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Question and Answer

Lord's Supper: Frequency of Celebration

Question:

My question has to do with the frequency of the distribution of the Lord's supper. Of the many times that I have asked this, I have never gotten a definitive answer. Some say this, some that, but all skirt around the issue without a definite commitment. What I inquire about is:

1. Why does the church practice this but once a month, generally?

2. When did this first begin to be observed in this way?

3. Why is it allowed in the first place, seeing as it is a most wonderful experience to take part in?

Answer:

Concerning the frequency of observance of the Lord's Supper, my understanding of passages like Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 10-14 lead me to conclude that the Lord's Supper was a regular part of every gathering of the church and that was at least once per week. And weekly observance was apparently the practice of the early post-Apostolic Church.

The Reformers determined to restore the Supper to its rightful place both in terms of the communing congregation and in the congregation's sharing in the cup. During the Middle Ages, congregants were required to commune only once per year and that without partaking of the wine. The Reformers changed that. I believe that the Reformers without exception promoted and/or practiced weekly observance. Calvin devotes two subsections to the discussion in book IV of the Institutes. Although the city council of Geneva would not permit Calvin to institute a weekly observance in his congregation, they did allow that the Supper could observed in one congregation or another every week. So the Supper was observed weekly albeit in a different church.

A very thorough treatment of Reformed worship may be found in the book Worship: Reformed according to the Word of God by Hughes Oliphint Old. If you can find it, read Mr. Old's book, The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship (1974). These are great resources. Hughes Old spent seven years researching primary sources in order to write the latter.

Finally, concerning your three questions:

1. Monthly observance may go back to Calvin's practice. Though he argued for weekly observance, he compromised. Many issues divided the church then, as now. I do not believe that the frequency of observance is commanded. The statements regarding observance are indefinite, i.e. "whenever" you eat this bread or drink this cup. This leaves the matter open to discussion. Monthly observance was a significant improvement over the Middle Ages.

2. As I said, I think monthly observance goes back to Calvin, but I could be mistaken. My research on this is not complete, but, so far, that is my conclusion.

3. I am unclear regarding your last question. However, I think you ask this: why is monthly observance allowed in the first place, since partaking more frequently is a most wonderful experience? To that I would answer that the issue is not whether frequent observance is a wonderful experience. The issue is whether a more frequent observance has scriptural and theological warrant. Is this what God desires in our worship? That is the only issue.

I hope that my answers help. You are free to write for clarification. May our Lord bless you.


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