For Weekly Communion

How often should a Reformed congregation observe holy communion? This question has occasionally troubled Reformed churches. Most of the evidence suggests that the ancient church observed communion weekly. John Calvin wanted to celebrate communion weekly but the Genevan city council refused him for fear that it might lead people back toward Rome—even though most people did not receive communion weekly in the Medieval church. The Synod of Herbon (1586), where Caspar Olevianus was a leading figure, ruled that communion should be observed weekly. In Scotland and in other places, ministers were scarce, which made it difficult to administer communion regularly let alone weekly. Generally, in principle, however, the Reformed churches sought to administer communion frequently. The Church Order of the Synod of Dort (1619), the churches ruled,

The Lord’s Supper shall be administered once every two months, as much as possible. It is also edifying, wherever the circumstances of the churches allow, that the same be done on Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. But in places where as yet there is no organized congregation, elders and deacons shall first be provisionally installed (art. 63).

So, the pattern established at Dort was that communion should be every other month or six times a year. The clause “as much as possible” signals perhaps the persistent problem of a shortage of ministers, but Geneva and Herborn also signal that there was another impulse in Reformed piety: weekly communion. In this essay I will argue for that option.

There are two major obstacles. In the Pietist and Revivalist evangelical traditions, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the importance of the Supper faded and was replaced by revivals and altar calls, small groups (conventicles), and personal (private) spiritual experience (e.g., the quiet time). In Modern Reformed piety, there has often been strenuous resistance to frequent (and especially to weekly communion) and most often on the grounds that the church observes communion weekly, the Lord’s Supper will lose its significance.

The Biblical Pattern

Calvin was correct. The evidence does lead us to conclude that the pattern in the Apostolic church was to observe the Lord’s Supper weekly. There are two tantalizing passages that push us in this direction: Acts 2:42 and 1 Corinthians 11:20.

Acts 2:42 says, “…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” In context, Peter has just preached his famous sermon at Pentecost. He has indicted thousands of Jews gathered there for the feast for the crucifixion and death of Jesus, announced the good news that Jesus is the hoped-for Messiah, that he has been raised from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is the one greater than David, since the latter has yet to be raised from the dead. He has invoked the Abrahamic promise (Acts 2:39) and promised free salvation to all who believe in Jesus. Three thousand souls were added to the visible church that day (Acts 2:41).

What does the Christian church do with baptized persons? They are instructed (“make disciples;” Matt 28:18–20). What then? They are nourished. Where? At the Lord’s Table. This is the pattern we see reflected in Acts 2:42. The pronoun “they” in v. 42 looks back to those who “were added” to the visible church by baptism. What did “they” do? They were “devoting” (προσκαρτεροῦντες) themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. The verb used signals “sticking closely to” and “persisting” and “busied themselves.” This is a basic act of discipleship.

How, by the way, did they do that since virtually none of them would have had direct access to written copies of the Apostles’ teaching (the printing press was not invented until until AD 1439)? Handmade copies of the letters of the apostles would not exist for several years and, even then, they would be relatively scarce and expensive to make. This means that they listened to the Apostles. In our visual age, it is easy for us to forget that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Titus 1:1; Cf. Rom 10:14). Hearing God’s Word read, preached, and explained was the first act of discipleship that Luke mentions.

This means that their spiritual life began in the communion of the saints (communio sanctorum; the 10th article of the Apostles’ Creed). This is a different way of thinking about the Christian faith and life from the way Modern Christians usually think about it. We typically begin with the individual, which is the Modern way. We are children of our age in ways that we do not always recognize. In this regard, Scripture is an invaluable mirror. When we see the contrast between the biblical way and our way of doing things, we know which one we must follow, whatever Modernity might say.

We know that the Apostolic Church gathered on the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus was raised, which John calls “the Lord’s Day” (Matt 28:1; John 20:19; Acts 20:7; Rev 1:10). It seems most reasonable to think that the apostolic church was gathering weekly on the first day of the week (Sunday) to hear the Apostolic teaching (διδαχῇ). It was on that day that they enjoyed fellowship (κοινωνίᾳ). When Luke wrote “the breaking of the bread” (τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου) and “the prayers” (ταῖς προσευχαῖς), it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Luke was describing early Christian worship and that “the breaking of the bread” refers not merely to a common meal but to the Lord’s Supper.

Paul’s passing comment in 1 Corinthians 11:20 helps to clarify things. Paul writes, “whenever you gather together, therefore” (συνερχομένων οὖν ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ) “it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (οὐκ ἔστιν κυριακὸν δεῖπνον φαγεῖν). He was not complaining that they were not attempting the celebrate or observe the Lord’s Supper but that, whenever they gathered, they attempted to observe it in a way that was shameful. Paul’s problem was not how often the Corinthians were celebrating the Supper but rather their abuse of it. They so corrupted the it that, according to Paul, it was no longer the Supper.

In context, beginning in v. 17, we see that Paul is referring to the weekly assembly for public, corporate worship. He complains about what they did when they “come together as a church” (v. 18, συνερχομένων ὑμῶν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ). This is the same language he used below to describe their gathering in which they abused the Lord’s Supper. The use of the noun ekklesia, which is the LXX translation for the Hebrew Qahal or “covenant assembly” (see the resources below on the church as Christ-confessing covenant community) tells us that this was not an informal gathering but the opposite.

They were defiling the covenant assembly by these factions (αἱρέσεις; this is the root of our word heresies). The second problem he identifies, which is grows out of the first, is their abuse of holy communion when they gathered as the covenant assembly. They were abusing it by treating it as a common feast and behaving, well, boorishly (v. 21). One pushed his way ahead of others. The rich ignored the poor. One goes hungry and the another gets drunk—this tells us something about the elements they used, does it not? He remonstrates with them, “have you not houses in which to eat and drink?” In other words, there is a place for a common, secular meal. Holy communion is a sacred meal, set apart for use by the covenant community. The way the Corinthian congregation behaved was scandalous because they confused the sacred and the secular and abused the Lord’s Table. From there he goes on to recount the institution of the Supper. It seems rather clear that, when the Corinthian church gathered, they observed the Supper, albeit in a grossly disfigured way.

The Ancient Church

This essay is too long already but briefly, again, the evidence suggests that the earliest post-Apostolic pattern was to observe the Supper weekly. The ancient post-apostolic church met twice on the first day of the week, very early in the morning and again at sunset. The Didache, our earliest (before AD 120) post-apostolic indication of Christian practice in worship tells us that, when they gathered, among their practices was “the Eucharist” (9:1). There are written prayers to be said in conjunction with the Supper. The Supper was to be received only by the baptized and it is clear that the Supper was distinct from fellowship meals. Pliny the Younger, his letter to the Emperor Trajan (c. AD 114) had noted the Christian practice of “common and ordinary” fellowship meals among the Christians. The practice of observing the Supper weekly continued through the ancient church.

Answers To Objections

  1. If we observe the Supper too frequently, it will lose its significance. It is interesting that Christians do not use this objection for preaching. Thus, it seems like special pleading. Certainly sermons would be much more interesting if the minister only preached every other month and even more so were he to preach only quarterly. The objection rests on the assumption that what is truly important about the Supper is how it makes us feel. For many Christians, the Supper is not a feast as much as it is a funeral. For too many Christians, the Supper is much more about our grieving for our sins and our promising to do better than it is about Christ’s grace for sinners and his coming to us and his promising to us. In other words, this objection is not only selectively applied but it is grounded in a misunderstanding of the nature of the Supper, which is a means of grace (unconditional divine favor toward sinners), not, in the first place, our oath to God. It is appropriate to prepare for the Supper by reckoning with our sins, repenting, and making amends, but when the feast arrives, when Christ, as it were, girds himself with a towel, we ought receive his means of grace with joyful reverence. We ought to regard it as a way that he feeds us rather than as an obligation that we must meet.
  2.  Calvin did not seek weekly communion. This objection is spurious. The evidence from Geneva is very clear. I presented it in Recovering the Reformed Confession (2008), 283m n. 206, where I observed that he was “pleased” with monthly communion but wished for weekly (Corpus Reformatorum, 38:213). The evidence is plain from the Institutes as quoted above. See also: “The Evangelical Fall From the Means of Grace” linked below in the resources.
  3. The Synod of Dort was correct and the Synod of Herborn was wrong. Perhaps, but that case has to be made. On what grounds? We ought to beware of turning practical necessity (infrequent communion due to a shortage of ministers) into a virtue. Why would we willingly deprive ourselves of one of the means of grace instituted by Christ himself?
  4. It takes too long. There are better and worse ways to administer the Supper. When observed weekly, a brief form may be read and the Supper administered properly to a fairly large congregation in a few minutes. This may be done with a walking communion, where the congregation approaches the table and receives “from the hand of the minister” (Heidelberg Catechism, 75) coming up (as able) row by row. Each row comes up, receives the elements and eats and drinks together. In the slowest administration, it adds 10 minutes to service. This does not seem like a compelling objection. Would one say to the Lord, should he invite one to commune with him, that one has other things to do on the Christian Sabbath? To ask such a question is to answer it.
  5. It will lead back to Rome. I tried to anticipate this objection above. Medieval Christians did not receive communion weekly. Indeed, it was canon law that one had to receive communion at least once annually. There is no historical evidence that weekly communion leads to the doctrine of transubstantiation or to the Roman doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice. If weekly communion will lead us to Rome, might infrequent communion lead to revivalism and Pietism as Christians seek transcendence and significance? Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence that refusing to administer communion weekly might contribute to people seeking transcendence and eternal things in the Roman communion.
  6. It will lead to abuse. Some PCA congregations that observe communion weekly practice intinction in order to speed up the administration. It is true that some PCA congregations practice intinction (i.e., dipping the bread in wine; see the resources on the Supper linked below) and that they do so in order to save time. In our congregation of about 500 people, I calculate that intinction might save five minutes. Our intinction-practicing PCA friends are at risk of losing half of communion for the sake of five minutes. This seems a poor trade. It is not, however, evident that the practice of weekly communion has necessarily led to intinction. If use leads to abuse then the proper answer is never to administer communion. Then it cannot be abused. In fact, Reformed churches have administered communion weekly without resorting to intinction. This is more a problem of the influence of the church-growth culture than it is a result of weekly communion.

It is my conviction that weekly communion is not of the essence (esse) of the church but of the well being (bene esse) of the church. Our reluctance to observe the Supper weekly typically reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of the Supper (funeral vs. feast). If we address that problem, I think the other issues are relatively easily addressed.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. Along with the frequency is, as you point out, the significance. What I have observed in most evangelical congregations I have attended over the years is the pastor holding up the cup or the bread and simply saying, “…in remembrance.” IOW, to them it’s just a symbol to be used as a reminder of what Christ has done for us. And yes, that’s true and the Reformed view it as a “sign and seal” as well, but it’s more than that. There’s the spiritual presence of Jesus at the supper and that’s a step beyond what evangelicals want to admit. I believe that no matter how one tries to explain it, they probably see it as a movement back to Rome.

  2. It may be worth noting that Thomas Goodwin has a fairly detailed argument for weekly communion as a regulative issue. Since it’s a continual observance (distinct from occasional observances, such as baptism, which occur when the the occasion arises by the providence of God), and since we expect God to have given us instructions on when to observe regular practices, we should expect to see something in Scripture indicating “when,” and that’s what we see. It’s in volume 11 (somewhere around p. 400)

  3. Thank you for this. I would only add one thing. If the Reformed truly believe the Lord’s Supper to be means of grace, why would we not avail ourselves of it every chance we get?

  4. Owen also argued in print for weekly communion, but manuscript evidence suggests that his congregation was not persuaded, and he never got to put this into practice!

  5. If you practice weekly Communion do you practice at both morning and evening services? Or would you alternate between morning services week about? Our practice is twice a month, 1st Sunday in the morning and 3rd Sunday in the evening.

    • Sean,

      Calvin thought that the Supper should be administered in both services. I would be happy to see that. As a practical matter, because there is so much resistance to frequent communion (let alone weekly) that seems like a really big “ask” as they say in the fund raising biz.

  6. Have belonged to a URCNA congregation that has observed weekly communion for the 22 years that I have belonged. In that it is a means of grace, how can I wish for anything less? Would I desire preaching only once per month lest it lose significance? Due to disability I am now home-bound and unable to participate, missing it as much as sitting under the preaching of the Word. Let us avail ourselves of every opportunity for both, giving praise and thanksgiving to our Lord who feeds us so thoroughly.

  7. I have personally never been in favor of weekly communion. Monthly or every second month is fine for me. That being said, there is nothing wrong with it. I see both sides of this debate. I personally believe the preaching is the primary means of grace, and communion is secondary. I also believe scripture can be used to support both sides. For me, it comes down to personal preference.

    • Sorry my guy, communion should be weekly. Something that has helped me is reading articles on the ordinary means of the grace on this blog. I may be new to all of this but as time goes on I’m starting to see the importance of taking the Lords supper in my life is even though I have lacked a lot of patience. I stand with Calvin. It should be weekly and bro you should find a church that takes the Lords supper every week.

  8. Jesus never put a frequency. If memory serves me correctly, early scripture editions quoted in the form for communion state “as often as you do this, do this in remembrance of me. Also, I was brought up that its special….has deep meaning . In my opinion, the more frequent, the less important. Steak is a treat, but if I have it all the time, it becomes less special. I understand others feel differently. For me, I believe there are more important issues surrounding communion, such as who should be admitted. Frequency is not a hill I’m willing to die on.

  9. David, I agree its a poor analogy, but I hoped it made a point which for me is valid. I belong to a church (URCNA) that practices weekly communion. I voiced my concerns to consistory once, and dropped it. As I stated earlier, nothing in Scripture or Church Order ,in my opinion, lays out a maximum. CO mandates a minimum. I think there are more important issues concerning communion than how often. While the evidence is clear that the early church practiced weekly communion, Jesus himself never specified how often. I honestly believe its a matter for the local church, in cooperation with the congregation to determine how often.

    • Peter hold up. Did you read the article at all? It’s literally about how scripture shows that it should be done weekly. That’s all I gotta say, I don’t want to start a war in the comments section. I say this with all the kindness that can bare you cause I’m still stuck on the fact that your compared the Lords supper with eating a steak, but did you just skip down to the comments section and not read the article just to start some confusion? Super glad though ur in a reformed church that does communion weekly which makes sense since it is clearly shown in scripture. Now I’ll stop. Hope all is well boss.
      Your brother in Christ, Dave

    • i gotta stop using my phone to comment i make too many grammar mistakes but you get the gist of what im saying

    • Peter,

      No one doubts that the consistory has the authority to determine how often the Supper should be administered but the question remains, how often and on what basis?

      It seems to me that your objection, the one most frequently made, that weekly communion will reduce the significance of the Supper rests on a misunderstanding of the nature of the Supper. We confess that, in the Supper, the Lord comes to us, confirms his promises, gives us his grace, and strengthens us. How can that be done too often?

      Aren’t you starting on the other end of the equation, i.e., our subjective experience of the Supper when you should be starting on the objective end of things?

      How many meals a day do you eat?

  10. I think this is a debate that will go on to the end of times. Some view scripture as advocating weekly, others less frequently. I agree that it is a means of grace. Perhaps my view is a result of my upbringing, perhaps life experiences, or a combination of a number of things. As I have stated, I see, understand and agree with both positions. Also, as stated earlier, I honestly believe other issues surrounding communion are of far more importance than frequency. Who shall be admitted for one. My opinions are what they are. I am persuaded of both sides and will acquiesce to what consistory determines to be appropriate as far as frequency is concerned.

    • Peter,

      The debate has already ever gone on at all. That’s part of the problem. You are quite blessed to be in congregation where the Supper is administered weekly. That rarely happens. Most American Reformed folk have a view of the Supper that is lower than Zwingli’s. They don’t want the Supper very often because it is, as they understand it, a funeral and the idea of grieving weekly is, quite understandably, too much to accept.

      We can administer the table weekly and fence it.

      Resources On Fencing The Lord’s Table

      It was my time in a congregation where the Supper was administered weekly that forced me to think about the importance of fencing the table. Indeed, I think that were people confronted weekly with the exclusion from the table—perhaps we should follow the ancient practice of dismissing non-believers/those not yet professing/under discipline from the assembly during the administration of the Supper?

  11. Dr T. David Gordon wrote to say:

    As Daniel Scheiderer pointed out (with assistance from Thomas Goodwin), this is also a regulative matter. We may only do in worship those things that God has indicated to be his will: we sing praise because we believe God has revealed so in Scripture, and we pray, read and preach Scripture, take collections for the same reason. Unless there is something in the nature of an element of worship that requires it to be less infrequent (e.g. baptism as an unrepeatable rite of entrance to the visible church, or the taking of membership vows), the Scriptural authorization not merely permits the element, but requires it. The regulative principle does not teach that we “may” do what Scripture requires in worship, but that we “shall” do what God reveals to be His will. Scripture says nothing that would limit the frequency of the element of the Lord’s Supper in such a manner. To the contrary, there is perhaps more evidence for the weekly celebration of the Supper than there is for the other elements, in these three texts:

    1. It is listed, with three other elements, as the things the apostolic gatherings “devoted” themselves to (Ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες, Acts 2:42).

    2. Acts 20:7: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread (κλάσαι ἄρτον)…” We know they did other things at this meeting (such as preach so long that poor Eutychus fell out of a window), yet, by metonymy, the entire gathering is described as a meeting “to break bread.”

    3. 1 Cor. 11:20 “When you come together (Συνερχομένων οὖν ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ), it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” Implicit in this is that the Corinthians mis-practiced the Lord’s supper when they came together. Yet Paul did not address this defect by urging them to practice it less frequently, but to practice it correctly. Contextually, we observe that Paul corrected other liturgical mis-practices at Corinth: e.g. prayer, prophecy, singing, but in no case did his correction consist of omitting an element; in each case the correction consisted in doing the element rightly, not less frequently.

    I believe the discussion of this topic, as many of our other discussions, discloses to us our “meta-hermeneutical” commitments. Some (I refer to none on this Heidelblog discussion, each of whom appears to be Scripturally reasonable) assume “squatter’s rights” to their interpretation of Scripture, and effectively determine only to change their interpretation in light of an air-tight argument (in my very fallible judgment, this is the meta-hermeneutic of many anti-paedobaptists). Others require only of a topic that it enjoys better Scriptural support than the alternative. The three matters I mention above—entirely apart from other considerations of the nature and purpose of the sacrament as a nourishing ordinance—indicate that the Supper was not only as frequently observed as other elements by the apostles, but that it was so frequent that on at least one occasion (possibly two), the entire service could be described (by metonymy) by this element. No other element enjoys this support from Scripture. It may be only two or three clear texts, but it is two or three texts more than the other elements enjoy.

    Dr. T. David Gordon
    Grove City, PA
    “There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it.” Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution.

  12. Wish our OPC did it weekly, but they opted for monthly when they took over the previous CRC congregation which only had it quarterly. I am still blessed in Christ and thankful for our church.

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