How Often Should Christians Partake of the Lord's Supper?

Irvin Himmel
Temple Terrace, Florida

At the time of our Lord's institution of the supper no instructions were given as to the time and frequency of its observance. He merely told the disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup in memory of his body and blood, adding this thought, "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" 0 Cor. 11:23-26). If this were all the Bible presented on the subject, we would be at a loss to know when and how often to break bread.

Jesus did not personally instruct the disciples in every truth to which we now have access. Some things were left for the Holy Spirit to reveal after Jesus had returned to glory. He promised the apostles that the Spirit would guide them into "all truth" (John 16:12, 13). That promise was made while Jesus was on earth; it was fulfilled after he returned to heaven.

What the church did under the guidance of the inspired apostles is important. From the teaching and practice of the apostles we learn truth, even as we learn from the personal ministry of Christ. We may rest assured that whatever the early Christians did with apostolic approval had the sanction of the Holy Spirit. When did the early Christians break bread? How often did they do it?

The Bible says of the first-century disciples, "And they continued steadfastly in 'the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and- in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Hackett, a Baptist scholar, acknowledges that the "breaking of bread" in this passage "denotes the breaking of bread as performed at the Lord's Supper." The word "steadfastly" denotes regularly.

On the night of his betrayal, Jesus instituted the supper and instructed the disciples to break bread. After the Lord ascended to glory and the church was established, they broke bread regularly. Now the question is, how regularly?

The key passage that furnishes information on this point is Acts 20:7. "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." The stated purpose of the gathering was to break bread. The time was the first day of the week. The circumstances related in Acts 20 infer that this coming together on the first day of the week was an established practice. Paul and his companions tarried at Troas seven days (verse 6). Yet, the apostle was making haste on this trip (verse 16). He must have tarried at Troas because he knew the disciples would meet on the first day of the week to break bread and he would be afforded the opportunity of meeting with them.

When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he rebuked them for not being able to eat the Lord's Supper when they came together (I Cor. 11:20). They were not reprimanded because of when they partook of the supper but because of the manner. It is clear from I Cor. 16:1, 2 that the time of their coming together was the first day of the week. These statements, studied in connection with Acts 20: 7, point to the first day of the week as the established time for the breaking of bread. That which is observed with regularity on a given day of the week is understood to be a weekly observance. These passages and the deductions drawn from them cannot be brushed aside as irrelevant.

There is no example in all the New Testament which states that the Lord's Supper was eaten by the early Christians on any day other than the first day of the week. There is no hint of monthly, quarterly, or annual observance of the supper.

The following observations on the question before us are from the pen of J. W. McGarvey:

"It is very generally admitted, even among parties who do not observe the practice themselves, that the apostolic Churches broke the loaf weekly; but it is still made a question whether, in the absence of an express commandment, this example is binding upon us. This question is likely to be determined differently by two different classes of men. Those who are disposed to follow chiefly the guide of their own judgment, or of their denominational customs, will feel little influenced by such a erring precedent. But to those who are determined that the very slightest indication of the divine will shall govern them, the question must present itself in this way: 'We are commanded to do this in memory of Jesus. We are not told, in definite terms, how often it shall be done; but we find that the apostles established the custom of meeting every Lord's Day for this purpose. This is an inspired precedent, and with it we must comply. We can come to no other conclusion without assuming an ability to judge of this matter with more wisdom than did the apostle'" (Commentary on Acts, original ed., p. 247).

When one finds New Testament authority for meeting on the first day of the week, he finds it for meeting every first day, and he finds the breaking of bread to be a part of the month stated purpose.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 37, pp. 11-12
July 29, 1971