The Lord's Supper (1Cor 11:20), also known as “communion” (1Cor 10:16), “Lord’s table” (1Cor 10:21), “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42; 20:7) and “eucharist” (“thanksgiving” -1Cor 11:24), has been by many, relegated to an insignificant or non-existent role. It has been limited to being observed once a month, once a quarter, once a year, and even to some other day of the week than the "first day" of the week--Sunday. Some have entirely dispensed with it. It is inconvenient. It takes too much time. It is in the way of their “seeker centered services.”
“What saith the scriptures?” Was it important? How often was it observed in the New Testament church?
Let’s begin with the original institution.
Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.
This was Thursday evening at the Passover supper.
Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (KJV)
Four things are here specified that those who were baptized continued to faithfully observe. “Breaking of bread” is the Lord's Supper (1Cor. 10:16-21; 11:17-34). The Greek in Acts 2:42 says, “The breaking of the bread,” indicating a specific observance, as distinguished from “daily” eating of “their food” “from house to house” (Acts 2:46). 1Cor 11:22, 33-34 makes a clear distinction between coming together to eat the “Lord’s supper” from eating “at home” in their “houses.” to satisfy hunger. Standing, as it does, with the three other Christian activities, (Acts 2: ) it surely was not saying that they steadfastly ate their regular meals.
This list of things in which they “steadfastly” continued clearly indicates that they were not quarterly or yearly observances. The apostles’ teaching, fellowship and prayers were part of their weekly gatherings and certainly “breaking of bread” was not quarterly, annually or whenever somebody took a notion. Might they omit whichever of these whenever they pleased for as long as they pleased? Should the apostles’ teaching be only every four months? Why not have prayers only once a year? Would this be “steadfastly'?
Some will contend that it doesn't command that it must be “every” first day. In reply we point out that nether does it specifically command that we must have the apostle's teaching “every” first day of the week. The command was “do this in remembrance of me” related to “when ye come together” (1Cor. 11:17-18, 20, 33-34; 14:23, 26; 16:1-2) – the weekly assembly of the church.
1 Corinthians 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.
They continued “steadfastly in the Apostles teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Collection of offerings was included in the “fellowship” (2Co. 8:4). The Greek word for fellowship was koinonia. In Rom 15:26 and 2Cor 9:13, in reference to taking care of the poor, it is translated, “distribution.” (Note: In 1Cor 10:16, the Lord’s Supper is also called the “koinonia” or “communion.”) According to 1Cor 16:1-2, “Steadfastly” (Acts 2:42) would, by Paul’s “order,” be the first day of every week—the day Jesus rose from the dead. Priorities in these matters are a bit revealing as we observe that churches seem very happy to push the Lord’s Supper aside to get it out of the way but never fail to take up an offering.
Some claim that it does not specify, “every first day.” In the Old Testament, some, who did not want to steadfastly keep the Sabbath, had the same Idea. When the Ten Commandments were given it did not say to keep “every” Sabbath. It just said to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). However, the fellow that picked up sticks found very painfully that it meant every Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36). Keep in mind, this was written “for our admonition” (1Cor. 10:6, 11 ; Rom. 15:4). Just as in the Old Testament the Sabbath of every week was to be observed, so in the New, the first day of every week is to be observed. In fact, 1Cor 16:2 is by several translators rendered “On every first day of the week…” (see references at end of this study).
7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. (KJV)
This passage indicates when the early church met, how often, and its purpose. Some have translated this as “Saturday evening.” Others maintain this was Sunday evening. Regardless of who is correct, it says they were meeting “on the first day of the week…to break bread.”
It is clear that this was no ordinary meal. It was the Lord’s Supper (1Cor 11:20). It did not say that they came together to hear Paul preach. The Holy Spirit inserted a special clause that it was “when the disciples came together to break bread” that Paul preached. This indicates it was the regular practice of the church to gather on the first day of the week to break bread. If this were just a common meal with no importance of the day, Luke would not have made a point that it was on the first day of the week. If it were only a common meal, he would not have made a point of it being “when the disciples came together to break bread.” This establishes the time and purpose of their gathering. The Bible writers did not generally specify insignificant details.
This was Paul's only opportunity to speak to the whole church. He arrived on Monday, several days earlier (Acts 20:6). No assembly of the church or gathering to break bread is indicated until the first day of the week (Sunday). If they gathered on any other day, Paul would have spoken to them then. If they were meeting to have the Lord’s Supper on the Sabbath, he would not have spent the whole night awake when he had to travel the next day.
Unquestionably the “breaking of the bread” was the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 24:30; 1Cor 10:16-17; 11:23-28). This was their assembly, in contrast to eating their own “food” “at home” (Acts 2:46; 1Cor 11:22, 34)
The claim that this was only a common meal is nonsense. This was “When they came together,” which is certainly the appropriate terminology for a gathering of the church (1Co. 11:17, 18, 33, 34; 14:23, 26; Ac. 11:26). 1Cor 11:33, speaking of the gathering to eat the Lord’s Supper, uses the almost identical phrase: “When ye come together to eat.” This was the observance of one of the “traditions” they were to obey (1Cor. 11:1-2).
1Cor. 11:17-34 clearly shows they gathered “to eat the Lord's Supper.”
From chapter eleven through fourteen the First letter to the Corinthians deals with “ordinances” for the public assembly (cf. 1Cor. 11:2, 16, 17, 18, 20, 33, 34; 14:19, 23, 26, 28, 34, 35). The specified purpose of their coming together was “to eat” (1Co. 11:17, 20, 33). However, because of their division, drunkenness, and satisfying themselves, Paul said it was “not possible to eat the Lord’s Supper” (1Cor. 11:20). So, he admonishes that if any of them was hungry to eat “at home” (1Cor 11:34)
The day they gathered is not specified in this chapter. However, as we have shown above, 1Cor 16:1-2 indicates this was to be every first day of the week. Macknight’s Translation renders this, “let each one of you lay somewhat by itself...putting it into the treasury.” Some have sought to escape the weight of this by claiming that he was only telling them to set their offerings aside “by themselves at home.” However, the phrase, “par heauto,” translated, “by him,” may be taken as the neuter reflexive pronoun and rendered, “by its self.”
If this is not the speaking of putting it into the treasury, why, then, specify the the first day of the week? If it was speaking of setting it aside at home, one day would be just as good as another. The time to set money aside privately would be when they got home with their pay. In their culture, they were paid at the end of each day (Matt. 20:8). Setting money aside in the treasury of the church would be done when the church gathered. They came together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).
Furthermore, the purpose of the command was “that there be no collections when I Come.” If they laid it aside at home, it would still need to be collected when Paul came. Putting it into the treasury when they assembled would not require collections when Paul came. The obvious reason for objection to this is that, like Acts 20:7, it doesn't jibe with somebody’s theological agenda.
They were to come together on the first day of the week. They came together to break bread (Acts 20:7; 1Cor 11:18-34). “The breaking of bread” was the Lord's Supper (1Cor. 10:16-17; 11:23, 26, 27, 28). They continued steadfastly observing it (Acts 2:42). It is for our benefit (1Cor 11:30) and we would do well to not to forsake it. (Hebrews 10:25)
Sacred occasions were not left to haphazard observance. “As often as you do this” does not mean, “whenever you take a notion.” “As often” is an expression like “each time.” It should be done “as often” as authorized by the apostles (1Cor 11:1-2; 2Thes 2:15). Since they gathered together “in the church” “to eat” the Lord’s Supper the evidence suggests they were having the Lord’s Supper when they met on the first day of the week—surely more often than once a quarter or once a year.
It is no accident that baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been so much under attack. Both focus on Christ’s death for us (Rom 6:3-7; Heb 10:22; 1John 5:6, 8; Matt 26:27-28; 1Cor 10:16; 11:25-27). The devil hates the blood of Christ and makes every effort to deceive people into rationalizing away the importance of “communion with the blood of Christ” (1Cor 10:16). If he can get us to diminish the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, to that extent the blood of Christ is made void.
Rev 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. KJV
Matthew 26:28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
1Cor. 11:7-32, indicates the Lord’s Supper relates to our spiritual health. I look forward to starting each week by communing with the body and blood of my Lord (1Cor. 10:16-21. cf. 11:27, 29; Mt. 26:26-28). It is a time of renewing my covenant relationship by celebrating his death till he comes (1Cor. 11:26). I WANT to do this “often.” I don't want it pushed aside for weeks and months at a time. I will not be a part of any fellowship where this observance that God designed to keep us focused on His son's sacrifice is withheld. Let others rationalize as they will but I for one will each Lord’s Day, share with other brethren in proclaiming the death of my Lord till He comes (1Cor 11:26).
The Old Testament tabernacle presents an appropriate typical foreshadowing of the New Testament church (cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:1, 2, 9; 10:1; Col. 3:16-17). The tabernacle was surrounded by an enclosure (typical of faith). Just inside the enclosure was the altar where people brought their best animals to be sacrificed (a type of repentance --Rom. 12:1). Behind this was the laver, in which the priests who entered the tabernacle must wash their hands and feet (typical of baptism -Heb. 10:22; Eph. 5:26; Tit. 3:5; 1Cor. 6:11; 2Pe. 2:22; Acts 8:36-38), before entering the tabernacle (typical of the church).
Inside the first room of the tabernacle, on the left, were the seven lamps (typical of the Holy Spirit providing light through his word --Ps. 119:105). At the rear, next to the curtain that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies, was the altar of incense, (representing the prayers of the saints --Rev. 5:8). On the right side was the table of showbread upon which were twelve cakes, which were eaten and replaced once a week (Lev. 24:5-9), typical of the Lord’s Supper. Exodus 25:29 suggests that containers mentioned indicates drink offerings were included with the cakes.
Separating the Holy place from the most holy place (typical of heaven --Heb. 9:7, 8, 24), was a veil, representing the body of Christ through which we must pass (Heb 10:20). At His death this was torn from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51). In the most holy place was the Ark of the Covenant (the throne of God).
The early post-apostolic church teaching about how often they observed the Lord’s Supper
The teaching of the apostles, AD 125.
2. The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation: because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the lace of the dead and on the first day of the week He arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week He ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week He will appear at last with the angels of heaven.
--Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 668, Paragraph 2. Memoirs of Odessa-And Other Ancient Syriac Documents, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles
Teaching of the twelve apostles (Didache), AD 125.
“But every Lord's Day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread...” --Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7, Chap. 14 p. 382 “Christian Assembly On the Lord’s Day”
Justin Martyr, AD 140.
“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....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 are absent a portion is sent by the deacons....
--Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p.186, First Apology, Chap. 67 “Weekly Worship of the Christians”
Fabian, Bishop of Rome, AD 250. The Decretals, “The Decrees of the same,…” 1
We decree that on each Lord’s Day the oblation of the altar should be made by all men and women in bread and wine, -- Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p.641
See also, Tertullian, De Oratione, page 135 and Pliny, Epistles, Book 10.
John Calvin, founder of the Reformed Church wrote,
44. What we have hitherto said of the sacrament, abundantly shows that it was not instituted to be received once a year and that perfunctorily (as is now commonly the custom); but that all Christians might have it in frequent use, and frequently call to mind the sufferings of Christ, thereby sustaining and confirming their faith: --Institutes, Book Forth, Chapter 17, section 44
46. Most assuredly, the custom which prescribes communion once-a-year is an invention of the devil, by what instrumentality soever it may have been introduced. -Institutes, Book Forth, Chapter 17, section 46
Each week, at least, the table of the Lord ought to have been spread for the company of Christians, and the promises declared on which we might then spiritually feed. –Institutes, Book Fourth, Chap. 17, section 46
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church said,
I also advise the Elders to administer the supper of the Lord on every Lord’s day.
--Works of John Wesley, Vol. 13, Other Letters and Writings, Letter to Dr. Coke, and Mr. Asbury, etc.
This may be further confirmed by many sound commentators (Adam Clarke; Doddridge, etc.).
“Every first day of the week”
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