Monday, February 04, 2008

Weekly Communion?

Calvin in his Institutes argues for a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper. He makes several statements in Book IV concerning this notion including: “No assembly of the church should be held without the word being preached, prayers being offered, the Lord’s Supper administered and alms given” (4.17.44) and “The Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually”(4.17.46). We have done well to remember that preaching, praying and the offering be carried on each Sunday but have forsaken Calvin’s and Scriptures understanding of weekly communion. Calvin defends this position by appealing to the practice of the Apostles as recorded by Luke in Acts 2:42 and 20:7. These texts give an account of the weekly meetings of the Apostles and that they included “breaking bread” together. Calvin as well in his commentary on 1st Corinthians 11:25-27 supports this idea of weekly communion.

John Calvin develops his argument for weekly communion by first distinguishing in the Institutes between Zwingli’s memorial view and his own understanding of Christ’s real presence in the elements as well as how this changes the way we view our own participation in the Lord’s Supper. Now this is of course not to say Calvin believed in transubstantiation or even Luther’s consubstantiation but that he did confess “[Christ’s] flesh is meat indeed and his blood drink indeed, nourishing us unto life eternal…”(4.17.4) and that “Christ is the only food of our soul…” (4.17.1). In other words Calvin says that Christ is truly present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper and that these elements are a way in which we receive the “strength” of the food which is Christ’s presence in our lives. Calvin reiterates this by making it clear that any time we take the Lord’s Supper that we recall that “As bread nourishes, sustains, and protects our bodily life so the body of Christ is the only food to invigorate and keep alive the soul.” (4.17.3) To forsake this meal Calvin says would lead to the atrophying of the human soul. Communion is vital to the life and being of the Christian man or woman.

The life bread of the Church is Jesus Christ. We confess this to be true yet we deny the benefits to the people of God that this life bread brings by abrogating our duties as teachers of the faith when we do not follow the instruction of Paul in his letters and our Reformed heritage in John Calvin with respect to the act and true presence of Jesus Christ in the elements of communion. Calvin says, “Take, eat, drink. This is my body, which is broken for you: this is my blood, which is shed for the remission of sins” (4.17.2). Again in other words Calvin very much agrees that Christ is not being symbolic in these expressions but is truly present in the elements of communion. Now Calvin does not say, like Luther and Rome that Christ is physically present, but is truly spiritually present in the act of the Eucharist.

Now that we know what Calvin means by the Lord’s Supper and why we should practice this weekly, how does this finding help to encourage and instruct the modern Church in its life and faith today? Well firstly when we do understand this teaching of the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ in the feast we now take the corporate gathering for the Lord’s Day much more seriously. When the Eucharist is celebrated weekly we have the opportunity to be spiritual fed by Christ in the most intimate of ways.

Secondly, we have in modern days become quite skeptical about the mysteries of the faith. We have relied, to a great extent, too strongly on the empirical to establish the foundations of our faith and have come to be wary of speaking in mysterious terms and paradox whereas our ancestors found great comfort and strength in the mysteries that thrive in the Word of God. This reliance on the observed belies, especially when speaking of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a true lack of faith in the work of Christ in our lives. We have come to expect that the real presence means for us our physical and corporeal dimensions be lifted up by the existence of Christ in our persons. By reestablishing the reality of Christ’s spiritual presence in a weekly communion service we can by both application and this corporate bond establish for our parishioners a lively and direct relationship with Christ that in physical way reminds them of the spiritual presence of Christ.

The life of the mainline Church is hungry for the work of God. It acts and thinks as a malnourished child reacting swiftly and without forethought in any number of arenas. I believe this is a combination of things, including the forsaking of the power of the Scriptures; most important of these is that we have forsaken the daily bread that our Lord Jesus provides to us. Calvin makes the point, as we have discussed earlier, that a body cannot live without proper food. What the Church has attempted to do is forsake this life bread because it has abrogated the proper understanding of the intent of the meal in the first place. By making it nothing more than a memorial (also allowing paedocommunion and not fencing the table has helped lead to the disintegration of the centrality of the Lord’s Supper, however, those are other issues for another time) the Church has abrogated its duty to teach its members the true meaning and benefit of the Lord’s Supper.


Timothy said...

What an excellent post. I will have to dust off my treatise on the subject and continue working on it for my session. You just reminded me of the absolute necessity of communion. Keep up the good work.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Thanks Tim. Appreciate your kind words. The Lord's Supper is probably the most "forgotten" part of the "evangelical"/"conservative" milieu.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

We do it every week here in Sturgis, Ben, and I have to say it is a sanctifying ordinance. It has been a great help to me and I've found long besetting sins falling off me with little effort on my part.

It's almost like it's a means of grace or something, huh?

How's Grandpa?

The Rev. David Fischler said...

Great post, Benjamin. I agree wholeheartedly!

Benjamin P. Glaser said...


Grandpa is doing well. He is back at work and out of Grandma's hair.

Kyle Borg said...

Good post! I've been mulling over this one lately. Though I am in support of weekly communion, to be honest I can't find an exegetical defense for it. From my understanding it seems that the only texts anyone brings up in favor of it is Acts 2:42 and 20:7, but I don't see these as strong support (clearly our Reformed fathers didn't either). R.S. Clark recently did a post on this and it seemed that the thrust of his defense was "I need this." So while I think it should be observed weekly I don't know that a strict Biblical defense can be made of it. Unless it comes from arguing the significance and meaning of communion. Am I completely wrong in this?

Dad said...

Yes we do need to have communion more often. As you know your mom has gone from 4 times to 12 times a year for communion. Took her on visitation for home communion and I had it 5 times in one day. So do I get extra credit?? :)

Gary said...

I think a weekly communion would be to often because it would lose the specialness. Its like my professor said at Geneva one time: Some times you hear people say they want a sign that God's there before they'll believe. Well if there was a sign every day up in the sky that said "I am here," it would become common so people would still want more before they believe. After all look around you, everything around you is a sign because it can't just appear but some people won't believe.

Samuel Rutherford said...

I'm wondering, do we minimize the weekly preaching of the Word because it might become mundane and "not special?" I can't figure your argument out for the life of me. What makes the Lord's Supper "special" is not the "feeling" it gives us but the promise which it is a sign and seal for. You don't confirm those promises by "feeling them" you confirm them by grasping them by faith. This isn't meant to be harsh, but I think the type of argument you use is one of the weakest for not having weekly communion.

Gary said...

I said nothing of the "feeling" it gives us.

I used the same argument every church gives for not having weekly communion(at least that I've heard). And then used an example of why they might feel that way from one of my old professors.

The argument makes sense to me.