Frequency of Communion
Rev. Robert Grossmann
Reformed Church in the U. S.
[The following is a letter from Rev. Grossmann that appeared on an RCUS forum on the internet, January 8, 2001.
It has been edited very slightly and is reprinted by permission.]
The question about the frequency of the Lord's Supper is one that should have been answered in both your systematic course in Ecclesiology and your Church History course in Reformation.
Let me make a few points.
1. The fundamental principle of the Reformed Reformation is Sola Scriptura, not "Sola Scriptura et Sacramenta." The Reformed, beginning already with Zwingli, reformed worship by replacing a sacrament centered worship service with a word centered worship service because they realized that the purpose of worship is the glory of God and not primarily the salvation of man. In God's wisdom, the preaching of the word also leads to the salvation of man but those who worship for what "we can get out of it," are missing the Reformed boat.
The reading and preaching of the word is the center of worship because in it we properly submit our hearts to the sovereign promises and commandments of God. The word is necessary to worship, the sacraments are not. Even Luther said, "Without the word, the sacraments are empty ceremonies.” Therefore baptism is to be administered as needed, and the Lord's Supper as an occasional confirmation of the word, but not as an equal with it.
2. This use agrees with the fact that the Bible holds the sacraments to be secondary, that is inferior means of grace. In the same way that Abraham was saved by faith received through the word and Spirit BEFORE he was circumcised, thus making circumcision a confirming but not primary means of grace (Rom. 4:10, etc.) so Paul says, "Christ sent me NOT to baptize but to preach the gospel....lest the cross of Christ should become of no effect" (1 Cor. 1:17). It is wrong to elevate a secondary means of grace to equality with the primary means of grace, "faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of God." Compare the frequent and terrific emphasis on the word of God as the source of faith, the test of truth, etc., etc., compared to the very few and far less emphatic teaching about the necessity of the sacraments in the NT.
This is not by chance.
3. Biblical theologically, if the Lord's Supper replaces the Passover, which it does, why would the Passover be celebrated once a year and the Lord's Supper half a hundred times?
4. Why would Christ celebrate the Supper only once in three years of ministry if He wanted his disciples to celebrate it in a weekly fashion? He is certainly a poor example for His disciples on this issue if the weekly boys are right.
5. How can Paul give full regulation for the New Testament worship service in 1Cor. 14, giving great emphasis to preaching the word in the common tongue, etc., etc., and never mention the Supper if it is to be a part of every worship service?
6. It is the specifically Lutheran reformation that began with the issue of man's salvation and eventually through that saw sola scriptura. Being primarily interested in man's salvation rather than God's glory, Lutheranism hung on to the Roman practice of weekly communion. Since to them salvation is communicated through the sacrament as much as through the word, as Luther again said (the Lutheran church after the 1577 Formula of Concord has never been the same as the one Luther started), "when the cups become golden the preachers become wooden." He thus predicted what would become the Achilles heal of the Lutheran churches.
7. The shrug of the shoulders, saying, "because we always did it that way," betrays either an ignorance or ignoring of church history. (Its too bad in my eyes that so little of the really practical teaching of the Reformers, etc., is taught in Church history classes today, so I cannot blame some of you for not knowing these things but better information is important.) The fact is that literally thousands of dedicated Reformed and Presbyterian divines and hundreds of synods in Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Scotland, all of whom were great students and followers of Calvin, came to the conclusion that he was wrong about the frequency of the Supper. Calvin was not successful in Strassbourg or Geneva in convincing his peers, including men like Martin Bucer in Strassbourg who was leader of the Reformation there when Calvin worked among the ministers, that he was right. The fact of the matter is that for the reasons mentioned above, and a number of others, our dear Father and Mentor was wrong. This does not lessen his value to all of us, but removes him from the pedestal he himself would have abhorred. Nor did Calvin INSIST of weekly communion, he wanted it, but did not resign when he did not get it.
8. Michael Horton's article in the Mid-America Journal of Theology is very ill advised on many of these issues. It doesn't even deal with primacy of Scripture as a means of grace, much less answer it. I think the brothers there were somewhat remiss in publishing it without some critical comment, but even so, we should all be able to read these things and deal with them critically, instead of swallowing a few camels and then throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
9. The fact is that the Bible does NOT teach that the early church observed the Supper weekly. That is simple
speculation. Saying, for example, as Luke does in Acts 20 that the church observed the Supper on the 1st day of the week, says only that. It simply does not say that it was the first day of EVERY week. Other points of exegesis could be made. For example, in Acts 2 the breaking of bread is most likely the use of hospitality for fellowship as a few verses after 42 it is said, "breaking bread from house to house." Nevertheless, even were it the Supper that is in view, as it most likely is in Acts 20, there is not a hint of how often it was done.
Well, it's past my bed time again, so Good Night, and God Bless. Bob Grossmann.
For reprints write:
Trinity Covenant Church
Reformed Church in the U. S.
6050 Del Paz Drive
Colorado Springs, Co. 80918