It’s been a while since I (Pastor Zac) have explained our practice of celebrating the Supper on a weekly basis. For some, this may be new. For others, it’s worth being reminded (briefly!) of our reasons.
The biblical description
There are two places in the New Testament that allude to the practice of the apostolic churches. In Acts 2:42-47, we read of church meetings in the Temple (this is prior to their being persecuted by the Jews) and in homes, where they regularly engaged in the breaking of bread. This almost certainly refers to the Lord’s Supper. Note, bread is listed in the context of worship (apostolic teaching, the prayers, fellowship, and almsgiving), so the Lord’s Supper is the most natural fit. In addition, the Greek of verse 42 reads the breaking of the bread, likely referring to a specific kind of meal, not some common meal. This means that they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper at least weekly, which was John Calvin’s preference.
The second place that refers to the practice in the apostolic churches is 1 Corinthians 11. As Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for their desecration of the Table, he alludes to the frequency of their practice. When they came together as a church (vv. 17, 18, 20), they were attempting to observe the Supper, but they were corrupting it by administering it in a divisive manner. Thus, they held Communion when they came together, but it became a Table of division.
The example of the apostolic churches is instructive, but it does not amount to a command. Thus, the New Testament does not prescribe weekly Communion (so don’t become judgmental of others), but it does seem to describe it.
The early church
Likewise, the post-apostolic church appears to have celebrated the Supper weekly, though the evidence is sparse. Here is a paragraph from Justin Martyr, a well-known “church father,” describing the prevailing practice of worship in his day (155 AD):
“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… then, …the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and… when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings… and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that [bread and wine]…
Ordinary worship included Bible reading, preaching, prayer, and the Supper. (As an aside, it was customary to mix water with the wine – hence, bread, wine, and water.) Because partaking of Christ’s body and blood was so integral to Christian worship and identity, you can understand why early Christians were often accused of cannibalism.
The theology of the sacraments
In our Confession and Catechism, we affirm the Bible’s teaching that the sacraments strengthen/confirm our faith. They direct us to Christ and declare to us His salvation in a very personal way. As we partake in faith (not feelings), the Spirit brings Christ to us, in order to nourish us. The power of the Supper is not from our emotions or experience; rather, God the Holy Spirit makes Christ present, and He nourishes the faithful. If you believe this, don’t you want to receive the Supper each week?!
The formative role of ritual
Our Evangelical context is indebted to the Second (not at all) Great Awakening. Charles Finney and others replaced Christian rituals with “new” measures. The novelty was designed to evoke exciting experiences. Christian rituals were denigrated, being less conducive to the desired enthusiasm. We now have an unhealthy fear of religious ritual, “going through the motions,” and “being Catholic.”
But rituals are clearly not bad; our lives are filled with them. We call them routines. Such routines (aka, rituals or habits) can be good for us or bad for us. A bad habit may be mindlessly turning on the TV or a videogame console when you get home from work. Some good habits may be giving your spouse a quick kiss as you part ways or saying, “Love you!” as you get off the phone with a parent. Although these rituals are often mindless – you’re just “going through the motions” – they are still formative, for good or for ill. Clearly, the Supper should always be more than “going through the motions” (faith is required), but the motions themselves matter. The regular repetition of hearing the same words, taking the same bread and wine into your hands, sitting down, and eating together with the same people will have a long-term effect on you. It is analogous to an earthly family sitting down and having regular meals together; such a ritual is formative, even though it is very mundane and rarely exciting.
God makes it special
That brings us to the most common objection to the frequent celebration of the Supper, i.e., “It becomes less special.” Strangely (thankfully!), we do not apply this line of thinking to other Christian rituals. Should we pray at church only once every three months, because it would make prayer more special? Should we restrict Bible reading and preaching to once per month, because it would make those rituals more special? Of course not! Neither would we dream of singing infrequently, out of a fear of going through the motions. We understand that God makes prayer and singing special, because He hears us and is glorified through those practices. The Lord makes reading and preaching special, since He has appointed them as His means of speaking to us. Likewise, we are not in charge of making the Supper special; God takes care of that – each and every time it’s administered! Praise God for the heavenly gift of Jesus Christ!