I am a PCA pastor, serving in a congregation that practices weekly communion. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from visitors is, “Why does your church celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday?” There are several reasons for our practice and I organize them under three categories:
Biblical/Exegetical. Are there actual biblical texts that indicate the early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper at least weekly?
Theological/Practical. What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? What, if anything, does God do to and for us in the Lord’s Supper? Why do I need to partake of the Lord’s Supper for my growth in godliness?
Historical. What was the practice of the early church? What was the view of the Reformers?
Since I serve in a Reformed congregation, visitors sometimes assume that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper 3, 4, 6, or 12 times a year. Some are genuinely puzzled that we would embrace a practice that is at odds with the practice of other local Reformed churches. I remind them that John Calvin advocated the “at least once a week” position. Ronald Wallace summarizes Calvin’s position by stringing together a number of quotes from Calvin himself. He writes:
Since the sacraments are to be given such an exclusive place in the life of the Church, it follows that they are to be celebrated with such frequency as will befit their importance, and justify the exclusion of all other ceremonies from a central place in the Church. The visible centre of the Church’s worship must not be left as a blank space for long periods of the year. Calvin, accordingly, declares himself in favour of weekly communion. “All this mass of ceremonies being abandoned, the sacrament might be celebrated in the most becoming manner, if it were dispensed to the Church very frequently, at least once a week.” “It was not instituted to be received once a year and that perfunctorily (as is now commonly the custom).” He, indeed, goes the length of saying that “we ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without the Word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and alms”; and he calls the custom of communication once a year “an invention of the devil”. “The practice of all well ordered Churches should be to celebrate the Supper frequently, so far as the capacity of the people will admit.”
It may be noted that Calvin in practice was forced to adapt himself to the capacity of the people more than he could have wished. In the “Articles on Church Organisation and Worship at Geneva” of 1537, which were drafted by him for the Council, he sets forth his view that the Holy Supper should be celebrated at least every Sunday, having regard to the comfort it can minister and the spiritual fruitfulness which is engendered in every way in the Church by its frequent use. But, he concedes, “since the infirmity of the people is still such that there is danger that this holy and excellent mystery might be brought into contempt if it were celebrated too often … it has seemed good to us that the Holy Supper should be celebrated once a month”. Later on, in 1541, after his return to Geneva, he further gave in to the weakness of human nature and agreed to a celebration four times a year, viz. Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and the first Sunday of September. [Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), 252–253.]
500 years later, many churches have become accustomed to Calvin’s accommodation “to the weakness of human nature,” while an increasing number have embraced his view of celebrating the Holy Supper “at least every Sunday.” I have assembled a list of internet resources that defend Calvin’s view. Obviously, I do not necessarily agree with every statement each author makes, but I have included these resources because they highlight at least one important aspect of the overall argument.
Internet Resources On Weekly Communion
Why Weekly Communion?
This is the place to begin. T. David Gordon provides an excellent summary of the biblical data.
Considerations Regarding Weekly Communion
Dr. Gordon discusses some of the historical, theological and confessional evidence. His conclusion? “Since the benefits of the Lord’s Supper are so great, one wonders why we would not do it as frequently as possible.”
Celebration of the Lord’s Supper – How Often?
Written by a pastor in the Canadian Reformed Church, whose denominational practice makes weekly communion cumbersome and nearly impossible. After considering the biblical and historical evidence, he boldly concludes that his denomination needs to make some changes so that the “complete reformation of the Lord’s Supper may yet be realized.”
On the Weekly Celebration of Holy Communion
By Daniel Hyde of Oceanside United Reformed Church: This article is adopted by the elders of a congregation whose denominational requirements could make weekly communion a challenge. They found a way to faithfully address those difficulties and offer a great summary of the biblical, theological and historical evidence in favor of weekly communion.
The Lord’s Supper: How Often?
Written by a retired Redeemer College professor of Political Science, this brief study explains and defends Calvin’s view. He concludes with words that match my own experience, “In churches where the Lord's Supper is celebrated weekly, the people have generally come to treasure this opportunity to 'taste and see that the Lord is good' (Ps. 34:8). Far from becoming mundane and ordinary, the supper has come to enrich the faith of those receiving, who increasingly find themselves looking forward to each Resurrection Day with eager anticipation.”
A Biblical Rationale for Weekly Communion
By John Jones of Faith Presbyterian in Anchorage: “The three main passages that we studied (Acts 2.41-47, 1 Cor. 11.20, Acts 20.7) suggest that the New Testament church enjoyed a frequent, rather than infrequent, celebration of the Lord’s Supper (certainly this is the case in Acts 20.7). The additional verses lend themselves to this idea given that the meal does not simply serve to remind the Christian of Jesus’ death, but to also proclaim that death in a way similar to preaching, and, real butmysteriously, to feed and nourish and strengthen the Christians in their participation of the meal of His body and blood.”
Why We (Now) Take the Lord’s Supper Every Week
J.A. Medders is the pastor of an charismatic baptistic congregation affiliated with Acts29 in Texas and briefly, yet helpfully, considers the biblical and historical evidence for weekly communion. Medders includes a “FAQ & Objections” section written Dr. Svigel, by a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. In response to the “Less frequent observance makes it more special” argument, Dr. Svigel responds, “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?”
Come To The Table
If we understand what happens in the Lord’s Supper, we should be long for the Lord’s Supper whenever we “come together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18). The Belgic Confession (Article 35) beautifully expresses the biblical teaching:
For the support of the physical and earthly life God has ordained earthly and material bread. This bread is common to all just as life is common to all. For the support of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers have, He has sent them a living bread which came down from heaven (Jn 6:51), namely, Jesus Christ, who nourishes and sustains the spiritual life of the believers when He is eaten by them, that is, spiritually appropriated and received by faith.
Do you desire to be conformed unto the blessed image of Christ Jesus? Then come to the Table, as Calvin says, “at least once a week.” Do you seek to nourished and sustained by your heavenly Father? Then come to the Table in faith and receive the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of all your sins (Matt. 26:28). Do you want to proclaim the Gospel – the Good News that God the Father is making things new through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ by the power of the Spirit? Then come to Table in faith week after week, knowing that through the faithful celebration of the Supper, Jesus is establishing and growing his kingdom here on earth.