When Should the Lord’s Supper be Celebrated?
by Bob Burridge ©2023
Good teachers of God’s word have taken different views as to how often the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated by the local churches. Some practice this Sacrament weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, and some celebrate it on various special occasions during the year.
Some have tried to make a case for the mandated weekly celebration of the Sacrament of Communion when a church gathers on Sunday for worship. While there is nothing wrong with doing that weekly, there are some weaknesses in the biblical evidences often used to support that as binding upon us.
One text sometimes used to support a weekly Communion is Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Some have suggested that the use of the definite article “the” before “breaking of bread” implies that it must refer to the special use of the term for the Lord’s Supper. However the expression “breaking of bread” was a common term used at that time for simply eating a meal. The same definite article is also used in that verse for the apostles’ teachings, fellowship, and prayer. The definite article as used there is very normal in Greek grammar when listing things. Certainly the fellowship of the church, the study of the teachings of the Apostles, and prayer were not limited to Sabbath day worship. In same context, verse 45 says that “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts”.
The early church faced persecution and were separated from the Synagogues so they often met in private homes for fellowship, study, and for Sunday worship to remember the day of the resurrection of Jesus. Some hosting families are mentioned in the New Testament where those congregations met [Aquila and Priscilla (1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:5), Philemon (Philemon 1:1-2), and Nympha (Colossians 4:15)]. It would have been a very normal thing for them to have a meal together outside their time of worship. Such meals were commonly referred to as “the breaking of bread” together. There is no indication here that “breaking bread” must mean that the Sacrament of to the Lord’s Supper was being celebrated every Sunday as part of their worship services.
In Acts 10:11 it speaks of Paul “breaking bread” with those in Troas on the fist day of the week and that he talked with them before he departed. It could be understood of having a Sabbath Day meal with them, not necessarily of partaking of Communion during a time of worship. This would also apply to Acts 20 when it mentions the gathering to break bread together on the first day of the week. On that day Eutychus was brought back to life after he fell from the window and died while Paul was talking with them. Then it says that after that amazing healing Paul broke bread and ate with them, and departed. There is no mandate here that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. They may have just eaten a meal to send off the apostle on his way.
Clear instructions and warnings are given in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 about the proper celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. There were some who caused divisions in the church by coming to the Lord’s Table as if they were eating a meal. Some were left to go hungry, some indulged and became drunk. Paul wanted them to understand that this is not how the Sacrament of Communion should be celebrated. He gave detailed instructions about the repentant attitude they should have as they remembered the atoning work of Christ as they partook. When in verse 20 he says, “When you come together”, he is not specifying that the sacrament should be celebrated every time they were together or gathered for Sunday worship. He is dealing with the proper attitude they should have at the times when they came together to celebrated the Lord’s Supper. He doesn’t specify how often that should be.
The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night before his betrayal when he was with his Apostles at the celebration of Passover. At that time that Covenantal Meal was biblically to be partaken once a year remembering the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian captivity in the time of Moses. The crucifixion of Jesus fulfilled what the Passover prefigured so the annual date for its celebration would no longer apply.
The opinions and practices of early church leaders and other writers after the time of the Apostles are not the inspired words of God. The early writers and scholars in the history of the church often disagreed with one another. Their thoughts should not be considered as binding upon the church beyond what is clearly taught in the Bible.
If there is no clear mandate in the New Testament specifying how often the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated, the ordained Elders of the local church would have the authority to determine how often and when the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should be practiced as it fits with the needs of the congregation. While there is no biblical mandate to practice it during worship on every Sunday, there is nothings against such a practice.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.