Why We (Now) Take the Lord’s Supper Every Week
By J.A. Medders
This article was posted to his previous website prior to May 2019. His new website can be found here. The original article was not moved over.
Redeemer Church, where I serve as the Lead Pastor, now enjoys weekly communion, instead of the once-a-month-schedule we had been on for years. Why the change? The exegetical, historical, and practical reasons—when put together—made it clear that we needed to make a change.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
– 1 Corinthians 11:23–26
Now, there is no clear command in Scripture, “Take the Lord’s Supper—every Sunday.” And there is also no command that we have to sing every Sunday. Ruhroh.
So why do we sing every week? It’s clear from many verses and church history—this is what we do. And Communion ought to be seen in the same light.
Before we go into the exegetical reasons for weekly Communion, let’s consider the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, this should help the case.
Remember, this is the Lord’s supper—it belongs to him. It’s not the Church’s, yours, or mine. This meal is from Jesus and with Jesus. He has invited us to dine with him. And he invites us to four things.
1) The Lord’s Supper is an invitation to enjoy and exalt Jesus.
We “do this” in remembrance of him. The meal is meant to redirect our hearts to Jesus’ horrific death and beautiful salvation of us sinners. We are to remember him, not like an old photograph to get warm-fuzzy-feelings but to worship him—with the kind of worship that melts the Sun.
We “do this” to exalt him—to proclaim him. In eating at the Lord’s table we, “proclaim his death” (1 Cor. 11:26). We exalt his passion and exalt him in the midst of the congregation and to the world. In eating a scrap of bread and a sip of juice, you become a herald of the gospel. Every Christian becomes a proclaimer of the glories of his righteousness.
2) The Lord’s Supper is an invitation to be refreshed by Jesus.
Communion is more than a mental acknowledgment, some kind of cognitive realignment to Jesus. At the Lord’s table, we are refreshed, nourished, strengthened, and encouraged by the spiritual presence of King Jesus.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (Greek, koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation (Greek, koinonia) in the body of Christ? – (1 Cor. 10:16)
We participate/communion with Jesus at his table. Koinonia happens. Community with Christ is found at the Lord’s table. Which makes sense, he invited us to his table, of course he is there. And when we draw near to God, he promises to draw near to us, and the nearness of God is our good (James 4:8, Psalm 73:28)
3) The Lord’s Supper is an invitation to unity.
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
– 1 Corinthians 10:17
One Jesus. One body. One loaf. The Church is reminded at the Lord’s Table that we are one in Christ. Division cannot sit at the Table, it buckles under the gentle pressure of God’s love. We are to love one another as he has loved us.
Hurdles to unity, barriers to fellowship, and footholds for the Snake are all dealt with before enjoying communion. The blood of Jesus unites, we are reminded we are one, and we are to pursue oneness in our one-anotherness.
4) The Lord’s Supper is an invitation to war & repentance.
Paul told the Corinthians to “flee idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14), and to do this by taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16-22). Not because “A Communion a day keeps the Devil away”—no way. Communion is a realignment to Christ, a refreshing of Christ’s glory and his goodness—it’s a way of preaching the gospel to ourselves, which moves us away from idols and identifies our idols, so we can kill them (Rom. 8:13). The meal is a reminder to examine our hearts, confess, repent, and follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:28).
The Lord’s Table is also a means to guard ourselves against the ancient dark powers of the age.
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
– 1 Corinthians 10:21
Do not underestimate the bread and the cup; do not treat it lightly—it is a means of renouncing the demonic forces and turning from idolatry. When you take the elements you are telling the elemental spirits, “I’m with Jesus—not you. I’m no longer under your rule. Jesus is mine and I am his. He defeated you and I will proclaim his death until he comes, and he’s bringing your final defeat with him.”
Now, church leader, pastor, christian—don’t we need to hear these four invitations every week? Don’t we need to be called to these things as we gather with the Bride of Christ? The Lord’s Supper is meant for this purpose. And if we are going to be a gospel-centered, Jesus proclaiming church, why wouldn’t “do this”—every week—when we gather, in remembrance of him. I won’t go as far to say that you aren’t gospel-centered unless you do weekly communion––but are we reaching our gospel proclamation to the fullest without the bread and the wine?
Here is the exegetical butter I promised at the beginning of this post. In 1 Cor. 11, it smells like the Corinthians took the Lord’s Supper every time they gathered-while they did it wrongly, they did it every week.
The phrase, “when you come together”, is used five times in 1 Cor. 11.
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. . . . 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
– 1 Corinthians 11:17-20, 33–34
“When you come together as a church” in vv. 17-18 starts out as a general comment about their gathering. And when they come together, they are abusing the Lord’s Supper. How often did they get together? Every Lord’s Day. Every Sunday. They received this instruction from Paul (1 Cor. 11:23). Weekly communion appears to be the apostolic pattern for the church.
Paul told the Thessalonians, “Stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). If weekly communion really is the apostolic tradition—shouldn’t we hold to it?
The early church sure did.
The Didache, a training manual for new churches, 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.”
And describing the early church’s gatherings, Justin Martyr explains how communion was done every week. “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!’ Then the Eucharist is distributed to each one, and each one participates in that over which thanks has been given. And a portion of it is sent by the deacons to those who are absent.” (Historical Theology, Greg Allison, p.637).
John Calvin said, “We ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without the word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and alms. We may gather from Paul that this was the order observed by the Corinthians, and it is certain that this was the practice many ages after.”
Jonathan Edwards, “Christ is the greatest friend of His church, and that which is commemorated in the Lord’s Supper is the greatest manifestation of His love, the greatest act of kindness that ever was in any instance, infinitely exceeding all acts of kindness done by man one to another. It was the greatest display of divine goodness and grace that ever was.” Why wouldn’t we want to enjoy the Lord’s Supper every week? Let’s “do this“ in remembrance of him and proclaim his death until he comes.
F.A.Q. & OBJECTIONS
The following questions and responses are from Dr. Michael J. Svigel, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and author of RetroChristianity: Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith.
Now for the “Yeah, Buts”
When confronted with the biblical, historical, and theological facts, Bible-believing Christians ought to amend their ways. They should conform their attitudes and actions to the commands of Christ, the mandates of the apostles, and the universal observances of the ancient churches. However, far too many evangelical pastors and teachers respond to these facts with all sorts of excuses for continuing to deviate from the apostolic practice. Over the years, I’ve heard them all. I present seven of the most common excuses, with my own brief responses.
1) “If we observe the Lord’s Supper every week, it will become routine and mundane; a less frequent observance makes it more special.”
Response: Then apply this same logic to the sermon, the collection, prayers, or singing. Would a monthly sermon make the message more meaningful? Would a quarterly praise and worship time make the songs more memorable? Would a monthly offering make every penny received that much more precious? On the positive side, I have heard countless testimonies from churches who have opted to obediently observe the Lord’s Supper weekly, saying they would never go back to a monthly or quarterly observance after experiencing the blessings of the weekly table.
2) “If we observe the Lord’s Supper every week, the worship service will be too long!”
Response: So maybe you should shorten or cut out some of the activities you do during the worship service that aren’t actually apostolic. Or try re-appropriating time to better balance the elements of worship to include everything the apostles mandated. Most of our typical worship services can be divided at 50% preaching, 30% singing, and maybe 20% for everything else: prayer, offering, announcements, etc. Does this proportion reflect the Bible’s own emphases? Since the facts point to a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper as an essential element of worship, shouldn’t we find a way to give it the space it deserves? Many other churches are able to do this. Why can’t yours?
3) “Observing the Lord’s Supper every week looks too Catholic!”
Response: The question shouldn’t be “How can I best avoid things that look Catholic?” but “How can we best conform to the things Christ and the apostles established?” It should be noted that Protestant reformers themselves—because of the compelling evidence of Scripture and early church practice—favored a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, not because it was Catholic, but because it was Christian. As pointed out above, in the medieval Roman Catholic Church, most people observed the Lord’s Supper rarely (usually only once a year!)
4) “We can reflect on the person and work of Christ in other ways that are more culturally relevant than the Lord’s Supper.”
Response: By what authority do you disobey Christ’s command? By what new revelation do you challenge the authority of the apostles? By what divine wisdom or insight do you place the Lord’s Supper in the category of “optional” observances? Jesus, through the apostles, established the Lord’s Supper as a unique practice that does more than just provide a means of reflecting on Christ. A close reading of 1 Corinthians 10–11 shows that with the observance comes spiritual blessing, a mark of unity in the body, fellowship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and an act of covenant renewal before God and fellow believers. Also, the many evangelical churches that have restored a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper to their worship have testified to its “relevance” as a weekly confession of faith that involves all five senses in a way that no other act of worship can.
5) “Our church has done it quarterly (or monthly) for as long as I can remember. They won’t accept a weekly observance.”
Response: Any church can be re-educated and shown the error of its ways. It may take time, study, skill, patience, and perseverance, but it has happened all around the nation. Numerous independent Bible churches, traditional Baptist churches, and other evangelical congregations that had long abandoned weekly observance have recently re-established this ancient practice and wouldn’t consider going back. No generation is immune from doctrinal and practical deterioration. Every church must frequently reevaluate and realign its beliefs and practices to the apostolic standard. A long history of disobedience is no excuse for a future of disobedience.
6) “My pastor [or professor] says you’re wrong. A weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper in the local church worship is not really what the Bible teaches.”
Response: I’m sorry to say that your pastor [or professor] is simply reading the Bible outside of its actual historical context. I’m not alone in this. I personally know of no bona fide expert in the history of early Christian worship who would argue against my conclusions. (Oh, but I’m sure there’s one out there, somewhere!) I only know of ill-informed pastors or scholars who are non-experts in this field who argue that the original apostolic church didn’t observe the Lord’s Supper weekly. You see, we can actually look at the earliest churches that were established by the apostles and see that they clearly practiced the Lord’s Supper each Sunday in the gathered community. This isn’t a guessing game. It’s not a matter of some reading the Bible this way, others reading it that way. Being aware of the actual historical context, we will be equipped to read the New Testament descriptions and prescriptions in a clearer light. Sorry to say it, but your pastor or professor is reading into the New Testament what he or she wants to see in light of his or her modern church practices, personal preferences, or professional pride. They are not letting the Bible say what it said in its original first century context.
7) “Our church is too big to celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Sunday during the worship service. It’s a logistical nightmare!”
Response: Somehow giant churches still manage to collect money every Sunday, and I’ve never heard anybody complain that it was a logistical nightmare! But even in churches with thousands in attendance, creative ways can be discovered to observe the Lord’s Supper weekly. Perhaps breaking into smaller groups throughout the facility after the sermon for the Communion component . . . or dismissing those who are not spiritually prepared during a brief intermission for preparation, then observing with those who remain . . .or working out a way to more rapidly distribute the elements to participants. Bottom line: if you value the Lord’s Supper as much as you value the collection of money, you can find a way to accommodate a church of thousands.