Communion in the New TestamentIn Acts 2, following the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the church was growing rapidly. New converts were being added daily and being added to the church in their thousands. It is recorded that they ‘continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers’ (Acts 2v42) and they continued ‘daily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house’ (v46).
The practice of ‘breaking bread’ was clearly widespread throughout the church. Perhaps the most complete explanation of the communion is the one written by Paul to the church at Corinth. The church in Corinth was revelling in its newfound freedoms in Christ, to the point where they were throwing off the usual customs. Paul was obliged to write to them to correct their over enthusiasm and bring them back to what was clearly by this time standard practice.It appears the Corinthians were coming together for a meal prior to the Lord’s Supper. In itself, this was not a bad practice; Jesus after all had instigated the communion service after the Passover meal. However, the Corinthians seem to have been using it as an excuse for a party. Paul indicated that this was inappropriate for some were grabbing food, leaving others hungry and some were even getting drunk (1 Corinthians 11v21). He said it would be better to eat at home if this was how they were going to treat the Lord’s Supper!
It is for this reason that churches today have separated the meal from the remembrance and we have the simple ceremony of bread and wine standing alone. After all, it is the breaking of bread and sharing the wine that is significant, not sharing a common meal together.Paul, wishing to restore order in the Corinthian church, set out how the bread and wine should be taken, with reverence and respect, remembering what it is they are there for – to remember the Lord’s death in anticipation of His coming again. [See 1 Corinthians 11v17-34]. He wanted the church members to be careful, taking time to examine themselves to ensure they were worthy of taking communion: ‘Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body’ (v28-29). He finishes by saying ‘If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home’ (v34); the communion table is not the place to eat to excess or to get drunk, or to forget about other church members – they needed to ‘discern the Lord’s body’ (a reference to the church members, as well as to the broken bread, symbolising the broken body of Christ).
FrequencyActs 2v46 says the new Christians continued ‘daily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house’. Some have suggested that this reference to breaking bread from house to house indicates the early Christians took communion daily. The word ‘daily’ however, could be said to refer to being in the Temple, rather than the breaking of bread. The words, ‘breaking bread’ can also refer to eating meals together, and so others have suggested that this verse refers to Christians enjoying fellowship with one another and not the communion service. In 1 Corinthians 11v25, Paul, reminding the Corinthian Christians of the words of Jesus at the inauguration of the communion, says, ‘This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’. In this there appears to be no set number of times to take communion – every time you do this simple ceremony, Jesus said, you are doing it in remembrance of my death.
So churches have interpreted the frequency to suit themselves. Some churches hold communion weekly. Others, not wanting the service to become too commonplace and the congregation to become overly familiar with it, to the point of it not being ‘special’, have chosen to hold the services less frequently. Many have communion once a month, or twice in some cases.The early Anabaptists, in the 16th century, held communion once a year, in the spring, to coincide with the Passover. After all, the Lord’s Supper was instituted at Passover, so what better time to have it?
To be continued....