How often should a church take the Lord’s supper?
Let’s cut straight to the chase: I think the New Testament indicates that the early church took the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day, that is, every Sunday. My key piece of evidence for this is in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we gathered to break bread . . .” Earlier in Acts we read of the earliest church, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes” (2:42, 46).
The question, from these two references, is what they do when they “break bread”? Because Acts 2:46 seems to refer to ordinary meals, what I’m going to argue here has to be held loosely. Some say the frequency with which we take the Lord’s supper is a matter of preference, even, but I think Acts 20:7 is stronger than that.
The phrase “break bread” often refers to the Lord’s supper, growing out of what Jesus did at the last supper (Luke 22:19; [cf. 24:35]; see Acts 2:42; 20:7, 11; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:23–24).
So here’s my reconstruction: in the earliest days after Pentecost, the church celebrated the Lord’s supper daily, in conjunction (probably) with their evening meal. And who wouldn’t want to celebrate it every day! Imagine the enthusiasm of the wonder of the resurrection, the rushing wind, and the thousands converted. . . As the days and years passed, things stabilized and the church began to take the Lord’s supper in conjunction with the meal they shared together in the evening on the Lord’s day. I would suggest that Acts 20:7 (with 1 Cor 10:16; 11:23–24) indicates that the celebration of the Lord’s supper was central to the early Christian gatherings—look at it again: “On the first day of the week, when we gathered to break bread . . .” (Acts 20:7). They gathered to break bread(Paul also preached all night, so the gathering probably started in the evening, 20:7–11), and the gathering happened on the first day of the week.
So let’s say this is right. Everywhere the apostles went to make disciples, they planted churches. They always baptized new disciples into membership in those churches, and those churches met on the first day of the week to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, looking for his return, by partaking of the Lord’s supper.
What difference does that make to us today?
Well, the whole point of being a Baptist is being biblical. We Baptists aren’t Baptists because our parents were Baptists, because we think Baptist culture is superior to all others, or because we think identifying ourselves as Baptists will improve our standing in society. We’re Baptists (or should be) because we think that being Baptist is the most biblical way of being the church. That is, we claim that the structure and practices of our churches is closer to the pattern we see in the New Testament than any other (or should be).
This means, I think, that if we become convinced that the earliest church took the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day—and if this was so widespread that when Paul and Luke are traveling from one place to another, they know that if they find a church gathered on the Lord’s day that church will have gathered to break bread—if we become convinced that the earliest church in every place took the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day, we will want to do the same.
Some object that taking the Lord’s supper every week will demean its significance. I think boring preaching and bad music demeans the significance of preaching and singing, but most Baptists churches take the risk and have preaching and singing every week. So I don’t think this argument that taking the Lord’s supper every week will make it dull is either convincing or significant. We should take the same steps to keep the Lord’s supper from becoming rote that we (should) take to keep the preaching from being boring or the music from being bad.
Someone may object: Paul preached all night. Do you think we should do that, too? No. The pattern we see in the NT is that the church was devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, and Paul told Timothy to preach the word, so we have preaching every week because the churches in the NT had preaching every week. But Paul’s preaching all night was driven by the fact that he was leaving the next day and had a lot to say. This was a special circumstance, but the gathering to break bread on the first day of the week was a regular feature of their lives. I think it makes sense for it to be a regular feature of our lives, too.
So what do you think?
Related: “The Lord’s Supper in Paul”