The question of frequency—how often or seldom we do something—isn’t a trivial matter. This is true about consumption. How often should we eat and drink? Most of us partake three times per day. Some prefer smaller quantities more often, while others gorge themselves at every meal. Still others diet to their peril, malnourished in their self-denial. 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. God provides His sacrament, but how often should we eat and drink? Should the observance be frequent or occasional? Should the Lord’s Supper be a regular part of worship?
In fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we’re taught to pray, “give us this day our daily bread” (Mt. 6:11). This concerns our daily needs rather than wants. Some traditions provide a daily sacrament because they see it as a need. Others offer it far less often for a variety of reasons. This post makes the case for a frequent and regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Preferably, this would happen as often as the church is required to meet for worship: Once every Lord’s Day. In support of this frequency, the present chapter will survey the biblical data, offer theological reasons, and answer potential objections.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during his last Passover on earth. The next reference to the sacrament followed Pentecost when 3000 people were baptized. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This text lists out normal elements of worship. How do we know this? For starters, each item has a definite article: The apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, the prayers. These are specific things done in worship. The apostles’ teaching consisted of preaching and teaching (Rom. 10:14-17). The fellowship (koinonia) involved offerings for the needy (Acts 2:44-45; cf. 2 Cor. 9:13 in which koinonia is translated as “contribution”). The prayers were spoken in community (Acts 12:12). And the breaking of bread expressed both table fellowship (Acts 2:46) and a specific ritual, the Lord’s Supper.
We also know the breaking of bread is sacramental by its usage in Luke/Acts. In Luke 24:13-35, two disciples were returning to Emmaus, mourning of the death of their master. Along the way, they met a stranger—the risen Savior—even though they didn’t recognize Him. As they traveled, He explained how the Old Testament pointed to His death and resurrection. Upon reaching Emmaus, they urged Him to dine with them. But once at the table, the guest became the host. He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them just like He did at the Last Supper. In doing so, their eyes were opened and they finally recognized Him. He revealed himself specifically through the breaking of bread. Even though it wasn’t an official Lord’s Supper administration, Luke still connected the breaking of bread with the presence of Christ.
Another compelling example is found in Acts 20:7, 11:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart the next day and he prolonged his speech until midnight … And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.”
Here, Luke wrote about an evening worship service in Troas with emphasis on teaching and “breaking of bread.” A few details are worth noting.
First, “gathered together” is a form of the verb sunago related to the noun sunagoge from which we get “synagogue”. This describes communal activity or worship. And not just worship in general, but the celebration of the Supper! According to v. 7, they were gathered for the purpose of breaking bread. Second, this text is more time-specific than Acts 2:42 with its mention of the first day. This follows the pattern of the New Testament church gathering on the first day (Lord’s Day) instead of the seventh day (Sabbath). Rather than the daily observance found in Acts 2:42, we find the celebration taking place on the Lord’s Day. Third, the Lord’s Supper is in view because v. 11 contains the definite article and the meal follows the preaching of the word. This echoes the theme of word and sacrament together.
Besides Luke/Acts, we also find evidence for frequent communion in Paul’s writing. Here, we return to a text discussed in the previous chapter.
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. . . . When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. (1 Cor. 11:17-20)
As we previously learned, Paul was addressing sacramental abuses in the Corinthian church. Yet the details also shed light on the present subject. While verses 17, 18, 20 utilize a different verb (sunerchomai) than Acts 20:7 (sunago), they still describe the church “coming together.” In v. 20, when the church met together, they were outwardly taking the sacrament, but inwardly destroying the unity. Their motives were selfish instead of communal. Yet v. 20 explicitly says they were receiving the sacrament when they came together. The conclusion must be that the sacrament was celebrated whenever they congregated. This text not only establishes frequency in 1 Corinthians, but also clarifies Acts 20. Like the rest of the key New Testament texts, v. 20 supports rather than impedes frequent administration of the sacrament.
1 Corinthians 11:26 is often used as a counterpoint to frequent communion. Supporters of less-frequent communion would argue that the phrase, “as often as you drink it” is ambiguous about frequency. However, the context of chapter 11 dictates the meaning of the disputed phrase. “As often as you drink it” would occur “when you come together” (v. 20).
Besides the Biblical data, there are sound theological reasons for frequent communion. First, the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. The first post in this series argued that the sacrament is “soul food and spiritual drink” based on Melchizedek’s ceremony (Gen. 14:18-20), the Passover/Last Supper rituals (Exod. 12, synoptic Last Supper accounts), the manna/bread of life discourse (Exod. 16, Jn. 6), and the contrasting spiritual/demonic tables (1 Cor. 10). 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.
There’s good reason for doing this, since the New Testament shows a connection between word and sacrament (Lk. 24:30-32, 34; Acts 2:42, 20:7, 11). While it’s true the word is primary and the sacrament secondary, that doesn’t mean the latter should be optional. Except in extraordinary situations when it’s not possible to administer the sacrament, the two are meant to go together.
Finally, there’s another compelling reason for frequent communion. Besides providing participants with spiritual food and drink, the sacrament also “put[s] a visible difference between those that belong unto the church, and the rest of the world.” This is something that even the reading and preaching word doesn’t do. Both believers and unbelievers may read the Bible and listen to a sermon, but only believers are allowed to receive the sacrament. Being barred from the sacrament week after week may harden some people. Yet it’s a witness to those who are on the fence. Perhaps they’ll start asking themselves, “What am I missing?” If so, we can provide a ready answer: Intimate communion with our risen Savior who nourishes us with His body and blood.
Not everyone is persuaded about frequent communion. In discussing the 1 Corinthians text, I already answered one biblical objection. Now we’ll consider some other objections in the balance of this chapter.
- The Relationship to the Passover. This objection insists on consistency in spiritual meals. Since the Old Testament Passover was an annual event, its New Testament fulfillment should also be an annual event. Yet this ignores the multi-faceted nature of the sacrament. It not only fulfills the annual Passover, but also Melchizedek’s ceremony (Gen. 14:18-20), the old covenant peace offerings (Lev. 7) and the daily manna in the wilderness (Ex. 16; Jn. 6).
- The Crypto-Catholic argument. This objection utilizes guilt by association. Since the Roman Catholic Church practices frequent (even daily) communion, Protestants should avoid this practice. However, guilt by association is a fallacy. Roman Catholics and Protestants have other shared beliefs such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and original sin. It would be absurd to disown essential Christian doctrines because a different church holds to them. The same holds for frequent communion. The Bible, rather than church tradition, informs our practice.
- Trivializes the Sacrament. According to this objection, the more we celebrate the sacrament, the more we’ll take it for granted and go through the motions. While this is a potential danger, any part of the liturgy could become trivialized by our wandering minds. Worship is a discipline as well as a blessing.
- Lengthens Worship Service. This pragmatic objection assumes the longer the worship service, the less focused we become. There might actually be some truth to this. Worship is a blessing to God’s people, but they also live in a culture that cultivates short attention spans. So conducting a two hour worship service may not be the best way to keep a congregation focused. Yet shortening the service doesn’t have to involve infrequent communion. Other elements of worship could be shortened to accommodate the concern about time. This even applies to the preaching of the word. Sermons don’t have to be long to be effective.
- Requires Preparation. According to this objection, the sacrament requires self-examination ahead of time, so frequent administration does not offer adequate preparation. My previous post addressed the issue of biblical preparation from 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. It’s true that partakers must examine themselves before coming to the table, but Paul doesn’t specify a timeframe. Self-examination is a daily discipline that shouldn’t impact the frequency of administration.
- Unity of the Broader Church. This objection is concerned that frequent communion can become a divisive practice in denominations or families of churches that practice less frequent communion. It’s possible for those accustomed to frequent communion to look down upon those who oppose it. That's the essence of spiritual pride! Yet responsible churches will teach their members to show charity towards different views. Moreover, if taken to its logical conclusion, this objection would also rule out the use of fermented wine, creedal recitation, and other practices that have latitude in a family of churches.
- Compromises the Outreach of the Church. According to this objection, the practice of frequent communion serves as an unnecessary obstacle for inquirers who already have to overcome the unique distinctives of a confessional tradition. While it’s conceded that churches need to use wisdom in implementing changes, such wisdom is formed by discerning the likeliest teaching of Scripture. Any visitor who’s convinced that the Bible is the word of God and that preaching and sacraments are means of strengthening faith, should at least be willing to consider the arguments for frequent communion.
- Compromises the Primacy of the Word. Finally, this objection assumes that the more the sacrament is celebrated, the more the word will be supplanted. This is the weightiest objection of all. Certainly the word is prior to the sacrament, the latter depending on the former. So the church must guard against this tendency found in other traditions. Yet ironically, infrequent communion can create the same problem. The concept of “Communion Sunday” can lead people to exalt the sacrament as something “special”. This runs of risk of seeing the ordinary parts of worship as “less special”, including the preaching of the word.
In the final analysis, none of these objections are persuasive enough to overturn the biblical data and theological benefits of frequent communion on the Lord’s Day. Just as the Lord taught his disciples to ask for their daily bread, the twenty-first century Christians should petition their churches for their “frequent bread.”
Previous Articles in This Series:
Ken Golden is the organizing pastor at Sovereign Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Davenport, Iowa. He is also the author of Entering God's Rest: The Sabbath from Genesis to Revelation--And What It Means for You and Presbytopia: What It Means to Be Presbyterian.
What Is the Lord's Supper? by Richard Phillips
"The Puritans on the Lord's Supper" by Joel Beeke
- Papal Errors in the Lord's Supper
- Christ's Presence in the Lord's Supper
- Biblical Simplicity in the Lord's Supper
- Qualifications for Admission to the Lord's Supper
- Right Reception of the Lord's Supper
- Hindrances and Benefits of the Lord's Supper
 This post assumes that biblical exegesis rather than church tradition is the basis for this requirement. Consequently, I argue for one Lord’s Supper administration on the Lord’s Day because there is no explicit biblical evidence for more than this frequency. Some would argue for two services, but this is more beneficial than essential. The old covenant requirement of morning and evening sacrifices (Num. 28:1-10; Ps. 92:1-2) is suggestive rather than binding for all times and places. These sacrifices were types and shadows that found their fulfillment in Christ (Col. 2:16-17). And while having a second service can be useful in sanctifying the Lord’s Day, it’s an application of a biblical principle which requires the use of biblical wisdom.
 T. David Gordon, “Why Weekly Communion,” Ordained Servant 17 (2008): 109: “Today, we might refer to our Sunday gatherings as gathering “to hear the Word of God,” or, possibly, “to pray,” but I doubt we would describe our gathering as Luke describes this. The implication is not that they did nothing else on the Lord’s Day, but that the Lord’s Supper so characterized their assembly that it could accurately be designated as a gathering “to break bread.”
 Both Acts 20 and 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 share similar language. The former includes “we were gathered together to break of bread” (v.7) while the latter mentions “when you come together” (11:20) and “the bread we break” (10:16). Since 1 Corinthians falls in the timeline of Acts 19, Paul’s statements precede the events of Acts 20:7. So in all likelihood, Acts 20:7 was describing the sacrament in the regular gathering of the church on the first day of the week.
 W. Robert Godfrey, “Calvin on the Eucharist”, Modern Reformation, May/June 1997, http://www. AllianceNet.org/pub/mr/ mr97/1997.03.MayJun/mr9703.wrg.calvin.html: “The frequency of administration may say something about what we expect to find at that table (or, maybe I should say, whom we expect to find at that table) and what the blessing of meeting Jesus Christ there really is.”
 WCF 27:1.
 Gordon, “Weekly,” 110-11.
 So Todd Bordow, “Rethinking Weekly Communion,” Ordained Servant 17 (May 2008): 106. The author specifically addressed the practice of weekly communion and raised some important points. For example: “One wonders whether the weekly communion proponents have considered the ramifications of their views on their members who relocate. In our mobile society it is likely a majority of our members will need to change churches at least once in their lives. If these members have been convinced that weekly communion is both biblical and necessary for the feeding of their souls, they will have a difficult time finding a church in an area where the Reformed or conservative Presbyterians do not practice weekly communion. … They will also be tempted to disparage good churches that would greatly benefit them simply because those churches do not share the same frequency conviction.”
 Bordow, “Rethinking,” 106-7.