By Patrick Farish
The questions of when, and with what frequency, the Lord’s Supper is to be eaten, are not new. The practices of the religious world today range from the wrong frequency (annual, quarterly, etc.) through the wrong day (Thursday, or any day the notion strikes) to the right day and frequency for the wrong reason (it was my “delightful” experience to sit in a classroom with mostly Baptists and Methodists and hear the wife of a digressive preacher inform all that “the reason we take it every Sunday is [giggle] we’re so sinful!”).
In this paper, though, we are indifferent to the judgments of sectarians, as well as to the practices reported in secular history of the ancients, even when they tend to support our convictions. Our appeal is for a thus saith the Lord: “what say the Scriptures?”
When Should We Eat The Lord’s Supper?
The words of Jesus as He instituted the Supper (Matt. 26:26-29) and those of the Holy Spirit, through Paul, rebuking the Corinthians’ sin in connection with it (1 Cor. 11:17-31), give us no hint as to the “when.” The only “word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17) we have relative to the day the church gathered for the Lord’s Supper is the approved apostolic example found in Acts 20:7, “And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight.”
The practice of the early Christians, under the direct oversight of an apostle of Christ in what they did, was to gather on “the first day of the week” to break bread. This practice of the early Christians was also recorded by the inspired historian Luke without criticism or qualification. No other day being indicated in Scripture, this practice or example under apostolic direction is exclusive: by its force, the second through the seventh days of the week are eliminated from consideration.
Examples of approved apostolic behavior, one of three ways by which authority is discovered, provide us with instruction with an extra degree of clarity. There is a “background command” for every approved apostolic example, which the apostles knew and obeyed. God viewed their action as sufficient for our instruction and thus did not deem it necessary to record the background command-just the examples reflecting it. The idea that, before an example can be binding there must be discoverable the “background command” corresponding to it, is transcendingly puerile. What is the need of appeal to example-with the accompanying hassle-if prerequisite to the force of an example is a recorded command? In such a case, simply read the command and proceed. The assertion of need for a discoverable “background command” is a clumsy, transparent effort to avoid the force and binding effect of approved apostolic examples.
But, force and binding effect have been assigned by God to approved apostolic examples. He caused Paul to write, “be ye imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1) and “For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us . . .” (2 Thess. 3:7) and “to make ourselves an ensample unto you, that ye should imitate us” (2 Thess. 3:9) and “The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil. 4:9). In the same vein, the Hebrew writer’s exhortations were to be “not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:12) and “Remember them that had the rule over you, men that spake unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith” (13:7).
Some will continue to rail against the power of approved apostolic examples to reveal the will of God, and thus to bind and loose: but the Scripture is plain. Therefore, as to “when” the Lord’s Supper is to be eaten, we are bound by the Bible to the first day of the week.
Let it here be noted that this is the extent of the binding. The effort some make to establish one time on the first day of the week as the time, and insist that those who do not eat then cannot eat at all, is a presumptuous effort. There is not a first and a second and a third Supper, there is only the Supper, and every Christian is instructed to eat it on the first day of the week.
It is deplorable that some will negligently absent themselves from a service, planning to be present at a later service for the Supper; but abuses are not properly corrected by substitution of new abuses, i.e. binding where the Lord has not. The local church may choose to assemble one time, two times, three or ten times on the first day of the week, with the Lord’s Supper available at all these times. What should we say of such provisions? Only, that they are authorized. Demands arising from illness in the family necessitating that someone always be with the sick one or from shift work in employment or from conditions requiring multiple assemblies to accommodate the crowds, provide circumstances in which making the Lord’s Supper available at only one time would be inexpedient, and exclude faithful people. Let us deal with the problem of indifference or whatever that causes some to neglect some assemblies by working on their hearts, as the Lord instructed-not by seeking to impose our will on them, by going on beyond His word.
How Often Should The Supper Be Observed?
The conclusion generally accepted by Christians is that the Lord’s Supper should be eaten each first day of the week. This conclusion is in conflict with the judgment of the religious world generally, which observes it with a variety of frequencies, other than weekly. A commonly advanced defense for a quarterly or annual observance-or indictment against a weekly observance-is along the lines of the Supper’s becoming commonplace, if eaten weekly: supposedly the less frequent eating keeps the event significant–or novel. This objection grows out of a complete misunderstanding of what the Supper is, and how it is to be observed. Those so arguing yearn for an experience which externally moves them, rather than the self scrutiny and reflection the Scripture prescribes, for reminder and renewal each Lord’s Day.
Arguments supporting the weekly observance have ranged from the reaction of the children of Israel to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” (Ex. 20:8 = they remembered every Sabbath, so we should observe every first day) to the weekly collection as reflected by 1 Cor. 16:1f and the fact that it is understood to be each week. These arguments are appreciated; but the argument here is, that we eat the Supper every first day of the week as a necessary inference from the language of Acts 20:7.
“Inference” involves drawing a conclusion from evidence presented. The conclusion is implied by the evidence. A “necessary” inference is an inference or conclusion from which there is no escape, given the evidence. While He was on earth, Jesus expected men to whom He spoke to use their reasoning power, to draw conclusions. The Sadducees, who believed there was no resurrection, had been trying to pose problems that would cause Jesus to falter, as recorded in Matt. 22:23-33. Rather than wasting time on their hypothetical case, Jesus answered them this way: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (vs. 31, 32). Jesus did not say explicitly (i.e., in so many words), “There is a resurrection.” Jesus did say, implicitly (i.e., by the information He conveyed), “There is a resurrection.” If God is the God of the living-and He is; and if God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at a time subsequent to their “shuffling off this mortal coil”– and He is (confer Exodus 3:6), then the only possible conclusion (the necessary inference) is that after they died, they lived. Jesus employed necessary inference in His teaching, and He expected men to draw the right conclusion.
An attempt is made to evade surfaces here: some say “yes, I know Jesus used necessary inference, and I accept His use of it; what I draw back at is man’s using it.” This unnecessarily clouds the issue. The proper use of inference today is the same as when Matthew wrote: the facts are provided by the Lord; and men must draw the conclusion.
When Acts 20:7 reveals that the disciples gathered for the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, we conclude that this means every first day of the week. Our conclusion is forced (the inference is made necessary) by consideration of the question, “upon which first day of the week may we sinlessly refuse to do what the Lord said to do, on the first day of the week?” The alternative to weekly observance of the Supper is the sin of presumption. The notion that we can choose to omit the Supper on the first day of some weeks is a notion without authority: it is presumption, it is going “onward and (abiding) not in the teaching of Christ”; and he who so acts “hath not God” (2 John 9).
God expects that Christian who is able to assemble with the saints on the first day of the week to do so, and to break the bread every time the first day of the week occurs. Things beyond our control (i.e. illness, etc.) may make this impossible, sometimes; but we should be careful that they are beyond our control and not rather matters of our making the wrong choice. God knew our needs: among them was this need of a weekly reminder of our helplessness, and of His graciousness.
Truth Magazine XXII: 1, pp. 6-8
January 5, 1978