Concerning our Change to a More Frequent Serving of the Lord’s Supper
By Pastor Simmons
The frequency of communion has been an issue we have wrestled with here at Fifth Street Presbyterian for a number of years. When I began my ministry here at Fifth Street our practice was quarterly, which we soon moved to a monthly service. Now we have decided to move to twice a month, on the first and third Sundays beginning in October. As we make this change I thought it would be helpful to take some time to discuss the reasons for the change and answer a few of the most common questions that arise around this discussion. To begin the discussion, I am borrowing from an article from The Mid-America Journal of Theology (MJT 11, 2000: pp 163-164) written by Michael Horton:
“As we have already observed from Calvin’s exegesis of Acts 2:49, the ordinary practice appears to have been frequent (weekly) Communion along with the preaching and teaching on the Lord’s day. It was the earliest practice of the Christian church as well, and only changed in the direction of annual celebration as the church descended into superstition, innovation, and ignorance in the Middle Ages. Furthermore, Jesus said, in his institution of this meal, ‘As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me.’ Of course, this is not necessarily equivalent to a command for weekly communion, and whatever is not commanded is not required of all churches. Nevertheless, does it not at least assume frequent celebration? The Apostle Paul seems to assume frequent Communion when he identifies the celebration in terms of ‘when you come together’ (1 Cor. 11:17). In fact, the Corinthians are accused of gathering for the purpose other than receiving the Supper: ‘When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord ’s Supper’ (v. 20). Granted, the criticism is directed at their coming together for sinful activities, but there may be an inference here in support of Communion as a common event in the life of the church sufficient for it to even be regarded as a reason for their coming together. When we come together to receive Christ and his benefits through the Supper in faith, we have no doubt that we are participating in the communion of the body and blood of Jesus Christ our risen Savior (1 Cor. 10:16). Furthermore, we are knit together as the body of Christ through this heavenly action (v. 17). Why should this be infrequent?”
Horton, in a few words, gives what I think is a good introduction to the discussion of frequent communion. As we discuss it here at Fifth Street we want to be sure that we take care not to sound judgmental of those that differ or make affirmations beyond what Scripture allows. I agree with Horton that frequent communion does not demand weekly but it does demand our consideration of how we will fulfill the expectation of “frequent”. Below are some of the considerations that worked their way through the thoughts and actions of your Session as we came to the decision of moving to a twice a month serving of communion.
1. Will a greater frequency cause the Lord’s Supper to become a mindless empty routine activity? No, not at all! There is nothing distinctive about the Lord’s Table that lends it to become an empty ritual. Anything we do in worship is as likely to become an empty shell if we approach it in a faithless manner. The Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and even the reading of Holy Scripture may all become mindless and meaningless activities if the heart of the worshiper is not approaching worship with faith in and love for God. The answer to this concern is to be found in the approach we take to the work of worship. To come to the Table at the Lord’s invitation remembering His redemptive work and delighting in His promise of grace—what is not to love about that!
2. Why do we not just move to a weekly communion? Actually that was where our discussion began but after some time we thought that the practice of twice a month would better serve our congregation at this time. The services are a bit longer when we serve communion and it seemed wise to slowly step up the frequency of those longer services. We did not want to shorten the preaching of God’s Word and we did not want to rush through the serving of the Lord’s Table. Also, the set up for the Table requires someone to prepare the elements and that responsibility has fallen upon a few who now have an increase of their responsibility. We are therefore asking church members to consider getting on a rotation to prepare the elements for which you will be trained, though it is not a difficult task. Please speak to one of the elders here if you think you can help with this.
3. Why change at all? Does it really matter? To this we would simply direct you to the view of communion taken by Reformed Presbyterianism. We understand communion to be a means of Grace that while including the idea of “remembering the Lord’s Death” that other denominations rightly speak of, there is more. We speak of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace, a means that God makes use of to feed our souls with grace. Christ puts in our hands through the service of His Elders the elements that serve as a sign and seal of His covenant, which when received in faith are received to the nourishment of our souls. A more frequent serving of the Table we believe is a good thing because more grace is a good thing. Also, it certainly is a blessing when providence keeps you from the table on a given Lord’s day, you are not kept from this meal for a two month period of time.
I hope these thoughts are a help. We will likely say more about this and give continued explanations as time moves forward. We believe this will be a blessing to our congregation and would encourage your continued study and preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s Table, a good place to start that study would be making use of our Confession of Faith (Chs. 27, 29) and the Larger Catechisms (Qs. 161-164, 168-177). Come and join us at the feast on first and third Sundays beginning in October.