Friday, August 04, 2006

Weekly Communion in History

Before I get into exegesis about weekly communion, which could be a multiple post endeavor, let me briefly talk of the history of the Lord’s Supper. D.G. Hart and John Meuther had written a piece about the conflict inherent within the Directory of Worship for the OPC. Is the Supper an ‘occasional element’ or is it to be ‘frequent’? He then goes into a nice history of Calvin’s desire for weekly communion, and claims the OPC has become practical Zwinglians by only taking a quarterly communion. There is no denying that Calvin desired weekly communion, but that hardly means we should all follow the example. In fact, it could be argued that Hart and Meuther neglect the submission of Calvin to a quarterly partaking of communion, which was in accord with the Zwingli/Bullinger practice. The article seems to imply that quarterly partaking of communion necessitates a Zwinglian view of the Supper, but if that is so, then Calvin himself held a Zwinglian view since he partook quarterly. The article does admit that Knox, who did study with Calvin, and the Scottish church practiced monthly communion. So too did the early American Puritans.

Thus, in actuality, the Reformed tradition is one of non-weekly communion. The desire of Calvin and even Bucer for weekly communion should not overshadow the actual facts of practice. Their churches did not have weekly communion. The vast majority of Reformed and Presbyterian history then is one of quarterly or monthly communion with a small dose of yearly communion from the Scottish revival tradition.

Even if one wants to line up desire and thought rather than practice the overwhelming number still favor a non-weekly approach. For weekly you have John Calvin, Martin Bucer, and perhaps other Strassborg men like Wolfgang Capito and Matthew Zell. Against it you have Ulrich Zwingli, Henrich Bullinger, Zacharias Ursinus, John Knox, John Cotton, Cotton Matther (in fact all Mathers), William Ames, Herman Witsius, and probably Peter Vermigli, and John Oecolampadus. If one wants to speak of a Reformed tradition, one must accept that the tradition favors non-weekly communion.

Admittedly tradition is not our rule of faith (remember exegesis is coming later), and there is a tradition that exists prior to the Reformation. Looking prior to the Reformation is really a hodgepodge of practices. Some early works favor weekly communion such as the Didache and the Constitutions of the Apostles. Justin Martyr as well seems to record a weekly communion. However, some evidence exists of daily partaking of the Lord’s Supper especially with Cyprian in Afirca. We do see liturgies with weekly communion forms as time progresses past the persecutions, but we also see by the 4th and 5th centuries people watching the liturgy and communion, but not partaking. We see daily Masses(the Lord’s Supper) as common by the time of Charlemagne, and we see non-weekly communion practiced in Middle Ages as well. There is evidence of pre-Reformation non-weekly communion. Some Synods held that people should communion at least every third Sunday. And prior to the Reformation it went to only on High Feasts days, which is what Calvin is reacting against. Thus, prior to the Reformation the tradition can be used by almost anyone to support their position.

With this historical backdrop, we can now proceed on to the exegesis.


Andrew Duggan said...

Thanks, Lee, this is great!

Andrew McIntyre said...

As a believer in the benefits of weekly communion, I eagerly await your further posts. I do not mean that in an antogonistic sense. Really, I do.


Lee said...

Thank you for the nice comments. However, I must apologize to all that future posts will be slower in coming on account of the anxiously awaited arrival of our third child. Lord willing he will come any day now.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of questions concerning communion. The church I attend at the moment started as a monthly partaker, then soon, within a few months went to twice monthly, then 3 times and not long after that, weekly. all this happened within the first year. I myself saw this as an immature session's accommodation of an "extra strong" pastor's desires. That plus, the table with the inscription "do this in remembrance of me" was turned around "because the supper is so much more than a remembrance!" My question is, when they/he uses the words, "nothing less than the body and blood of Christ" is it really? I always thought as a reformed, albeit lamely reformed layman, that it's, we're tied to, joined with, Christ as if it were his "actual body and blood." Not that it is his actual body and blood? secondly, if I'm right then what harm am I doing by partaking as its currently presented? If I'm a quarterly guy, and I am, for all the reasons present in your other threads, then what is my duty as to partaking of the supper? can i do it when i want? or do i have to take it weekly because I'm a member and the elders have decreed it? These days its seem like more and more "reformed" churches are becoming more Episcoterian...sorry for the ramblings.