Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Weekly Communion: My Sermon Notes

* On January 31, 2016 I preached a sermon on weekly communion.  I put the following notes together from that sermon and added a few historical items at the end of the notes.

** I have also addressed the topic of weekly communion in some short pieces for our church bulletin.  These can be found HERE.

A Few Thoughts on Weekly Communion (based on sermon from 1/31/16):

1.     There is a corporate focus and a gospel focus to the Lord’s Table (sermon from 1/24/16).

2.     We do not want to do anything which undermines either of these foci.

3.     We want to be a people who first and foremost look to Scripture and scriptural theology for our answers to questions.  We don’t privilege personal experience or preference.

4.     There is no Bible verse that says, “Have the Lord’s Supper every week.”

a.     There are also no verses that say, “Have sermons, singing, praying, etc. every week.”

b.     We should be consistent in our understanding of this.

5.     There are some biblical indicators that the early church practiced weekly communion.

a.     Jesus taught the church to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11.24-25).

                                    i.     Objection: “This doesn’t say ‘weekly’.”

                                    ii.     Answer: True.  But the idea seems to be that when we do gather as the church we should use this means—the Lord’s Supper—to remember Jesus and his work on the cross.

b.     The Apostle’s practice

                     i.     Acts 2.42, 46—“breaking bread”

1.     Many New Testament scholars argue that this is the Lord’s Supper.[1]

2.     Perhaps the phrase “breaking bread” was used of regular meals but this still wouldn’t rule out the Lord’s Supper as part of that meal.

3.     Therefore, it may be a false dichotomy: either Lord’s Supper or regular meal. 

4.     Two reasons to think that the early church linked their regular meals with the Lord’s Supper

a.     Jesus’ resurrection appearances often were around a meal—Jesus ate with disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24; John 20, 21; Acts 10.41)

b.     Jewish meals of the time were loaded with religious significance with benedictions at the beginning and the end.[2]

                     ii.     1 Corinthians 11.20-21

1.     Implies that frequency is tied to the gathering of the church.

2.     Paul’s rebuke presupposes that when they gather they are taking the Lord’s Supper.

c.      Conclusion of biblical material

                         i.     This is not an airtight case.

                         ii.     There is, however, some evidence for weekly communion.

                         iii.     And it should be noted, that there is no biblical evidence for monthly, quarterly or yearly communion.[3]

6.     Theological Considerations: What is the Lord’s Supper and what does it do?

a.     C.O.R.P.—Communion, Oneness, Remembrance, Proclaim

                    i.     Communion (1 Corinthians 10.16)—we share/fellowship in the body and blood of Christ.

                    ii.     Oneness (1 Corinthians 10.17)—Supper signifies our oneness in Christ’s body; a corporate focus.

                    iii.     Remembrance (1 Corinthians 11.24-25)—we remember Christ’s death and its significance and meaning for us.

                    iv.     Proclaim (1 Corinthians 11.26)—in the Supper we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

b.     Crucial question: Why wouldn’t we want these blessings every week?

7.     There is one objection to weekly communion that some assert: “If is done every week it will not be as special.  This objection can be answered in at least two ways:

a.     The Lord’s Supper is special whether I feel it or not!  It has an intrinsic value to it whether I personally have an elevated emotional response to it.

·      Something to do to capture the emotional response that is appropriate to communion no matter how much the frequency—meditate on the realities of C.O.R.P. above.  Someone could take one element of C.O.R.P. a week and use that theological reality to help their meditation and response to the Table.  This would mean that every week of the month (in a four-week month) there would be a fresh meditation upon the Table.

b.     We don’t reason this way about any other element in the worship service—sermon, Lord’s Prayer, creeds, call to worship. 

8.     Concluding items

a.     “Do I have to agree with you?”—No.  There may be some who don’t find the reasoning and evidence above persuasive.  No one should feel forced into agreement with the biblical and theological reasoning above.  They should, however, deal honestly with the evidence for weekly communion and also examine the biblical and theological evidence for alternative views.

b.     “Do I have to take communion every week?”—Well…no…but be aware of the following two items:

                      i.     Why wouldn’t you take the Lord’s Supper?  In light of the theology of the Table and the benefits that flow to the believer why would you not participate?  Why not receive the blessings?

                      ii.     Consider what your non-participation symbolizes.  Since one of the theological truths of the Table centers around our oneness in Christ as a corporate body, your refusal to participate symbolizes a breaking of that oneness.  Why not participate with the family of God and declare by your participation that you too are a part of God’s people?

c.      “Do I have to promote peace in the body of Christ?”—Absolutely!  No matter what views we hold regarding frequency of the Table we must seek peace in our practice and attitudes.

This wasn’t part of the sermon on 1/13/16 but it is helpful to see some historical information.


1.     Didache (ca. 50-150)

“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)

2.     Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)

“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.

3.     John Calvin (Articles presented to the Geneva Council in 1537)

“It would be desirable that the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ be in use at leas once every Sunday when the congregation is assembled, in view of the great comfort which the faithful receive from it as well as the fruit of all sorts which it produces—the promises which are there presented to our faith, that truly we are partakers of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, His death, His life, His Spirit, and all the benefits, and the exhortations which are there made to us to acknowledge and by a confession of praise to magnify those wonderful things, the graces of God bestowed upon us, and finally to live as Christians, joined together in peace and brotherhood as members of the same body.  In fact, our Lord did not institute it to be commemorated two or three times a year, but for a frequent exercise of our faith and love which the Christian congregation is to use whenever it is assembled.”

     [1] New Testament specialist Craig Keener in his massive commentary on Acts argues: “On a literary level, the breaking of bread here very likely alludes to and includes the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19; cf. 24:30).”  Acts: An Exegetical Commentary—Introduction and 1:1-2:47 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2012), 1003.  In a footnote Keener mentions that this is the majority view among Acts commentators.
     [2] “Among the Jews, even the most ordinary meals were sanctified by the benedictions—i.e., thanksgivings—offered to God by the head of the family, both at the beginning and at the end of the repast… In a setting such as this, the earliest Christian missionaries imparted to their converts the tradition of the Last Supper, translating the older Jewish table benedictions into terms recalling the redemptive act of Christ, the fulfilling of his church with the Spirit, and the sure hope and expectation of his imminent return to establish his kingdom.” M. H. Shepherd, Jr. “Lord’s Supper” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible—vol. 3 (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1962), 159.
     [3] Reformed theologian T. David Gordon states the matter this way: “My understanding is this: when alternative views are proposed, the one that enjoys more biblical support than the other(s) is the one the Scripture teaches.  So I frame the question differently than some.  I do not ask, ‘Do the Scriptures contain an airtight inferential argument for weekly communion.’  Rather, I ask this: ‘Is the inferential argument for weekly communion better than the inferential argument for monthly, quarterly, or annual communion?’… Framed this way, there is some evidence for weekly communion (though that evidence is neither explicit nor unambiguously clear), and zero evidence for the other practices… For those, on the other hand, who begin with the assumption that they have ‘squatter’s rights” to their current opinion, unless/until they are expressly or clearly proven wrong, the evidence is and always will be insufficient to persuade them.”  “Why Weekly Communion” Ordained Servant Online (n.d., n.p.). Available online: http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=104.