Frequency of Communion --- Rev. van Rongen - Rev. Prof. Dr. F.N. Lee
February 10, 2001.
The following is a response by Rev. Prof. Dr. F.N. Lee to,
[ AS OFTEN AS The frequency of the celebration of the Lords Supper],
written by Rev. G. Van Rongen.
Dear Rev. van Rongen,
Thank you very much for your kindness in sending me your2001 "As Often As," which I have just finished reading very carefully. You do bring out many valuable points -- which,of course, is to be expected from a man who has written a doctoral dissertation on the subject of communion frequency. Your liturgico-historical information on Farel, Zwingli, Hausschein and the early Dutch Reformed Synods is most useful. So too your insight that many of them simply took over -- via the Gemeindekommunion and Pronaus -- the Mid-Mediaeval Church's practice of communion at Christian Feasts thrice a year (viz. at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost) as what you call "a centuries-long tradition."
Too, I like your own call to have "all participants sitting around the table in one single session which would be the ideal situation." So you might be interested in what I say in favour of the H-shaped table etc. in my article "? Biblical Principles for Church Architecture" in "The Presbyterian" (Bristol, England, 1991, 41 pp.). I shall not comment on minor inaccuracies, such as your discussion of annual (?) communion among the Boers in South Africa and the Scots. I certainly did appreciate your Non-Zwinglian Anti-Sacramentalistic position against both Weekly Communion and Hyperincarnational Hypercalvinism. While still young, Calvin could well have overreacted against a Late-Mediaeval tendency to demand attendance at communion but annually -- in his initial preference for weekly but not daily communion -- in much the same way young Calvin in the lst ed.of his Institutes initially overreacted against Romish feast-days and himself then questioned the sabbathness even of the weekly Lord's Day. That, of course, he later corrected in his comments on Gen. 2:1-3 & Ex. 20:8-11 -- and especially in his Sermons on Deuternomy.
What really needs to be addressed -- apart from the vital *exegetical* basis for *any* view of frequency (including your own unmentioned frequency preference) -- is where the Mid-Mediaeval Church got its idea from, that communion should be thrice a year, at those Christian Feasts. It is possible it might perhaps have derived its notions about those three feasts at least in part from the three chief feasts of Ancient Israel (Easter, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) in Lev. 23.
I remain unconvinced by an overly-frequentative interpretation of the non-canonical Didache and Justin Martyr, as if they prescribed the Lord's Supper *every* Lord's Day -- a position I gather also you yourself do not advocate. In addition, it needs to be remembered that even the Early Patristic Fathers are not normative. Did not also the godly A.D. 185 Irenaeus err -- when he alleged the pillar of salt that used to be Mrs. Lot, still menstruates; that Adam was a child at the time of his creation; but that Jesus the Second Adam appeared to be more than fifty years of age? The patristic fathers and church history as well as the history of liturgy are at most normatedly normative --but we need to get back *prior* thereto, at what *normates* them (or indeed *should* do).
So we are back, as indeed we should be, at the need to interpret *only Holy Scripture* as being normatingly normative *also re the frequency of the Lord's Supper.* I Cor. 11's "often" hardly teaches weekly communion (why not as "often" as daily or hourly?) Its broader context -- I Cor. 5:7 to 16:8 -- specifically mentions the Passover and Pentecost. So too does Acts 20:6 to 20:16 as the broader context of 20:7. And so too does the broader context of Acts 2:1f to12:4f shed light on the eucharist-frequency implications of Acts 2:42-46.
Unless we be dispensationalists who separate the Older from the Newer Testaments, the above NT texts in turn necessarily take us back to their roots in Ex. 23:14f & Lev. 23 and Deut. 16:16 etc. (if not also further even to Gen. 1:14 & 4:3f & 8:20-22 cf. the Pre-Israelitic alias 'Noachic' ordinances of 9:1-7 cf. 1:28f (& Acts 15:19-29). However difficult it indeed may be to try to draw normative conclusions from all of this, methodologically that is where it seems to me we need to*start* (cf. Matt. 19:3-8).
Be that as it may, I certainly concur with the start of your article which states "Dr. Lee wants to defend...'Seasonal Communion' three or four times a year" -- not rigidly, but because that "best harmonizes with the totality of Biblical teaching" [note again my word "best"]. I also concur with the conclusion of your article which states "we end up in a situation which in many churches of Reformed character seems to have much in common with the frequency propagated by Dr. Lee" -- to which you added "though we find his grounds for a 'seasonal communion' [to be] as insufficient as the grounds for a 'weekly celebration.'"
Mercifully, although some now call for such a 'weekly celebration' --few "Protestants" are beginning to call also for daily communion. And none (to my knowledge) have yet started to offer 'hourly communion' each day (such as Rome does). However, just give them time; then they too....! Ditto re toddler communion, infant communion, and (thus at least one maverick) even fetal communion for uncatechized covenant children! *That* concern was the focus of my Ed.D. "Catechism Before Communion"-- of which my article on frequency was merely one of many appendices.
Cordially in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Rev. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee
Professor-Emeritus of the Queensland Presbyterian Theological College
God Triune, at the beginning, created the tri-universe (cf. Gen. 1:1)