Saturday, August 12, 2006

Occasional Observance of the Supper

I do believe the Bible teaches an occasional observance of the Lord’s Supper. I do not believe the frequency is ever specified, and thus, it should probably be left up to the local church as to how often the Supper should be administered. For the sake of disclosure, my particular church follows the Zwinglian model of when to take the Supper, which means on Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and once in the fall. We usually have the fall Supper near Thanksgiving.

First, much like baptism is the NT version of circumcision, so to is the Lord’s Supper the NT version of Passover. It was instituted at Passover, they point to the same truth, and both proclaim the Lord’s death. Passover, you will recall, was only administered once a year. Passover was not devalued, it was not ignored, it was not taking that sign for granted. To argue a necessary weekly administration makes one wonder about any continuation or connection with Passover. Without a clear biblical command to partake weekly, dismissing the occasional nature of Passover is unfounded.

Second, I Corinthians 11:25-26 tells us "as oft as ye drink it" and "as often as ye eat this bread." The word ‘often’ here means ‘as often as’ or ‘whenever’. Thus, ‘whenever you take the Supper, do it in remembrance of me.’ This is odd phraseology if they are supposed to be taking the Supper every week. Yet, ‘as often as’ or ‘whenever’ fits nicely with an occasional model of partaking the Supper. It gives great leeway to the local congregations. Whenever they decide to administer the Supper, they are to do it in remembrance of Christ. This allows local churches to avoid profaning the Supper by either a to frequent or too infrequent administration of the Eucharist.

Third, no clear command for any sort of time frame is given. As mentioned earlier, it is not necessary to believe that ‘breaking of bread’ in Acts 2:42 means the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, the evidence appears to be just as strongly against that idea. Acts 2:46 and Luke 24:30 both use the same phrase, ‘breaking of bread’ in conjunction with eating meat, which is not a Lord’s Supper activity. The Luke example is in the midst of the regular evening meal. Acts 20:7 is another example where it is not necessary to hold that it is Communion that is being administered. I do freely grant that it might be, but the sentence losses nothing if they are gathering for a fellowship meal. I personally think Acts 20:7 probably is talking about the Lord’s Supper, but again it is not a proof for weekly communion. The addition of the phrase, "in order to break bread" may actually be seen as proof of non-weekly communion. If they always partook of the Supper when they gathered together on the First day then the phrase "in order to break bread" is redundant. However, if they did not then the phrase is showing the specific event that was taking place on that particular Lord’s Day. This would support the idea of a communion season, where it is taken only a few times a year. The main point is this verse does not clearly demonstrate anything that except on this particular Sunday, the church in Troas took the Supper.

Fourth, I do believe that examples exist of meetings where no Supper is recorded. We do not see the Supper on the first Easter, or anywhere between Christ’s resurrection and his ascension even though he 40 days to participate with them in it. John 20 records the first Easter and the Sunday afterward without any mention of the Supper. We do not see it at the ascension, nor at Pentecost. We do not see it in the ministry of Paul at Antioch (Acts 13:14-50), we don’t see it in Ephesus despite the fact Paul resided there for years, we do not see it in Miletus (Acts 20:13). In fact, with the exception of 2:42 and 20:7, both of which are extremely debatable, we do not see the Supper at all in Acts. We see Baptism a lot, but no Eucharist.

Fifth, the sacraments are not regular elements of worship. They are elements of worship, do not mistake me, but they are not the regular elements of worship. Many weekly communion people argue why leave this regular element of worship out on any Sunday. The synagogue worship had reading of the Word, explanation of the Word, prayer, psalms, but it did not always contain circumcision or Passover. If one argues from the sacrifices present in the temple worship, then we have lapsed into a theology of the sacraments, or perhaps worship itself, argumentation that I will deal with later. Even if one assumes a point of discontinuity on this point between the Old and New, there becomes a problem of Baptism. Why is the Supper a regular element of worship, but Baptism an occasional element. After all baptism is seen more in the book of Acts, it is in the Great Commission, and it is a sacrament as well? I think it must be argued then that sacraments in general are not regular elements of worship, but are occasional elements of worship.

In summary, I think the Bible does not give a command as to how often one should partake of the Supper. I do believe that occasional partaking is exegetically supportable mainly through the connection with Passover and Acts 20:7, which tells us that they gathered together "in order to break bread". Yet, in the end the Scripture is full of deafening silence on the matter of ‘when’. Thus, for me, when the Bible is silent we should be as well. It is not right to bind consciences to a prescribed pattern. If a church wanted to celebrate monthly, that is their right, if they wanted quarterly that is their right, if they wanted annually, again, it is their right. I even think weekly is allowable. Each church should be allowed to assess the need of the congregation and decide in that manner. However, I do think weekly communion arguments are designed around a re-definition of worship and the Supper, and that is not allowable. I shall post on that next.


Mr. Baggins said...

But if the Lord's Supper is observed more than once a year, then why is that connection with the Passover stronger than a weekly observance would be? It is the argument of the beard here. Once you celebrate it more than once, then you have to agree that the occasional nature of Passover is not determinative for the Lord's Supper. After all, the NT never makes an explicit connection about the occasional nature of Passover and the frequency of the Lord's Supper. Therefore, I do not find that argument convincing.

The "whenever" argument from 1 Cor is also quite forced. If Paul were to say "whenever you preach," would that necessary imply the occasional nature of preaching? The word "whenever" does not seem to me to have any bearing whatsoever on the frequency of observance. Paul's main point is saying "whenever" is to indicate what must happen *every time* something occurs. In other words, every time the Lord's Supper occurs, it is to be a remembrance of Jesus. Under what circumstances would it be easy to forget this fact? Under weekly communion. I'm not saying that this is a firm argument for weekly communion. I am saying that the text does not support your exegesis, and that one could argue the opposite way.

Lee said...

Mr. Baggins,
I agree with your point that the NT never makes a connection, and thus, anyone who does it more than once cannot use that argument. However, since the NT makes no comment at all about frequency of the Supper, those who wish to celebrate it annually have a very good defense in citing Passover. I put that point in to defend the 'annual' position of taking the Supper.
As for the "whenever" arguement is not meant to exclude the meaning you talked about. The point is that "whenever" is a very open ended phrase. In the middle of a section speaking about worship and what happens when they gather together, "whenever" allows an 'occassional' reading. This is the defense used by such men as Herman Witsius, just so you do not think I made it up on my own.

Mr. Baggins said...

Thanks for the clarification, Lee. I assume that the examples in the NT would point us to a more than once-per-year observance.

With regard to the second point, your comment doesn't seem to match your original blog entry. You said in the original blog entry that the "whenever" is odd phraseology if it is supposed to be weekly observance. That would seem to indicate that you thought that the word "whenever" works against a weekly observance. My point is that "whenever" is open-ended, as you said in your comment. I would agree that "whenever" doesn't really settle the question. But it certainly doesn't exclude a weekly observance reading. I also don't believe that it is an odd expression if weekly communion is in Paul's mind.

Lee said...

Mr. Baggins,
I think you may assume too much about the NT examples. After all, what examples are you talking about? The only non-debateable example is the institution itself. As I stated in the post, I tend to grant Acts 20:7, but that makes only two. Two examples in a history book that probably covers almost 30 years. One might could add the doctrinal discussions in I Corinthians, but again, nothing is said of frequency, only mistakes made during the practice of it.

I still think "whenever" is odd phraseology for a weekly observance. I think it a very permissive phraseology. However, I am willing to grant your point that it states nothing about frequency at all.