches of the so-called Restoration movement of the 19th century, a few independent churches, and churches of the Acts 29 Network.  I know of one Presbyterian local church that observes the Supper weekly (PCA).

2. When I first relocated to St. Louis, I remember one local pastor telling me that he withheld the Holy Communion from his church for an entire year (I thought to myself, what a terrible thing to do – faulty theology, I guess).

3. Personally, I prefer celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly.  While it is not clear, but this seems to have been the practice of the early church (Acts 20:7).  In a letter to emperor Trajan, Justin Martyr describes weekly Communion.

4. Then I know of those who object to weekly Communion, concluding that it would somehow lose it significance and become too mundane.  I believe such reasoning reveals a weak and misleading understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

We need to think Word and sacrament together.  The sacrament of the Lord’s Table is not only a visible presentation of the gospel, but when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we feed upon the body and blood of Christ crucified and receive all the benefits of his death, by faith.  Why wouldn’t we want this spiritual nourishment and growth in Christ weekly?

Conclusion.  Perhaps we seriously need to rethink our observances of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, give to us by our blessed Lord Jesus.

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27 Responses to An Advantage to Holy Communion Weekly?

  1. Craig Benno says:

    I love communion. I was saved through the fellowship of a charismatic Anglican church and we would have it fortnightly. On a side note, I wonder at churches that tell its people not to come and join in communion if they are not right with God and have sin in their life. Isn’t the point of the crucifixion all about those with sin in their life, to come to Christ for forgiveness. How much more so, then is the time of communion for us to tell our congregation, come, even if u have sin in your life (which we all do) come and celebrate our turning back to our saviour once again.

    • TC says:

      Craig, I guess it depends on how we interpret that “examine yourself” text in 1 Cor. 11:28. But I see your point, and it’s one that I hold to as well.

  2. DaveJ says:

    I see no problem at all with weekly communion. However, we need to see it in context. The original context in which churches such as Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican et cetera observed a weekly communion was in a context that this form of Sunday worship was the climax of a full worship week. Take for example the Anglican prayer book: the services listed as Morning Prayer, Mid Day Prayer, Compline and Evening Prayer were intended to be daily not weekly, and even then as a supplement to individual prayer, praise and service. (All this a a time when most individuals did not have a personal copy of the scriptures, and few could read, so getting together so frequently was the normal form of Bible Study). In a more modern context, weekly communion should not be an issue if the norm is to gather in Small Groups for Bible study, prayer, praise and service during the week, such that gathering together for the traditional Sunday Service is the climax of a full worship week, not the only act of worship in which the believer participates.

    To address Craig’s point, I think the context is that the individual should not come to communion if they have an unreconciled issue or sin that is a distraction from their own or their church community’s focussing on the communnion itself. For those churches that follow a prayer book form of service, the insertion of a confession and asking for forgiveness of sin between the scripture readings + sermon and the communion service itself is intentional. You could take it that a Gospel parallel was the pride of the disciples regarding coming to that “Last Supper” and remaining with unwashed feet. Their dirty feet were to them a significant distraction as their custom was to be clean when coming to the Passover meal.

    I wonder if that pastor from St. Louis who withheld communion for an entire year saw an issue within that congregation that required healing and reconciliation before communion was appropriate ?

    • TC says:

      Dave, thanks for stopping by. And thanks for this input. So then what do you make of the Justin Martyr reference?

      Neither am I hard-and-fast about the matter – simply an argument from implications. Regarding the confession of sins before the Table, I do agree.

      According to the pastor, the church wasn’t right.

  3. DaveJ says:

    I take it that by the Justin Martyr reference you are alluding to Chapter LXVII.-Weekly Worship of the Christians (Ante-Nicene Fathers, First Apology of Justin) http://www.tertullian.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-46.htm#P3930_742649 (the last chapter before the conclusion of the letter). Needs to be undestood in the entire context of the preceeding 66 short chapters. Justin is talking of the weekly Sunday gathering of Christians (at a time of persection) for the purpose of fellowship, hearing the scriptures read and of celebrating communion. At that time it was probably rare for any church to have copies of all the scriptures, but it would have been the only opportunity most christians would have had to hear the scriptures as copies were exceedingly rare and valuable (compared to today when individuals have little trouble in obtaining multiple translations of the scriptures and even have ready access to Justin’s apology !!). I would understand from the context that Sunday was indeed the climax of the christian week in which prayer, praise and service happened extensively throughout the week and that the weekly gatherings were a (rather risky) climax to the week. Quite a long separation from the concept of only having an hour or two a week for God, and that reserved for a Sunday morning, which is the context in which a weekly communion as the only form of worship could be problematic.

    • TC says:

      True, must be understood against context. However, I’m not convinced that it rules out their weekly observance of the Supper. At any rate, as I said above, I’m not hard-and-fast about weekly Communion, since the text is not clear about it.

      • DaveJ says:

        From what I read in the text below, Justin is describing a weekly communion after the scripture readings, sermon and prayers. Bread and Wine are brought, prayers and thanksgiving are offered and there is a participation of that over which thanks have been given. To those who are absent, the Deacons bring a portion (home communion for shut-ins…). Then an offering from the “well to do” (those who were not too poor to share).

        Chapter LXVII.-Weekly Worship of the Christians.

        And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

  4. TC says:

    DaveJ, thanks for providing the quote. But by “text” I was referring to the Text of Scripture, “not being clear about frequency.”

    • DaveJ says:

      Apologies, misunderstood. Agree, scripture itself is not as clear as we might like, and it would be easy to use, annually on Maundy Thursday as the basis. Jesus himself said “as often as…” but my take is that this was said in the context of the passover meal, which was observed annually. Given the earliest Judean christians were in essence Messianic Jews, the passover would have been second nature so the subsequent early traditions must not have quite interpreted it as to be “annual”.

      Looking at the Lord’s supper through a passover lens, understanding Jesus to be the Lamb of God, sacrificed at the passover for the salvation of His people, there is linkage to Exodus chapter 12 and the body and blood of the passover Lamb. The passover lamb was to be used by those of God’s people who wanted to be saved (from slavery in Egypt), they were required to eat the body and to mark the entrance to where they lived with the blood. (God chose not to just save those who were Jewish by descent, but only those who elected to intentionally participate and eat the lamb and mark where they lived). This passover salvation was to be commemorated as a perpetual ordinance, which the Jews apparently interpreted (per their subsequent tradition) to mean annually.

      Per the same lens, at the Last Supper, Jesus instructed His disciples that going forward they should use bread (rather than Lamb) as His body and Wine (rather than blood) to mark the bodies where they lived. Messianic Jewish tradition tells us that He did this using the third cup of the passover meal, the “Cup of Salvation” and the bread he used was the afikommen (which is a whole additional story). Could be interpreted that “as often as” meant “every time you get to the third cup during future passover celebrations”, that is annually. But there is more.

      Per John’s Gospel, Jesus had already linked slavery in Egypt to slavery to Sin, and salvation from Egypt to salvation from sin.

      The very next day, on the cross, as the last thing He did before “It is Finished”, Jesus was given wine (albeit old sour wine), and according to John’s Gospel the rod that got the wine to him was hyssop (see Exodus 12:22), an act which could have done little more than mark His lips and the sides of his mouth (the entrance to where He lived), intentionally marking Himself for Salvation from the sins of the whole world that He had taken upon Himself. We could interpret this to indicate that by example, Jesus meant “as often” to have no connection to a specific timeframe.

      Linking these OT and NT scriptures, the only specifics on timeframe we have are the tradition of an annual observance of passover. The early church does not seem to have adopted “annual”, but as John’s Gospel also says, not everything was written in his book. So perhaps frequency is not a key issue. What does seem to be a key issue is the intentional use by the faithful of the communion elements to mark themselves for salvation (from the slavery of sin). Lots of other concepts in the Lord’s Supper than can be understood through this lens, but frequency of communion does not seem to be one of them.

      Again through the same lens, it is interesting to note that the faithful were given just 40 years to propogate the practice of substituting the bread and wine for the sacrifice of passover lambs.

      • TC says:

        Yes, there’s that rich heritage, if you will, of the Passover Meal to help us appreciate the New Covenant somewhat more, in light of redemptive history.

        However I need to point out that the “as often as” expression is strictly Pauline not dominical. But the parallels are there with the OT.

        An argument can be made from Acts 2:42-47 that the early believers celebrate the Supper quite regularly. Yes, it doesn’t seem like they adopted the “annual” approach.

  5. Lon says:

    I was brought up in the “just a symbol” theology of the Lord’s Supper, which saw it as nice, but optional. Now I see it as the visible, tastable affirmation of the spoken gospel. This has led me to believe that receiving the Lord’s table is the central act of Christian faith and worship. When we receive, we return to the Covenant-Maker again to hear the gracious word, “this is the blood of my covenant.” Thus, I long to hear the gospel and taste its affirmation “as often as I will” — every Lord’s day.

  6. Colin says:

    some good points being raised. I delibarately passed this issue by when preaching from Emmaus Road on 7 april – other than to suggest we need word and sacrament/ordinance together. now some disjointed thoughts.

    My late mother in law was a traditional Catholic Anglican and would look to attend and receive communion eavery Sunday and other key days if that was at all possible. The elderly evangelical Anglican presbyter who prepared me for Baptism and Confirmation suggested that we all need to determine and follow our own rule of life, as the Spirit leads. He did advise that he felt once a month was a minimum. In my current Parish we gather round the table twice a month. I find that seems to fit well.

    I can see the argument that in colloquial terms would be “familiarity breeds contempt”. Indeed I can appreicate a possible line from, say, older Presbyterian churches in Scotland that holding a Comunion season only once or twice a year and building to it with careful self examination and preparation well honours Scripture and the Sacrament. It would be a simplification to suggest such congregations do not treat Communion seriously and with respect. But for myself I would not be comfortable with that as my main spiritual home.

    I certainly feel that the thrust of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians referred to above and Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount about being reconciled to your brother both point to the need for not going to the Table without prior reflection and preparation. I sense this is what is meant by not coming “unworthily”.

    And John Wesley is said to have received at least once a week in his lifetime, and encouraged his followers to do the same. This certainly does not occur in most Methodist churches in the UK.

    • TC says:

      Yes, there’s something to be said for “following your own rule, as the Spirit leads.” But even this should be tempered by the community of believers one belongs to.

      It’s sad that familiarity tends to breathe contempt in some. But as to the Supper, I consider this a weakness of understanding (but I could be wrong).

      I’m not certan that “unworthily” refers to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe Paul is referring to “eating and drinking without discerning the Lord’s body” (v. 29).

  7. Simon says:

    I suppose the regularity of the Eucharist depends much on your theology of it. If you believe in the “real presence”, then it makes all the difference. It’s physical and real connection with Christ, not just an idea or something abstract or symbolic.

    If we read the NT, it strongly suggests that the practise of the early Church was to have Communion at every gathering of believers (as you correctly state above). The notion that came with sola scriptura was that if Scripture was not clear on something, then freedom would be allowed on that particular issue. So the NT really doesn’t spell out things like the regularity of the Eucharist. But, then again, the NT does not adress this question. Can we therefore conclude that it doesn’t matter how often? I understand the logic behind this conclusion. But if you step back, sola scriptura really doesn’t make sense if taken to this extreme. Is the theology of the Eucharist spelled out completely in Scripture? No it isn’t. Can we derive a complete theology of the Eucharist based on the NT alone? I don’t think we can. Which is why Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox alike all write big books on this. The only difference is that Catholics and Orthodox give weight to the Tradition of the Church. This is why the practise and theology of the Eucharist is almost the same between the two communities (despite some misguided attempts by the Catholics to use philosophical/scholastic arguments to explain the real presence). Protestants, on the other hand, have no uniformity in theology or practise. We must conclude, then, that the Holy Communion does not matter much for them. Just so long as you do it at some regular interval means that you have fulfilled Christ’s commandment.

  8. TC says:

    Simon, there seems to be a number of contradictions in your comment. First, you say that the NT doesn’t spell out a regularity of the Eucharist, but then proceeds to chiding Protestants for not observing it more reguarly, as in the traditions of Catholics and Orthodox. Second, your representation of sola scriptura is wanting. Yes, I’m aware of misunderstandings of sola scripture by later Protestants, but sola scriptura for the reformers meant reading Scripture along with centuries of traditions. This is obvious. Third, your claim that because Protestants have no uniformity in theology or practice regarding the Eucharist doesn’t really follow from what you already said about the NT not spelling out the matter.

    Fourth, while I disagree with some Protestants view of the nature of Christ presence at the Table, this certainly is not tantamount to your expression: “We must conclude, then, that the Holy Communion does not matter much for them.”

    Perhaps you need to extend more grace here, don’t you think?

  9. Colin says:

    “We must conclude, then, that the Holy Communion does not matter much for them.”

    I struggle to see that this statement follows inevitably from the fact that Protestants can have a varied theology and practice of Holy Communion. My own perception is that for most it matters greatly – as I feel can be seen by full examination of those varied traditions.

    I would also query what I read as an equation of real presence with “physical” by which i presume is meant transubstantiation and perhaps consubstantiation. I would suggest that to those who come to the table in self preparation as in 1 Cor 11, and then take and eat ….feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving” to quote the BCP, the presence is very real – spiritually. See also Calvin’s Institutes Book 4, Ch 17. If I have misread or misunderstood the comment I apologise.

  10. Simon says:

    TC, let me offer a response to your points. Firstly, I said that the NT strongly suggests more frequency. But it no where says something like “you must do the Communion at every divine service…” This is the sort of statement Protestants look for, I think. The fact is Scripture does not provide such clear cut statements on the regularity of the Eucharist. So Protestants, following sola scriptura, allow freedom concerning this practise. I also think the theology of the Eucharist comes into it as well. If the Eucharist is merely a memorial of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and not really his body in some mystical sense, then why is the physical act of consuming the meal necessary all the time? We can close our eyes and remember Christ’s death for our sins just as well as if we eat the meal.

    Secondly, I think this is one of the unintended consequences of the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. But, in fact, both Luther and Calvin were happy to go against Church dogma when they felt like it. For e.g. Calvin rejects the seventh ecumenical council. So there was a movement towards this more radical element of the Reformation. The so-called magisterial Reformers had to persecute the Ana-Baptists for taking things too far.

    Third, despite what I said, there is no uniformity. As I said before, Protestants typically look for certainty in Scripture. Although the NT suggests Communion on a frequent basis, it no where spells this out explicitly. So, in fact, it can follow from my assertion that the NT strongly suggests frequent Communion, but that Protestants allow freedom in this area because no where is this made explicit. Actually, what does not follow is your statement against the St Louis pastor for only practising the Communion yearly. For protestants there really is no basis to argue for more or less frequency. Only that it is done at some point.

    Fourth, I do extend grace to Protestants. But we are having a robust theological conversation. I can not say that what we find in Protestant practise of the Eucharist is correct, any more than you can bend on justification by grace alone. We wouldn’t be having a truthful conversation. You and I both know from being Protestants, that the Communion service is marginalized by a lot of ordinary Protestants. The sermon is king over all in Protestant worship. It doesn’t mean that Protestant Communions do not benefit worshippers. But it’s significance and place in worship is unambiguously diminished from the practise of the early Church.

    • TC says:

      Simon, thanks for taking the time to reply. First, you’re assuming that your tradition’s view or your view of the Supper, is the only true view to the Supper. That’s the impression I’m getting. Please correct me if I’m wrong here.

      Second, well, I can understand why you would call a certain view radical, that is, if it doesn’t line up with your tradition.

      Third, I see no reason for chiding Protestants freedom in their observance of the Supper, since the text of Scripture is not clear about frequency. A suggestion may be interpreted different ways by different traditions. And this is what has happened. Why then be hard-and-fast on suggestions, which you seem to be doing here?

      Fourth, I do understand your robust approach and do appreciate your truthfulness. But also understand my need to object with your views when necessary, albeit in a friendly manner.

      At least we both agree against the flippant approach to the Support by a number of Protestants. But all will be put to rights at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. 😉

      • Simon says:

        TC, of course the discussion is friendly 🙂

        I think the question can be put back on Protestants. If all Christians every where, whether they be Latin, or Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox, or Anglican or the Nestorian Church of the East etc etc, essentially have the same practise concerning the Eucharist, then you’ve got to sit back and pay attention. And perhaps ask why it is that Protestants feel at liberty to change what has been done for centuries. Is Scripture really saying that you can have diversity concerning the Eucharist? I don’t think it is saying that. I don’t think it contemplates that question. My belief is that the Eucharist was an already established practise by the time the NT was written and it is simply assumed in Scripture. The only issues written about in the NT epistles are controversial ones. The Communion is mentioned in passing much of the time and never really espounded upon. So we must conclude that this was never an issue in the Early Church. Only at the Reformation did divergent views emerge. Not necessarily by the magisterial Reformers, but definitely from their offspring and their more radical contemporaries (whom they were persecuting rather terribly). So I think the traditional practise is far more likely to be the correct practise. More than that. if you accept the role of Tradition in Church, you know that this is the correct Apostolic teaching and practise. No speculation required. In fact this is what the Tradition is all about. Passing on the faith from generation to generation. Anything that does not conform to what has always been done cannot be correct.

  11. DaveJ says:

    Could it be that some protestants follow prima scriptura rather than sola scriptura for exactly this type of issue ? Whereas sola scriptura would allow complete freedom on the issue of frequency because scripture (even 1 Cor 11:25-26) is not explicit, prima scriptura, where scripture is not explicit, would take into consideration what was written about the practice of the early church outside the canon, in for example Justin’s apology to Caesar. Or are we saying that most of the reformers actualy meant prima scriptura when the more extreme wording was used to compare with contemporary Roman practices which they understood to place a far lower priority on scripture ?

    • TC says:

      DaveJ,

      Yes, this is a fair differentiation. But as you know, confusion abounds. In essence, the reformers would have understood sola as prima. At least, this is my impression.

  12. TC says:

    Simon, you said:

    The only issues written about in the NT epistles are controversial ones. The Communion is mentioned in passing much of the time and never really espounded upon. So we must conclude that this was never an issue in the Early Church. Only at the Reformation did divergent views emerge. Not necessarily by the magisterial Reformers, but definitely from their offspring and their more radical contemporaries (whom they were persecuting rather terribly). So I think the traditional practise is far more likely to be the correct practise. More than that. if you accept the role of Tradition in Church, you know that this is the correct Apostolic teaching and practise. No speculation required. In fact this is what the Tradition is all about. Passing on the faith from generation to generation. Anything that does not conform to what has always been done cannot be correct.

    Simon, I do agree very much with what you have to say in substance. And yes I do understand the place of tradition, but I tend not to be hard-and-fast when the text of Scripture is not clear – perhaps I can appeal to prima scriptura here.

    To claim that frequency was already established in NT times, I believe is asking too much of the text, and goes against what you said earlier about the matter not being clear cut.

    • Simon says:

      TC, I agree that to assert high frequency of the Communion is asking too much of the text. But I am not appealing to the text. I stated many times above that frequency of Communion is not a question that the text deals with. That was my whole point.

  13. Pingback: Another Argument for Weekly Holy Communion | New Leaven

  14. Pingback: John Calvin on Weekly Communion (Lord’s Supper) | New Leaven

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