When is the Lord’s Supper is to be eaten? 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 .
In this lesson, our appeal is not for opinion, but 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 physician 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.
Approved apostolic examples are binding in New Testament doctrine. Paul wrote, “be 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 example unto you, that you should imitate us” (2 Thess. 3:9) and “The things which you 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.
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. 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. 16:1,2 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.
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 “has not God” (2 Jn 9).
Conclusion: God expects that Christians who are 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, emergencies, 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.