Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Weekly Communion: Some Church History

* The third in a series on the topic of weekly communion.  

With the recent adoption of weekly communion here at Northminster I’ve been taking this space to provide some perspective on this practice.  We have looked at the flow of our service—how the service moves to its culmination at the Table with Jesus.  And last week we briefly looked at some of the biblical data regarding the frequency of celebration of the Lord’s Table in the New Testament.  Today I want to highlight of a few items from church history regarding this issue.

The early church seemingly partook of the Lord’s Table on a weekly basis.  One of the earliest documents outside of the New Testament is the Didache (ca. 50-150).  The Didache gives us insight into the early church practice on a number of issues.  Here is one section relevant to the Table of the Lord:

On the Lord’s own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. (14.1)

The early church father Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165) also gives us a glimpse into the early church practice:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.  Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, 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; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who absent a portion is sent by the deacons.

During the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church practiced communion much less frequently.  The Fourth Latern Council in 1215 only required the Lord’s Supper once a year.  The Protestant reformers John Calvin and Martin Bucer called for a return to weekly communion as part of their reform efforts.

As we participate in weekly communion we are standing in solidarity with the early church and key teachers in our Protestant and Reformation heritage.