Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 1, 1963
NUMBER 13, PAGE 1,12-13a

Weekly Observance Of The Lord's Supper

Sewell Hall

In his original Commentary on Acts, J. W. McGarvey wrote in his comments on Acts 20:7, "It must in candor, be admitted, that there is no express statement in the New Testament that the disciples broke the loaf every Lord's day;...But when we can determine with even a good degree of probability, an apostolic custom, our own judgment should yield to it." It is our purpose to investigate the evidence available indicating the apostolic custom. In this study, we shall use the greater part of brother McGarvey's comments on Acts 20:7.

The Early Church Met On The First Day Of Each Week

Hebrews 10:25 clearly demonstrates the practice of regular assembling. I Corinthians 16:2 is a very strong intimation of a weekly gathering on the first day of the week. It calls for a laying by in store "on the first day of every week." (R.S.V. et al.) Hastings Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels concludes from this and other scriptures that "regular gatherings were held on the first day of the week" in the churches of Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece.

With this conclusion all the writings of the "church fathers" agree. Barnabas, who supposedly wrote In A. D. 72, stated: "The eighth day is the beginning of another world; and therefore with joy we celebrate the eighth day, on which Jesus rose from the dead." Justin Martyr, in 150 A.D. wrote:

On the Lord's Day all Christians in the city or country meet together, because that is the day of our Lord's resurrection; and then we read the Apostles and Prophets. This being done, the President makes an oration to the assembly to exhort them to Imitate and to practice the things which they have heard, and then we all join In prayer,

and after that we celebrate the Lord's Supper....

Eusebius, known as the father of church history, wrote, "From the beginning the Christians assembled on the first day of the week, called by them the Lord's Day, to read the Scriptures, to preach, and to celebrate the Lord's Supper." Robert Milligan, in his book Scheme of Redemption from which the last two quotations were taken, refers to further statements from Pliny, Ignatius, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, and Jerome, all documenting the fact that the early church met regularly on the first day of the week.

Further proof, however, is not necessary to convince the various religious parties of our day, for as McGarvey observed:

The intimations contained in the New Testament, together with the universal custom known to have existed in the Churches during the age succeeding that of the apostles, has been decided by them all as sufficient to establish the divine authority of the religious observance of the Lord's day; and yet they have not consented to the weekly observance of the Lord's supper, the proof of which is precisely the same.

The Purpose Of The Weekly Meeting Was To Break Bread

Acts 20:7 states it clearly: "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." On this McGarvey wrote:

The disciples came together on that day, even though Paul and Luke and Timothy, and all the brethren who had come from Greece, were present, not primarily to hear one or more of them discourse, but "to break bread." Such is the distinct statement of the historian. That such was an established custom in the Churches is implied in a rebuke administered by Paul to the Church at Corinth, in which he says: "When you come together into one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper." (I Cor. 11:20) Now, for this they would not have deserved censure, had it not been that to eat the Lord's supper was the proper object of their assemblage. These facts are sufficient to establish the conclusion that the main object of the Lord's-day meetings was to break the loaf.

It may further be noted from the quotations of Justin Martyr and Eusebius above that when the church met on the Lord's day they observed the Lord's supper. In fact, Eusebius says they met "to celebrate the Lord's supper" among other things.

Conclusion: That They Celebrated The Supper Weekly

Again we quote from McGarvey:

This conclusion (that the main object of the Lord's day meeting was to break the loaf) will be of service to us in seeking to determine the frequency with which the loaf was broken. If the prime object of the Lord's-day meeting was to celebrate the Lord's supper, then all the evidence we have of the custom of meeting every Lord's day is equally conclusive in reference to the weekly observance of the Lord's supper. But this former custom is universally admitted by Christians of the present day, and therefore there should be no dispute in reference to the latter.

As a practical issue between the advocates of weekly communion and their opponents, the question really has reference to the comparative weight of evidence in favor of this practice, and of monthly, quarterly, or yearly communion. When it is thus presented, no one can long hesitate as to the conclusion; for in favor of either of the intervals last mentioned there is not the least evidence, either in the New Testament, or in the uninspired history of the Churches. On the other hand it is the universal testimony of antiquity that the Churches of the second century broke the loaf every Lord's day, and considered it a custom of apostolic appointment. Now it can not be doubted that the apostolic Churches had some regular interval at which to celebrate this institution, and seeing that all the evidence there is in the case is in favor of a weekly celebration, there is no room for a reasonable doubt that this was the interval adopted.

Actually, there is no dispute with this conclusion from the scholars of the various denominations. As evidence of this, note the comments of the following recognized scholars on Acts 20:7:

Adam Clark (Methodist) Concerning the phrase, to break bread, intimation by this that they were accustomed to receive the holy sacrament on each Lord's Day.

Thomas Scott (Presbyterian) The ordinance seems to have been constantly administered every Lord's Day, and probably no professed Christians absented themselves from it after they had been admitted into the church.

Dr. Mason (Presbyterian) The Lord's Supper was observed by the first Christians every Lord's Day; nor will this be denied by any man who has candidly investigated the subject. There is a cloud of witnesses to testify they were kept by succeeding Christians with great care and tenderness, for about two centuries.

Philip Doddridge (Congregationalist) It is well known that the primitive Christians administered the Eucharist every Lord's Day.

Dr. J. M. Camp (Baptist) The death of our Saviour is spiritually commemorated in the Lord's Supper, which, it is well known was observed by the primitive churches every Lord's Day.

Alexander Carson (Baptist) There is an admirable wisdom in the appointment of Jesus in the observance of the Lord's Supper every first day of the week. Would it be any loss to them if all the churches of Christ were to return to this primitive practice?

John Wesley (Methodist, Letter to America, 1784) I also advise the elders to administer the supper of the Lord every Lord's Day.

John Calvin — Truly, this custom which enjoins communing once a year is a most evident contrivance of the devil, by whose instrumentality so-ever it may have been determined.

These quotations have been widely published and represent an honor roll of denominational commentators.

With these words of the commentators, the Historians agree. Neander states, "As we have already remarked, the celebration of the Lord's Supper was still held to constitute an essential part of Divine worship on every Sunday."

Real Question: Is Apostolic Example Binding?

Taking note of the scholarly opinions among the various religious bodies that the early church did meet weekly for the Lord's supper, McGarvey wrote:

It is very generally admitted, even among parties who do not observe the practice themselves, that the apostolic Churches broke the loaf weekly; but it is still made a question whether, in the absence of an express commandment, this example is binding on us. This question is likely to be determined differently by two different classes of men. Those who are disposed to follow chiefly the guide of their own judgment, or of their denominational customs, will feel little influenced by such a precedent. But to those who are determined that the very slightest indication of the divine will shall govern them, the question must present itself in this way: "We are commanded to do this in memory of Jesus. We are not told, in definite terms, how often it shall be done; but we find that the apostles established the custom of meeting every Lord's day for this purpose. This is an inspired precedent, and with it we must comply. We can come to no other conclusion without assuming an ability to Judge of this matter with more wisdom than did the apostles."

In the light of the excellent observations in the preceding paragraph, it is relatively futile for us to spend a great amount of time trying to convince the average person that the early church met weekly for communion. We must first bring him to be "determined that the very slightest indication of the divine will shall govern" him. When this is done, weekly communion as well as many other clear points of Bible teaching will be readily accepted. As we have so often pointed out, our differences do not primarily involve what the Bible teaches but rather our attitudes toward its teaching. This is true of differences in the church as well as those without.

It should further be stated that when we argue the necessity of weekly observance of the supper by the church, we are implicating ourselves in the responsibility of being present for it. The Lord's Supper is for all Christians. If one can miss without reason, then all can do so. If all can miss it once, then all can miss it three Sundays of the month or twelve Sundays of the quarter without blame. "Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?"

— 1801 N. 27h St., Birmingham, Alabama