Bethel’s Celebration of the Lord’s Supper

Starting in October, Bethel will begin participating in the Lord’s Supper every week. You may have come from a tradition that practiced the Lord’s Supper weekly. Perhaps, like Bethel, your tradition only practiced the Lord’s Supper once a month or less. Some of you have come from no church tradition. Regardless of your background, allow me to share with you some biblical reflections, some historical reflections, and finally, some practical reflections on why we are making this change. Our discussion here is only a brief overview (hence, “reflections”). I am available for further discussion if needed.

Biblical Reflections
There is no direct command given in Scripture regarding the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. The closest instruction was Jesus’ words as recorded by Paul, “As often as you do this…” This passage does not tell how often to do this, only its significance. However, there is strong evidence of a weekly pattern in the New Testament.

After the establishment of the church at Pentecost, we see in Acts 2:42 four activities mentioned about the gathering of the believers including devotion to the Apostles teaching, to the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. These four elements appear to be the core of the Christian gathering. The “breaking of the bread” terminology seems to have various meanings in Scripture, including the Lord’s Supper as well as a shared meal. It is highly probable the early church shared a meal. Part of this meal was set aside for the symbolic remembrance of Christ’s broken body and spilled blood.

Another compelling text is 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.” The terminology “to break bread” seemed to increasingly take on a unique meaning referencing a communal act of worship. In this text, “on the first day of the week,” makes it clear this was a weekly practice.

The unity of believers also gives context to the discussion of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. For our purposes here, we will not discuss the issue in this passage. However, note the wording of 1 Corinthians 11:20: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” This occasion is likely where we get the terminology “The Lord’s Supper.” It seems clear it was no standard meal but had a direct reference to the meal that our Lord instituted.

Historical Reflections
It is impossible in a paragraph to cover the history of the practice of the Lord’s Supper. As the church expanded geographically, you find different practices depending on time, ecclesiastical formalities, and other factors. However, perhaps two snapshots of history can help us.

The early church appeared to continue a practice of a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper. There are several documents, both Christian and non-Christian, that reference the practice. One such text, The Didache, written around A.D. 50-70 says, “Every Lord’s day, gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions.”

Justin Martyr provides a complete description of Christian worship from the second century:

And on the day called “of the sun,” when all who live in cities or in the country gather in one place, an assembly occurs, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time; then, when the reader has finished, the president presents a verbal admonition and challenge for the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and send prayers, and, as we before said, when the prayer is ended, bread is offered, and wine and water (1 Apol. 67).

As we move to the time of the reformation, it appears many of the reformers understood the Word and table as the center of the Christian gathering. John Calvin did not mince words in expressing his opinion:

If Justin’s language seems a bit strange, remember he is writing an apology of the Christian religion and practice to outsiders rather than a manual for church life.

Plainly this custom which enjoins us to take communion once a year is a veritable invention of the devil…For there is not the least doubt that the Sacred Supper was in that era [the early church] set before the believers every time they met together…the Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually. (Inst. IV. XVII. 46).

Some Practical Reflections
Let me offer three practical reasons for participating in the Lord’s Supper every week. I present these in no particular order of importance and only state the idea at the highest level to spare you the pain of reading my elongated thought process.

First, through the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the gospel every Sunday. One of the core values of Bethel Church is “We are passionate about the Gospel and its power.” We want to be sure to proclaim the gospel during our worship services. By including communion every Sunday, we anchor everything in the gospel.

A fellow pastor whose church practices a weekly Lord’s Supper despite being a seeker-oriented service provides an exciting insight. He states more people come to faith in their church through their practice of communion than through his sermons.

Second, practicing the Lord’s Supper weekly heightens participation of the congregation. Our corporate worship is not to be a spectator event. God has given us a means through the Lord’s Supper to participate together beyond songs, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Third, weekly participation is one of the biblical forms of worship. We allow other things to become part of our regular worship experience (example: passing an offering plate) to the neglect of one of the few things he commanded us to do – the Lord’s Supper.

Finally, the Lord’s Supper is a communal event communicating and advancing our unity in Christ as his family of believers. This is no small thing. It is why in 1 Corinthians 11 when eating “unworthily” is brought forward, the emphasis seemed to be on their lack of preferring and caring for one another over their indulgences.

Possible Objections
Ray Van Neste responds well to two possible objections to the weekly celebration:

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 the 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.