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Why Weekly Communion?

            We are creatures of habit and routine. I am especially mindful of this around Christmastime. The Christmases of my childhood, like many of us, were filled with wonderful, meaningful traditions that wrapped the incarnation season in joy (and dessert). One of our traditions was that my parents would lay out our gifts (from them and Santa) around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, after we kids went to bed. Then in the morning we would gather together and collectively set our gaze upon the unveiled glory of Christmas morning presents around the tree, and we would spend the next couple hours unwrapping the gifts slowly and sequentially. One Christmas my parents, in an effort to get some more sleep, proposed setting the gifts out earlier on Christmas Eve, before we went to bed.  Our teenage and pre-teen, Christmas-break-contextualized bedtimes were naturally creeping into the wee hours of the morning, and my parents just wanted to go to bed before 2am. Their perfectly reasonable request was of course met by our perfectly justifiable righteous indignation. No. The parents must wait until after we go to bed! That’s tradition, after all. It shall not and cannot change. Now excuse us while we continue our Mario Kart marathon…

            Tradition has a powerful hold on us, as it grounds and stabilizes. I believe that is a good thing, and part of how God has designed His image bearers. Good tradition leads to health, stability, even worship. This is precisely why when traditions are altered, changed, or eliminated, we can and will experience a sense of destabilization or distress. Change is never easy. This is especially true in the church which, like any faith community, is an organism rooted in tradition (and of course grounded in biblical truth). So we cannot and do not take lightly any change to routine or tradition in the church.

            Sometimes, however, change is necessary or at the very least preferable. My parents’ rescheduling of the annual Christmas-gift-placement-ceremony was necessary, because they simply couldn’t stay up later than their teenage children. Likewise, after a long season of discussion, prayer, study, and planning, we believe the time has come to adjust one of our traditions. Traditionally, Community Bible Church has celebrated the Lord’s Table once a month. Our plan going forward is to celebrate Communion weekly. We anticipate there will be hiccups and adjustments as we make the change and find a new rhythm, and for some it may be a disruption. But we believe the time has come to move to a more regular celebration of Communion.

            The following, I hope, explains why:

 

1) The Pattern of the New Testament

            First, we must be clear that there is no explicit biblical command as to how often we ought to celebrate Communion. Various churches in various times and places have developed various patterns and rhythms regarding the Lord’s Table. So, we have not been in violation of any Scriptural mandate in monthly partaking, and we have not been unfaithful to the Lord in maintaining that pattern. We ought to celebrate God’s grace and rejoice in our history of regular observance of Holy Communion. That said, there does seem to be a clear pattern in the New Testament of weekly observance, with Communion particularly celebrated on the Lord’s Day, i.e. Sunday.

            Acts 2:42 shows us four practices that were typical of early Christian gatherings; “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Apostolic teaching, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread. These are not four individual, separated actions, but integrated pieces of regular Christian worship. The church devoted themselves to these things. That is, they committed to regularly practicing them. And one of these central actions was the breaking of bread. As Ray Van Neste writes; “It is widely agreed that “the breaking of bread” is a technical term in Luke-Acts for the Lord’s Supper.”[1] So what is indicated here is that the first Christians devoted themselves to regular observance of Communion, the “breaking of bread.”

            Acts 20:7 is possibly more compelling; “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.” Luke records that the church gathered together on the first day of the week, which is Sunday. And why were they gathered together on Sunday? They were gathered for the specific purpose of breaking bread together; to celebrate Communion. It may not have been the only reason they gathered, but it was a central reason. It was not an afterthought or superfluous routine. The wording indicates that they met together weekly on Sundays specifically to break bread, as was the expected and assumed custom of the first Christians. As I. Howard Marshall writes; “The breaking of bread is the term used especially in Acts for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (2:42; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16), and this passage is of particular interest in providing the first allusion to the Christian custom of meeting on the first day of the week for the purpose.”[2]

            1 Corinthians 11 provides us our next indication of weekly Communion. There, Paul scolds the church for the divisive manner in which they “celebrate” the Lord’s Table. The very fact that their Communion practice was so problematic indicates that the celebration was pretty regular. If Communion was sporadic, it likely would not have been such an issue. More convincing, however, is the assumption that the Lord’s Supper naturally accompanies the gathering of the church. Acts 11:20; “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” Paul is admonishing them for not taking Communion rightly, to the extent that what they are doing is actually, really not Communion at all. They have erred in their practice. What is clear, however, is that their intention is to take Communion every time they “come together.” Whenever they “come together,” which is a technical term for gathering as a church in worship, they are attempting to take Communion, and Paul does not fault them for the attempt or its frequency.

            From these texts, it is clear that the church’s normal pattern was to celebrate Communion whenever it gathered together on the Lord’s Day for worship. So, while we are not violating any explicit command if we don’t celebrate weekly, it does seem that the best practice is to break bread in remembrance of the Lord every Sunday.

 

2) The Practical and Spiritual Benefits

            There are some very real benefits to celebrating weekly. First is the simple fact that there are those in our midst who at times might go months without taking Communion. If you happen to be serving in the nursery or out of town on vacation on monthly Communion Sunday, you will simply have to wait until the next time around. A little string of bad luck, and someone in our church might miss out on taking the Lord’s Table with us for a few months consecutively. I don’t think that’s optimal.

            Second, the Lord’s Table is another means of communicating and preaching the Gospel. We are committed to communicating the Gospel in a variety of ways in our worship services. Through prayer, songs, Scripture, sermon, and Communion, the whole church gathered proclaims, sees, hears, and tastes the grace of God. Worship then becomes multi-sensory Gospel input and participation. Why deprive ourselves of this God-ordained, Christ-instituted means of preaching Jesus? When the sermon doesn’t land, or the song doesn’t lift up, it may be that the Lord’s Table is the instrument God uses to speak to us, awaken our souls, and incite our worship.

            Third, I do think there is real Spirit-given benefit in taking the Lord’s Supper more regularly (assuming we are taking it rightly). Certainly, we are not saved by our works or religious activity, so we don’t receive God’s saving grace because we take Communion. His grace is a gift, apprehended by faith. However, 1 Corinthians 11 is clear that some in Corinth were actually sick and died precisely because of the erroneous way they broke bread (1 Cor. 11:29-33). This tells us that when we take Communion, we are not the only active participants. God is active. And we are not just coming to Him in worship, but He comes to us in either blessing or judgment. It follows then that we will be blessed and benefited the more we come to the Table in humble adoration and fellowship. As we move to celebrate weekly, I believe over time we will see much Spiritual, tangible benefit.

 

3) The Objection of Significance or Meaningfulness

            One of the major objections to weekly Communion goes something like this; “If we take Communion regularly it will lose its significance.” This may at first seem perceptive or wise. But we must consider a few things.

            First, we never seem to apply this logic to other aspects of worship and other means of God’s grace and blessing. We sing weekly. We preach from the Word weekly. We pray together weekly. We read the Scriptures weekly. Are we concerned that we do these things too often? I’ve never heard anyone advocate for less frequent prayer, lest prayer lose its meaning and significance. For that matter, I’ve never heard anyone suggest that we take quarterly offerings, lest our offerings become rote and routine.  Why do we apply that logic to Communion? We do all sorts of things weekly—such as announcements and greeting time—that are never mentioned in Scripture, while we relegate Communion to monthly observance. That seems odd.

            Second, Communion (or any biblically prescribed act of worship) does not become rote or routine because of a fault with the ordinance. The fault is with us. If a father told me that he only hugs his kids every five days because he doesn’t want hugs to lose their significance, I would not assume he has a high view of affectionate embraces. I would assume there is a problem with his heart, and he needs to change if his hugs with his children have become routine. Communion is one of God’s means for us to worship Him in affection and unity. If our hearts were aligned rightly, that would never become rote or routine (and my suspicion is that Communion will take on greater meaning the more we celebrate it). Simply put, if my heart is not into celebrating the Gospel of Jesus Christ every Sunday through the Lord’s Table, the problem is not with Communion but with my heart.

            Third, the very concern that regular Communion will “lose its significance” shows that our view of worship suffers from unhealthy experientialism and self-centeredness. When we worship, the primary objective is not to have a pleasing personal worship experience. The primary objective is to come together in community and give praise to God and please Him (see John 4:23). So, our own stimulation can’t drive everything, and worship cannot be an exercise in chasing the dragon of mountain-top experiences. This is not to say that experience is unimportant. As we worship God in truth, we should have an experience with and from Him. We are not detached, unemotional robots, and God gave us emotion and feelings for a reason. The good news is that, as image bearers, we do experience good things when we please Him in faithful worship. But experience is dangerous when it’s paramount. If I don’t eat for 8 days, and then gorge myself at my favorite BBQ joint, that meal may be a memorable, impactful experience. But that routine will not produce long-term health. Far better to eat simply and regularly. Simple, regular, obedient, faithful worship in accordance with Scripture is what sustains Christians in health for a lifetime.

            So, as we change slightly and develop a new tradition, and work out the hiccups along the way, may we all prayerfully anticipate greater long-term health and more faithful and meaningful worship. My expectation is that our experience will fit with what Charles Spurgeon describes; “They who once knew the sweetness of each Lord’s-Day celebrating his Supper, will not be content, I am sure, to put it off to less frequent seasons. Beloved, when the Holy Ghost is with us, ordinances are wells to the Christian, wells of rich comfort and of near communion.”[3]



[1] Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, p. 370

[2] I. Howard Marshall, Acts, p. 325

[3] Charles Spurgeon, “Songs of Deliverance,” Sermon no. 763, July 28, 1867.

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