weekly communion, Lord's Supper, church

Weekly Communion (part 1)

Note: I will use “communion” and “Lord’s Supper” interchangeably throughout this post. 

The question of how often communion “should” be taken is often discussed. Here my point is not to attempt to answer this question, but instead my goal is to explain some of the reasons we, the leadership of Creekside Bible Church, have decided to have weekly communion in our gatherings.

Biblical Evidence

The first reason that we have decided to celebrate communion weekly is that the New Testament seems to show that the early church partook of this sacred meal every time they gathered. The first reference to this is just after we read of the beginning of the church in Acts 2. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”1 Some would argue that the “breaking of bread” is a reference to a meal, any meal, and not the Lord’s Supper. This argument has its greatest support in Acts 27 where Paul breaks bread for he and his shipmates, many of whom we can presume were not Christians (note that the ship is full of Roman soldiers and criminals and notice the soldiers willingness to kill in verse 42). Thus, the terminology seems to be about eating food, not about celebrating communion (there is some evidence in support of Paul’s breaking of bread on the ship actually being a celebration of communion). Despite this, there is still good reason to believe that Acts 2:42 has communion in mind. For one, Acts 2:42 contains a definite article before the word “bread” (Greek artos) while Acts 2:46, which contextually seems to be about eating meals together, does not. What does this mean? In Acts 2:42 it can be translated “the Bread” which seems to give it special significance. Christian author and journalist, Wayne Jackson says, “The article indicates that a special ‘bread’ is under consideration, i.e., the Lord supper (cf. Acts 20:7 ‘the breaking of bread’ and 1 Corinthians 10:16 ‘the bread which we break’).”2

Furthermore, a brief examination of breaking bread throughout the book of Acts reveals that most often it is within the context of Christians gathering. This does not prove that these instances are celebrations of communion, but must make one seriously consider the idea. As with any study of the Bible, it is good to consider how the intended audience would have understood the words. The book of Acts was written to a man name Theopholis. This was the same man for whom Luke had written his first book (The Gospel of Luke). Near the end of that book, Luke records for Theopholis, some of the events that occurred on the night before the crucifixion of Jesus. One of these events was the inaugurating of communion. Pay attention to the words of Luke 22:19, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” The lack of a definite article in this verse does not deteriorate from its importance in our Acts passage. In the book of Luke, no clarity is needed – it is obvious to all that Jesus is instituting the celebration of the Lord’s Supper – but at the beginning of Luke’s second book it makes sense to delineate between some bread (a shared meal) and the bread (communion). With this in mind, it is more than feasible that Theopholis would have most naturally understood passages about breaking bread to refer to the practice of Communion.

[bra_blockquote align=”]Not many would dare to remove these three things from a church’s weekly gathering and we ought to carefully consider the removal of the “breaking of bread”[/bra_blockquote]Thus, it is more than possible that “breaking bread” in Acts 2:42 refers to the celebration of communion. If this is the case then the Lord’s Supper was just as much a part of a gathering of Christians (church) as was fellowship, prayer, and the teaching of God’s Word. Not many would dare to remove these three things from a church’s weekly gathering as they are essential elements of the assembling of God’s people. Therefore, we ought to carefully consider the removal of the “breaking of bread” (whether one understands this to mean the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or the simple sharing of a meal).

Acts 2:42 is not the only evidence for weekly (at least) celebration of communion in the early church. In fact, it isn’t the best evidence. Instead, the best biblical support of weekly communion comes to us from Acts 20:7, which says, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. The ESV, a more literal translation, makes the meaning of this passage more clear. It says, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” The implication is that Paul, those with him, and the church in Troas were gathered together on Sunday to “break bread.” In his essay called “Breaking Bread” on the “First Day” of the Week, Eric Lyons, author and member of the Bible Department at Apologetics Press, says:

“What textual indicators are present that warrant the phrase in this passage to be understood as the Lord’s Supper? First, the term “to break bread” is a first aorist active infinitive. Since infinitives in Greek and English denote the objective or purpose of action for the principal verb, one can know that Paul, Luke, and the disciples at Troas “gathered together” for the primary purpose of “breaking bread.” When this information is processed in light of the fact that Paul earlier had written to the church at Corinth and implied that the purpose for them coming together was to partake of the Lord’s Supper (in an orderly manner—1 Corinthians 11:20,33), then the passage in Acts 20 makes much better sense: “to break bread” was (or at least included) the eating of the Lord’s Supper. What’s more, Paul remained in Troas for seven days despite being in a hurry to get to Jerusalem before Pentecost (which was about 31 days, 10 stops, and 1,000 miles away—cf. Acts 20:6,13-16; 21:1,3,7,8,15). Why tarry in Troas for seven days? It was not simply to eat a common meal with the saints. Rather, Paul desired to worship with the church in Troas “on the first day of the week,” which included observing “communion” with them (1 Corinthians 10:16).”3,4

A final passage of Scripture offers further reason to believe the early church practiced Communion weekly (at least). This passage is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. In a future post I will respond to the use of this passage as an argument against weekly communion. For now, it suffices to point towards its proof that Communion was celebrated when the church in Corinth gathered. In order to do this, I will heed to the words of Ray Van Neste, associate professor of biblical studies and director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University, in his essay Three Arguments for Weekly Communion. He says:

“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. Though they are abusing the Supper, their practice (which is not considered odd by Paul) is to celebrate each time they gather.”5

Before I close let me remind readers of Paul’s quotation of Jesus at the first Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:25 we read, “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (italics added). This verse makes clear that [bra_blockquote align=’right’]the Bible does not command how often we must partake of the Lord’s Supper.[/bra_blockquote]It would seem that to be dogmatic about how often it is practiced is to go beyond the witness of Scripture. The question isn’t what is right and wrong, but what is best given the words of the Bible, the history of church, and the discipleship of people. In my next post I will turn my attention to these latter two subjects and give consideration to objections raised against weekly communion. If you want to be updated when this post is finished, please consider subscribing to the blog.

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1. All Scripture is NIV unless otherwise noted.

2. Wayne Jackson, Did the Early Church Observe the Lord’s Supper on a Daily Basis? (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/634-did-the-early-church-observe-the-lords-supper-on-a-daily-basis)

3. Eric Lyons, “Breaking Bread” on the “First Day” of the Week (http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1548, 2005)

4. For an interesting comparison of Acts 20 and Luke 24, visit http://johnmarkhicks.com/2009/03/26/breaking-bread-in-luke-acts-iv-acts-207-12/.

5. Ryan Van Neste, Three Arguments for Weekly Communion (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/04/18/three-arguments-for-weekly-communion, 2013)

6. Header image courtesy of http://greeni-studio.deviantart.com/art/Breaking-Mending-202632513.

What do you think?