While every religious body associated with Christianity observes the Lord’s Supper in some fashion, the congregations associate with the Churches of Christ are considered unique for observing this memorial every Sunday. But does the frequency with which a congregation observes the Lord’s Supper really matter? To answer this question let us explore what the Bible has to say about the Lord’s Supper.
What is the Lord’s Supper?
Prior to His arrest Jesus shared His last Passover meal with the apostles and during the meal He instituted a new memorial that came to be known as the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 14:14-23; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It included the consumption of unleavened bread (based on the fact that according to Exodus 12:14-20 no leaven was to be present during the Passover meal), which symbolizes Christ’s body, and the “fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18), which symbolizes Christ’s blood. And Jesus instructed the disciples to “Do this [i.e. partake of these emblems] in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24).
The Lord’s Supper has been referred to by a variety of names and titles over the years. In Acts 2:42 it is referred to as “the breaking of bread,” which is an allusion to the fact that during the institution of the Lord’s Supper, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it” (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19). In some religious bodies the Lord’s Supper is referred to as the Eucharist. Eucharist is a transliteration of the Greek verb, eucharisteo, which means “to give thanks” and appears in all four of the Lord’s Supper institution narratives (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). In fact, “Eucharist was the most common term in the early church for the breaking of bread in the assembly” (1). The Lord’s Supper is sometimes referred to as Communion. This title for the Lord’s Supper derives from the Greek word koinonia, which means “fellowship,” “communion,” or “participation,” and appears in connection with the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10:16. Finally, the Lord’s Supper is sometimes referred to as a memorial because Jesus instituted it with the instruction to remember Him (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24).
What are the expectations associated with the Lord’s Supper?
First, Scripture indicates that observance of the Lord’s Supper is mandatory because Jesus instituted it as a command not a suggestion. Notice the imperative statements used by Jesus in His instructions regarding the Lord’s Supper. He instructed His disciples to “Take, eat; this is my body” and “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant” (Matthew 26:26-27). Elsewhere He instructed His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). As Jesus instituted this memorial He did so with a command, and therefore, established an expectation that His followers would observe it.
Second, Scripture indicates that observance of the Lord’s Supper is something to which we are expected to be devoted. Luke described the early church as being “devoted” to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). In other words, they viewed the Lord’s Supper as of primary importance. To them the Lord’s Supper mattered. It wasn’t something they did by happenstance or that they observed spontaneously. It was purposeful, it was meaningful, and it was prioritized. If we are going to emulate the first century church then we too must devote ourselves to the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
Third, Scripture indicates that observance of the Lord’s Supper is so important that it mandates a self-examination prior to partaking of it. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” No other activity in the worship assembly receives such a warning. Thus, Paul’s words indicate the importance of this memorial as an essential part of the worship assembly.
When did the first century church observe the Lord’s Supper?
Scripture presents a pattern of observing the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. In Acts 20:7 Luke informs us that Paul spoke to the church in Troas “on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread.” In this narrative detail, Luke draws a correlation between the Lord’s Supper and the first day of the week, going so far as to evenindicate that the Lord’s Supper was a central part of the reason for the congregation’s assembly on Sunday. Paul supports Luke’s association of the Lord’s Supper with the assembling of the church on the first day of the week. Five times in 1 Corinthians 11 he used the phrase “when you come together” as he criticized their improper observance of and mindset toward the Lord’s Supper (11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34). Paul’s use of this phrase indicates that the assembling of this congregation and the observance of the Lord’s Supper coincided. When did the Corinthian congregation assemble? According to 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul wrote “on the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up.” The reason Paul associated these instructions with the first day of the week is because he knew they assembled as a congregation at that time. Therefore, when Paul addressed the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 and said “when you come together” we can conclude that he was referring to their Sunday assembly because he specified their assembling on the “first day of the week” in 1 Corinthians 16:2.
Based on the available information regarding the Lord’s Supper, it is evident in the New Testament that Jesus expected this memorial to be frequently observed, and the practice of the first century church was to observe this memorial when they assembled on the first day of the week. In fact, the New Testament references to the Lord’s Supper and the practice of the early church indicate that the Lord’s Supper was “the central act of the weekly assemblies of the early church” (2). So, let us remember that Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). In other words, Paul reminds us that the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice which saves us. Why wouldn't we want to remember Christ’s sacrifice every time we assembled on the Lord’s Day?
(1) Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 250.
(2) Ibid., 249-250.