A Frequent Expression of Love

What if you told your wife you only planned to take her on a dinner date once a year during your anniversary so as to make the expression of your marriage relationship extra special? And for that matter, you would also plan to have all other meals separately until that time, so as to enhance the enjoyment of your annual reunion across the dining establishment table of her choice? She would probably ask for marriage counseling to protect against the unnecessary straining of your relationship by an unreasonably forced lack of regular, deliberate, and intimate fellowship. Nor would she likely be consoled by your negotiating a compromise of quarterly or monthly meals together.

Instead, our heavenly Husband has given His Bride, the church, a way to grow fonder with Him by the bond of familiarity through the constant communion and remembrance of Him and His covenantally secure relationship with us. Just as wives need constant expressions of loving commitment from their husbands, so does Christ’s Bride need her Lord’s frequent communion.

One of the most frequent arguments against frequent (especially weekly) communion is essentially that such would lessen its specialness.[1] Dr. Richard Bacon amply addresses this concern:

Having something infrequently does not make it more special. If it were suggested that there were certain intimate relations of marriage which should be had less often in order to make them more special, that would not be a very convincing argument.  The way to make something special is by cherishing it, not by reducing the frequency. Reducing the frequency does not make something special; it just makes it infrequent.[2]

Things that are extra special should be given extra attention. Especially things that are vital for our spiritual survival. Why do we eat and drink daily? It keeps us alive. Arguing for frequent (and weekly) communion in his book about the Lord’s Supper, Ken Golden writes, “Our bodies need food and drink to survive, the right amount to thrive. The same goes for spiritual consumption. Our souls also need food and drink, the right amount to thrive.”[3] As well, he contends, “…the Lords Supper is a means of grace … the sacrament is 'soul food and spiritual drink'  based on Melchizedeks ceremony (Gen. 14:18-20) … If the sacrament is a means of spiritual growth, then why limit the opportunities to receive it? Since Paul calls it fellowship with the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16), we should seek such fellowship as often as possible.”[4] The Lord’s design is to give us a regularly scheduled spiritual dinner date to satisfy our hunger and thirst after His righteousness—and to develop a taste and appetite to constantly see that He is good while steering us away from the world’s cisterns to quench our desire for fellowship.

John Calvin thus appealed in his articles to the Geneva Council in 1537 for weekly communing with our Lord in His Holy Supper as a minimum for the practical benefits of Christ’s saints, as cited by T. David Gordon:

It would be desirable that the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ be in use at least once every Sunday when the congregation is assembled, in view of the great comfort which the faithful receive from it as well as the fruit of all sorts which it produces—the promises which are there presented to our faith, that truly we are partakers of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, His death, His life, His Spirit, and all His benefits, and the exhortations which are there made to us to acknowledge and by a confession of praise to magnify those wonderful things, the graces of God bestowed upon us, and finally to live as Christians, joined together in peace and brotherhood as members of the same body. In fact, our Lord did not institute it to be commemorated two or three times a year, but for a frequent exercise of our faith and love which the Christian congregation is to use whenever it is assembled.[5]

Elsewhere Calvin argued that “ …no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper, and almsgiving” (Calvin’s Institutes IV, xvii, p. 44).[6]

The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God instructs that, at least normally, “The Communion, or Supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated …”[7] Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) Q&A 175 teaches that it is the Christian’s duty after having received the Lord’s Supper to so self-assess their participation as to “encourage themselves to a frequent attendance of that ordinance.” And the WLC Q&A 177 states, in contrast to baptism, that the Lord’s Supper is to be “administered often”.

How often? Acts 2:42, 46-47 shares the early church’s model[8]

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers … And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Here we see that the daily (not just weekly!), diligent Gospel life of the Church is what God blesses to preserve the lives of Christians, and this included partaking of communion. Rather than cheapen our relationship with Christ (and one another) by the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper, instead it is encouraged and preserved.[9] The early Christians' regular worship practice included the devotion to apostolic doctrine (preaching and teaching the Word), breaking of bread (administering the Lords Supper)[10], and prayer. Though singing (of Psalms) can be assumed from other NT texts, singing is not mentioned here while the Lord’s Supper is. Community activity in the covenant context of corporate worship involved communion as frequently as it did its other ordinary elements and means of grace. So Calvin appeals to the primitive church’s example as a Scriptural example:

Please God, gentlemen, that both you and we may be able to establish a more frequent usage. For it is evident from St. Luke in the Book of Acts that communion was much more frequently celebrated in the primitive Church, until this abomination of the mass was set up by Satan, who so caused it that people received communion only once or twice a year. Wherefore, we must acknowledge that it is a defect in us that we do not follow the example of the Apostles. (John Calvin, Letter to the Magistrates of Berne, 1555).[11]

Acts 20:7 also shows that communion was an expected Lord’s Day Christian Sabbath church worship experience. Back in Acts 2, we see the effects of frequent communion did not deaden but instead enlivened their faith and fellowship together in Christ.  In verse 47 the Lord used weekly communion and its other corresponding elements to add to the church. Verse 46 says the experience caused them to go to corporate worship and home gatherings with simplicity of heart” and “one accord”. Verse 42 notes that they enjoyedfellowship”—the same koinonia or “communion” of 1 Corinthians 10:16.   Further, verses 42 and 47 highlight that they were "continuing steadfastly" and "praising God."  Thus, Calvin pastorally urges frequent communion for its practical benefits:

… if we duly consider the end which our Lord has in view, we shall perceive that the use should be more frequent than many make it: for the more infirmity presses, the more necessary is it frequently to have recourse to what may and will serve to confirm our faith, and advance us in purity of life; and, therefore, the practice of all well ordered churches should be to celebrate the Supper frequently, so far as the capacity of the people will admit.” (Calvin's Tracts, Vol. II, p. 179).[12]

The WLC’s long section of questions and answers on the Lord’s Supper describe what happens during the partaking of it and all the ways the practice benefits us inwardly and Christ outwardly (and thus why we should want to follow the model of Scripture in frequent participation of it):

WLC 168:

by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; and have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with other, as members of the same mystical body.

WLC 169:

… the communicants … are … to take and eat the bread, and to drink the wine, in thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them.

WLC 170:

As the body and blood of Christ are … spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord's supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ … in a spiritual manner, yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.

WLC 171:

They that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.[13]

WLC 172:

Even those doubtful of assurance should partake and expect to benefit if he … unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians) he is to bewail his unbelief, and labour to have his doubts resolved; and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.

WLC 173:

This supper is so special in fact that some even in the Church may be restricted from joining in it.

WLC 174:

During the participation of the Lord’s Supper all worthy receivers must partake, with all holy reverence and attention as they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith receiving of his fulness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

Here we see that participating rightly stirs up a sense of how special the Lord’s Supper is. It is a means and opportunity in itself to be special. It is the participant’s duty to make it so by partaking rightly, not deferring to limited and distanced times of communion seasons. As Ken Golden writes, “ … any part of the liturgy could become trivialized by our wandering minds. Worship is a discipline as well as a blessing … Self examination is a daily discipline that shouldn’t impact the frequency of administration.”[14]

WLC 175:    

The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, is seriously to consider how they have behaved themselves therein, and with what success; if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, fulfill their vows, and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance: but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at, the sacrament; in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time: but, if they see they have failed in either, they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence.

As noted by Dr. Bacon above, if some do not experience benefit in the Lord’s Supper, the solution is not to have it less frequently but to more diligently cherish it in preparation and practice.

WLC 176:

… the Lord’s supper … [is a seal] of the covenant …

WLC 177:

… the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him …

All this confirms what Acts 2 communicates: the participation of the Lord’s Supper provides important spiritual nourishment and Body life that should not be rationed monthly, quarterly, or annually, because it was ordained of Christ to feed His sheep with Himself on a regular basis for the same reason we do not fast our bodies too long from physical sustenance.

So chapter 29, Of the LordsSupper”, in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) reminds us of the glorious benefits of parking and thus why we should naturally desire to do so on a constant and consistent basis throughout the weeks, months, and years of our pilgrimage through the worldly wilderness till we reach the Promised Land:

WCF 29:1:

Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.

WCF 29:7:

Worthy receivers outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.[15]

These benefits to the saints are something I as a pastor serving them the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day have to trust is a spiritual reality regardless of how it can feel personally by my being limited for self introspection while focussing on its presentation and distribution. While I vary how the supper is presented throughout the month, essentially the same words, Psalms, actions, and elements are administered. I continue with the ordinance each week believing that its effect will be exactly what Christ said it would be for His elect. A religious routine is not inherently unspiritual, and a rote worship exercise is not merely mechanical and without benefit to sanctified memory and meaning. If we were to restrict the Supper to only a few times a year, this does not guarantee any more of a spiritual activity and in fact could cause our spirits to wane for going so long without. 

T. David Gordon addresses the perception of preserving the special effect of the sacrament by limiting its frequency: 

… there are some who argue that the frequent practice of communion will cause it to become less meaningful. To this, there are three responses. First, how does one know this, without having tried it? How can one who has never observed the Lord's supper frequently know that such observance would render it less meaningful? Second, if it is argued that anything done often loses its significance, then should we not "save" the significance of preaching by doing it less frequently? Should we not make prayers extremely meaningful by only praying annually? Should we not make the singing of praise more meaningful by singing only once a quarter? Third, unless we are willing to decrease the frequency of other elements of worship, what makes us think this particular element will become less meaningful if done frequently?[16]

Christ calls us to to partake of the Lord’s Supper to remember Him and what He did for us and who we are and what we have in Him. What Christian can get enough of that? What child of God does not want to keep going back to the table for more?  

We so easily forget our Lord without a frequent reminder of Him and his benefits to all our senses, without which we also are so prone to wander and forsake Him. I remember one young husband and father say to our Session that he was thankful for weekly communion here, because (besides the exegesis of Scripture) it controlled his Christian walk the entire week as he anticipated returning to formal, familiar, and fond fellowship across the table from his living Lord and Savior Who Himself is hosting the affair.

Indeed, the anticipation of such consistent times of fellowship should garner the same excitement and personal preparation that any wife enjoys as she readies for a dinner date with her husband. May the Bride of Christ not suffer spiritual malnutrition by being starved of fellowship with her holy and faithful Husband for the want of frequent, spiritually nourishing meals with and of Him.
 


Grant Van Leuven (MDiv, RPTS) has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Evangelical Church of America in San Diego, CA, since 2010. He also serves as an editor and community engagement coordinator for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon.


Related Links

Eating and Drinking with God by Ken Golden

What Is the Lord's Supper? by Richard Phillips

Feeding on Christ in the Lord's Supper, according to Calvin and the Westminster Confession by Wayne Spear [ Audio Disc | Download ]

Communing with Christ in His Supper by C.J. Williams [ Audio Disc | Download]

"The Puritans on the Lord's Supper" by Joel Beeke

  1. Introduction
  2. Papal Errors in the Lord's Supper
  3. Christ's Presence in the Lord's Supper
  4. Biblical Simplicity in the Lord's Supper
  5. Qualifications for Admission to the Lord's Supper
  6. Right Reception of the Lord's Supper
  7. Hindrances and Benefits of the Lord's Supper

Notes

[1] One needs to guard against well-meaning philosophical arguments that are more based upon sentiment and extra-Scriptural traditions derived from certain circumstantial history, however so meaningful for a people group, rather than Scriptural exegesis and logical deduction by observation of the people of the New Testament Church. So Ken Golden notes in his chapter arguing for weekly frequency in his book on the Lord’s Supper, “ … that biblical exegesis rather than church tradition is the basis for this requirement” (though in context he explains why he argues for no more than one, not two, times of administration of the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day): Ken Golden, Eating and Drinking with God (Lancaster, Pa.: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 2020), 34. See Goldens article from his book on this topic here: https://www.reformation21.org/blog/frequent-feeding

[2] Richard Bacon, “The Westminster Standards and the Frequency of the Lord's Supper.” (Rowlett, Texas: First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, 1999). Bacon continues, “However, the Lords Supper is not a special ordinance of worship. This is clear from Westminster Confession 21.5”, which reads: "The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching , and conscionable hearing of the word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God:  besides religious oaths and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgiving upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religious manner." Underscore, GVL: see here the grouping of the sacrament of communion with all other weekly worship elements. Golden notes this common connection of Word and communion sacrament within regular worship per Acts 20:7, 11 and 1 Corinthians 11:20: Golden, 35-36.

[3] Ibid, 33. Golden also notes, “The question of frequency—how often or seldom we do something—isn’t a trivial matter.”

[4] Ibid, 37-38. See Golden’s article from his book on this topic here: https://www.reformation21.org/articles/soul-food-and-spiritual-drink.php

[5] T. David Gordon, “Why Weekly Communion”: https://opc.org/os.html?article_id=104#note1

[6] Underscore, GVL. This quote was found here: https://www.monergism.com/topics/lord%E2%80%99s-supper/frequency-communion It is a good source for various articles arguing for weekly communion.

[7] Westminster Divines, “Of the Celebration of the Communion, Or Sacrament of the Lords’ Supper”, in “The Directory for the Publick Worship of God”, in Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2003), 384. It reads in more detail with disclaimers: “The Communion, or Supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated; but how often, may be considered and determined by the ministers, and other church-governors of each congregation, as they shall find most convenient for the comfort and edification of the people committed to their charge … Where this sacrament cannot with convenience be frequently administered, it is requisite that publick warning be given the sabbath-day before the administration thereof …”

[8] We need to remember that the Scriptures not only give us a message and ordinances but a method to model in presenting or administering them, and this too is authoritative instruction. The same is true for how preaching, evangelism, and missions should be done (and by whom).

[9] The author’s sermon, Persevere by Saintly Communion, on WLC Q&A 154 and these texts in Acts can be heard here: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9114119362. Later in this sermon series on the WLC, messages on its section regarding the Lord’s Supper (Q&As 168-177) also are available.

[10] Though not all Scriptures using the phrase “breaking of bread” refer to the Lord’s Supper, in this context it clearly does as understood by other Scriptures formally referring to the Lord’s Supper that way in corporate, religious worship. For instance, see especially the adjacent and related texts of 1 Corinthians 10:16: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 (informed by verse 20): For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. See also Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, and Luke 22:19.

[11] Cited by T. David Gordon, Ibid.

[13] Perhaps also impacting an argument for infrequent communion is a concern about the saints being able to adequately give themselves to this kind of weekly preparation. If so, we should all seriously consider how we might want to re-prioritize our lives and how we live for Sabbath worship and order not only our work week the previous six days but also our daily devotional time in private and family worship. Could not these ten catechisms be used in rotation regularly one per day in family worship, especially on the Sabbath eve, with great benefit that would spill over into all areas of dedicated spirituality and worship? The author is convicted by such a comment and suggestion in how to consider reforming his own house to better serve the Lord.

[14] Golden, 39-40.

[15] For an important though subtle distinction between Calvin’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper and that of the Westminster Divines (this author favors and subscribes to the latter), see Wayne R. Spear, “Calvin and Westminster on the Lord's Supper: Exegetical Considerations”: an audio file of this lecture can be acquired by the Alliance here: https://reformedresources.org/calvin-and-westminster-on-the-lords-supper-exegetical-considerations-mp3-download/. This distinction does not take away from both parties’s commitment to frequent communion but is worth the consideration especially of ministers and members who subscribe to the Westminster Standards.

[16] Gordon, Ibid.