'AS OFTEN AS' The frequency of the celebration of the Lord's Supper
- Rev. G. Van Rongen
Taking the position of a 'lurker' in a digital discussion group can be boring. But every now and then it produces a surprise.Such a surprise occurred to me when the issue of the frequency of the celebration of the Lord's Supper was raised. This was done even twice.
This happened for the first time when a paper that intends to promote a 'seasonal communion' was offered to interested persons via Internet.
I am such an interested person, for in the context of my doctoral studies I have written a thesis on this topic.
The text of that paper was sent to me by some kind people in South Africa.
The second time it was done by a North-American minister who stated that 'the Reformed Church is not really 'reformed' until weekly communion is established in our churches in accords with the practice of the New Testament'. This happened on 'Ref-net'.
A lively, but somewhat brief, discussion followed. One of its fruits was that more material appeared to be available.
We will deal with all this in the 'chronological' order: the paper first, and then that discussion.
The paper to which we referred in the Introduction was written by prof.dr.Francis Nigel Lee, who at the end of last year retired from the Queensland Presbyterian Theological College at Brisbane.
It is entitled 'Quarterly Communion at Biblical Seasons Annually'.
This title shows us already what Dr Lee wants to defend: the thesis formulated in the paper's very first sentences. It reads as follows:
'Seasonal Communion' three or four times a year best harmonizes with the totality of Biblical teaching. 1)
Already from this title and the first sentence we learn that Dr Lee does not agree withJohn Calvin, who all through his life made a strong plea for an, at least, weekly administration of the Lord's Supper.
However, what may be of even more importance is that the author of the paper is of the opinion that the frequency of the Lord's Supper's celebration must be determined by what the Bible teaches about the 'seasons' and the 'seasonal feasts'.
So, there is a good reason for paying attention to this topic.
It appears to have several aspects, among them a Biblical-exegetical aspect and a church-historical aspect.
Let us start reading!
1) The English version of the paper can be obtained from the 'Library' at http://spindleworks.com/library/lee/quarterly.htm
Dr Lee is of the opinion that celebrating the Lord's Supper three or four times a year is in harmony with what the Bible teaches. This does not only mean that he disagrees with John Calvin, but (although he does not state this with so many words) also that he is not very much in favour of the trend in some congregations to increase the number of times of the administration of this sacrament.
However, what is of more importance is that Lee makes a serious effort to produce biblical grounds for the current practice, called by him the 'French mode'. Surprisingly he introduces what the Scriptures teach about the 'seasons', yes, those with which we all are familiar: spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
This brings us to the second sentence of his paper. For, after he had written down the above quoted main thesis of his paper, he wrote:
Indeed, on the very first page of the Bible, Gen.1:14's 'seasons' or moo'a:tym are not just climatic but also liturgical (as further seen in Lev.23:4-37 etc.).
According to the author this means that 'the worship of the true covenant people' was regulated, 'and, indeed, for all time'.
Spring, summer, autumn, and winter are therefore festive seasons.
God did not only ordain this in the stories of Genesis 1 and Leviticus 23, but also in Genesis 4:3-4, which tells us about the offerings brought by Cain and Abel. For the Hebrew phrase miqqeets yaamiyn 'again seems to indicate a harvest festival alias a 'seasonal' celebration'.
Dr Lee finds another ground for his thesis in the story of Noah's thankoffering after the Flood. According to him we are, in Genesis 8:20-22, told about 'the celebration of a regular seasonal thankoffering'. He bases this on the following ground:
This was apparently to be re-celebrated quarterly 'while the Earth remaineth'. That means: as long as this great straight planet Earth continues: in the Spring and the Fall (alias at 'Seedtime and Harvest'), and again during 'Cold and Heat' (alias in Summer and Winter).
The author emphasizes that this was not a peculiarly 'Jewish' ordinance, but something 'Pre-Judaically', for all people, and for all time.
He further substantiates this by referring to the apostles who reminded the believers from among the gentiles of this 'when the latter brought them their seasonal offerings'.
Dr Lee, then, creates a connection between the quarterly 'seasons' and the three great festivals of the Mosaic Law: the 'Feast of Unleavened Bread' (Passover, to be celebrated in the first month of the year; Exodus 23:15), the 'Feast of Harvest' (later on called 'Pentecost', celebrated fifty days after Passover; Exodus 23:16), and the 'Feast of Ingathering' (at the year's end; Exodus 23:16).
To reach the number four, he suggests the following:
Add to this the later Winter 'Feast of the Dedication' at Chanukah alias 'Christmastime' (John 10:22f & I Macc.4:52-59 cf Est.9:17-19) and one sees 'Seasonal Communion' four times annually.
Summarizing all this he states:
Passages like Gen.1:14 & 8:20f and Ex.23:13f & 34:23, then, seem to be the germ of 'Seasonal Communions' each quarter.
And finally, as far as this section of his paper is concerned, he refers to John Calvin, who in his commentary on the book of Genesis wrote:
The Rabbis commonly explain the passage as referring to their festivals. But I extend it further to mean, in the first place, the opportunities of time, which in French are called saisons (seasons); and then all fairs and forensic assemblies'. 1)
1) Dr Lee does not present the whole quotation, and adds a sentence which I could not trace back in Calvin's commentary.
As this is a kind of 'independent' section in the paper, we will evaluate it before we continue our reading.
It must be admitted that Dr Lee makes a serious effort to base his thesis on Scripture. He refers to many places in the Bible. Especially attractive is the 'binding' of the celebration of the Lord's Supper to the Easter-cycle. Hasn't the Jewish Passover feast been fulfilled by Christ's death and resurrection; and are not therefore Good Friday or Easter Sunday suitable dates for its administration?
However, too many objections must be made against the grounds on which Dr Lee bases his thesis.
First of all we will deal with what Lee states about Genesis 1:14.
He is not the first person who reads in this Scripture place a reference to certain Jewish festivals. He himself mentions the name of John Calvin, who, in his turn, reminds us of the rabbinic literature. Other commentaries do the same. 1)
Now it is a matter of fact that, also according to Holy Scripture, the creation and function of the lights in the firmament determine the dates of some religious festivals, particularly the harvest festivals. 2) However, this is not the focal point of the creation story in Genesis chapter 1. The emphasis is on 'the greater light' (the sun) ruling the day, and 'the lesser light' (the moon) ruling the night. They are mentioned not only in verse 14 but also in the next few verses. Besides, the whole story tells us about 'the evening and the morning', the light being called 'Day' and the darkness 'Night'.
It is true, as it were 'in between' all this it is stated that the great lights were created also 'to be for signs and seasons, and for days and years'. But, in the first place, the Hebrew word, in the NKJV translated by 'seasons' (a substantive derived from a verb meaning: to establish, to fix), can point to the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, particularly to the times for seeding and harvest, breeding or migration (Jeremiah 8:7). However, seeing the various occasions on which it is used later in the Bible, in Genesis 1:14 it has a general meaning, whereas later on in the Bible it is used in its variations, and therefore to be translated by different terms. 3)
Furthermore, what about the other terms mentioned in Genesis 1:14? Are 'signs', 'days', and 'years' also liturgical terms? Should we, concerning 'days', think about morning- and evening-prayers? Isn't that far-fetched? And would, in Lee's interpretation, 'years' not be a repetition of 'seasons', as again indicating the great Jewish annual feasts?
As for John Calvin, in the church-historical section of his paper, Dr Lee states that this reformer, expressing 'the desire for more 'Frequent Communion'', over-reacted to 'Rome's false and ritualistic grounding of its own 'Communion Services' upon the annual day of atonement (Lev.16)'. But cannot something similar be said of the way Calvin read Genesis 1:14? 4)
It cannot be denied that the division of the year into seasons 5) has led to the 'liturgical' actions of Cain and Abel. In Cain's case it is crystal clear that it was a harvest offering, for it says that he 'brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD' (Genesis 4:3). However, this does not mean that these two brothers simply followed an 'ordinance' established by God on the fourth day of creation. They understood that harvest time is the proper time for bringing a thankoffering to God. 6)
1) For example, Keil-Delitzsch on Genesis (Grand Rapids 1986), 57; G.Ch.Aalders in Het Boek Genesis in Korte Verklaring der Heilige Schrift (Kampen 1933), 89; Herbert C.Alleman in Old Testament Commentary (Philadelphia  1963), 174; P.F.D.Weiss in Die Bybel met verklarende aantekeninge (Kaapstad 1958),4.
2) 'While some of these feasts coincide with the seasons ' (D.Freeman in The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids  1974), 420. Note the word 'some'!
3) The same word, in Genesis 1:14 translated by 'seasons' in the NKJV, returns in Psalm 104:19. Most versions have there "seasons"' However, immediately afterwards the sun, and in this context the nocturnal activities of some animals and man's daily work are mentioned. There is a parallelism between the two lines of this verse, whereas the following verses present an explanation of what happens during the night and in the early hours of the morning. This warrants its translation by 'fixed times' instead of 'seasons'. Psalm 104, which can be called a poetic comment on the creation story, uses the term to mark the succession of night and day.
4) Dr Lee points to the use of the word 'seasons' by John Calvin ('saisons' in his French text). However, it is at least not clear whether Calvin had 'the four seasons' in mind. Because at the end of the above quoted sentence he refers to 'forensic assemblies', it is more likely that he was thinking about 'the appointed times' or the 'appointed feasts' of Israel, but not about the climactic seasons.
5) It is remarkable that the Bible mentions two seasons only: summer and winter. See, for example, Genesis 8:22.
6) Though the emphasis in Genesis 1:14 and following verses is on the division into day and night, it is worthwhile paying special attention to the other terms used in this verse. The old and familiar commentary of Keil-Delitzsch (57) may be helpful in this respect. For example, we learn to read various Scripture places in the light of this verse. The Creator as it were reserved the right to do extraordinary things with what He created on the fourth day (Matthew 2:; Luke 21:26; Joel 2:30; Jeremiah 10:2; Matthew 24:29).
Our evaluation of this section of Dr Lee's paper is not complete yet.
We will not spend much time on the sentence that reads:
Add to this the later Winter 'Feast of the Dedication' at Chanukah alias 'Christmastime' and one sees 'Seasonal Communion' four times annually.
This Feast of Dedication (John 10:22) is of post-exilic origin, celebrated on December 25 (hence Lee's 'Christmastime') in commemoration of the dedication of a new altar in Jerusalem's temple by Judas the Maccabee. It does not rest on a divine ordinance or command. Therefore, adding this Jewish feast to the three biblical feasts of the Old Dispensation, in order to reach the same number as that of the four seasons, is a very weak ground for a 'seasonal' celebration of the Lord's Supper.
Apart from all this, the respective dates on which the three Jewish festivals were held cannot be used in defence of celebrating the sacrament of the Lord's Table every season. Passover was held in the middle of the first month of the Jewish year, the month of Abib. Only fifty days later Pentecost (the 'Feast of Harvest') was celebrated. And soon after the 'Feast of Ingathering', which was celebrated 'in the end of the year' (Exodus 23:16), it was Passover again! So, this time-schedule widely differs from the succession of the four seasons! 1)
Then there is also this, that the second and third Jewish feasts had the character of harvest festivals, based on the climactic seasons. Passover was of a different order: Time and again we read the sentence: 'for in the month of Abib you came out of Egypt' (Exodus 34:18; Deuteronomy 16:1,6,12). The indication that Passover must be kept 'at its appointed time' (Numbers 9:2,3,13), which includes the same Hebrew word as Genesis 1:14, cannot be related to any of the four seasons. In this context it points to the day on which the exodus from Egypt took place. It was not based on any of the four seasons, but on God's majestic act of redemption.
According to Dr Lee the offering which Noah brought to the LORD was 'the celebration of a regular seasonal thankoffering'. He calls it a 'Pre-judaical' ordinance, to be re-celebrated quarterly 'while the Earth remaineth'. 2) He connects Noah's action with God's promise that the succession of seasons will never again be interrupted by a great flood, which promise was confirmed by the rainbow as a sign of that covenant.
However, the text of the Scriptural story does not suggest a command to repeat such a thankoffering every season. Genesis 8 and 9 do not deal with 'seasonal' offerings, but with enjoying God's gifts in nature. Eating the flesh of animals, for example, is not dependent on the seasons.
The ultimate lesson to be derived from what we read here is that the LORD, smelling the soothing aroma of Noah's offerings, wanted to smell it time and again, and therefore promised to maintain the succession of seasons. However, here is no command or ordinance, and applying this to a 'seasonal' celebration of the Lord's Supper is too big a jump from one thing to another. What God could have had in mind were thankofferings consisting of the fruits of human labour during the annual seasons.
According to Dr Lee a quarterly 'season' elapsed 'between the institution of the Passover in Egypt and the festive re-promulgation of the Law on Sinai's altar'. This too must serve to confirm that we must celebrate the Lord's Supper 'seasonly'.
Now it cannot be denied that there was a 'seasonal' element in the offerings of the 'ripe produce and juices', the oxen and sheep, as prescribed in Exodus 22:29-30. However, in the same context the LORD mentioned 'the firstborn of your sons', the birth of whom and consequently the consecration to the LORD was not dependent on the seasons!
1) Dr Lee made his choice of the ancient Jewish feasts from Exodus 23 and 34. However, there is also Leviticus 23. There the following feasts are summed up: Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to be celebrated from the 14th of the first month (Leviticus 23:5); the First Fruits (in remembrance of the entry into the promised land, according to Joshua 5:10 eaten around Passover; the Feast of Weeks, celebrated seven weeks after Passover, so early in the third month (23:15); the Feast of Trumpets, celebrated on the first day of the seventh month (23:24); the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month (23:36); and the Feast of Tabernacles on the 15th day of the seventh month (23:33).
2) Further substantiating this claimed 'Pre-judaical' institution by referring to what was decided regarding the believers from among the gentiles (Acts 15), Dr Lee calls the meeting concerned 'The First General Assembly of the Presbyterian New Testament Church', which 'meeting in Jerusalem around 49 AD, implicitly yet clearly decided that these Noachic ordinances were to continue among the Gentile Christians'. However: a) This was a meeting of the apostles, the elders and 'the brethren' of the congregation of Jerusalem, with Paul and Barnabas as delegates from the church at Antioch, but not a synod of general assembly; b) In this story we do not read anything about offerings brought to the Lord, but only about what could or could not be eaten (just as in Genesis 9); the believers from among the gentiles had to abstain from eating meet offered to idols and from blood.
It seems to me that the crucial point in Dr Lee's defence of his thesis lies in the meaning of the term moo'a:diym (or, as in Psalm 104:19, moo'e:diym).
It is a matter of fact that several Bible versions translate it at a number of places by 'seasons'. But are they correct in doing so?
A little research with the help of a concordance teaches us that the term has various meanings, and therefore does not always refer to the climactic seasons, let alone to liturgical seasons.
The phrases 'at their appointed time' (in Leviticus 23:4) and 'appointed feasts' (in 23:37 and 44) refer to God's ordinances, and not to the seasons which are not even mentioned in this context.
In Genesis 21:2 it is used to indicate that Isaac's birth took place at the time determined by the LORD a year earlier. In Exodus 9:5 it explains how God had foretold that Egypt would be hit by the fifth plague 'at the appointed time'. Samuel had set a certain time to meet Saul (1 Samuel 13:8,11). In all these Scripture places 'the four seasons' are absent.
They are at the background of Jeremiah 8:7, where it says that 'Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed times'. 1)
Passover must be celebrated 'at the appointed time' (Exodus 13:10; Leviticus 23:4; Numbers 9:2,7,13), but in the context none of the four seasons is mentioned. And, of course, it is entirely impossible to connect these seasons with the daily offerings to be presented to the LORD 'at the appointed time' (Numbers 28:2). 2)
Finally, it seems as if Dr Lee is of the opinion that we are still bound to keep these 'appointed times' and 'appointed feasts' (Leviticus 23:4,37,44). This may be based on the repeated sentence 'This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live' (23:14,21,30,39).
However, the most we can say is that Passover has been fulfilled in Christ's death and resurrection, so that it is appropriate to celebrate the Lord's Supper on the same date when it was instituted, the date of the last Passover meal.
But what about Pentecost as a harvest festival, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles, also mentioned in Leviticus 23?
Dr Lee refers to Deuteronomy 12:32; Esther 9:22; Romans 15:2-4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; and Hebrews 8:1-5. However, I cannot see that these Scripture places prove that 'the worship of the true covenant people' has been regulated 'for all time' by being bound to the four seasons.
1) As for Psalm 104:19 see Note 3 under 'Evaluation'.
2) In the December issue (Volume 19 No.4 page 6) of Lux Mundi (published quarterly by the Committee of Relations with Churches Abroad of The Reformed Churches in The Netherlands) prof.dr.H.M.Ohmann writes the following about Genesis 1:14: 'The author, Moses, links here the product of God's creative acts with the seasons and the feast days, holy days of the Mosaic calender in the future. The former serve as a sign for the latter, if I understand what I read'. So he seems to be somewhat unsure!
Our conclusion is that there are too many weak spots in Dr Lee's defence of his thesis that 'Seasonal Communion' three or four times a year best harmonizes with the totality of Biblical teaching. We cannot base our practice of celebrating the Lord's Supper four times a year on the Scriptural data he produces. His way of reasoning would forbid the introduction of a more frequent celebration of this sacrament, for example, every two months.
Besides, this 'French mode', as he calls it, has a different historical background, as we will see at a later stage.
In Dr Lee's paper a substantial number of pages follow on what he reads in the New Testament about the dates and frequency of the celebration of the Lord's Supper. He does so in confrontation with a certain Rev.Grover Gunn, who published two articles on 'Weekly Communion' some years ago. 1)
The titles of these articles show us that its author was very much in favour of a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper. In this respect he wanted to follow the example set by John Calvin, whose ideal this was.
We will not follow this discussion, but take some elements from it.
1) These articles were published in The Council of Chalcedon (Marietta Ga.), December 1986 and January 1987.
As we have already understood, Dr Lee is definitely not in favour of a frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper, let alone a weekly one. He even turns to the situation in the Corinthian congregation as described in 1 Corinthians 11, to issue a stern warning against it.
I must admit that this warning appeals to me somewhere.
I quote a few sentences from what he wrote on this point:
Paul rebukes the careless Corinthian Christians for their abuse of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. He reprimands them for commingling it with the 'love feast' For, in First Corinthians (11:20,21,22,34) Paul specifically distinguishes the Christians' communal conviviality from the Holy Sacrament of the vastly different Lord's Supper. Sadly, the 'carnal Christians' in Corinth had been confusing and commingling their own communal convivialities or 'love feasts' with Christ's solemn Sacrament of Holy Communion.
This means that at Corinth the Lord's Supper was frequently celebrated. That is to say: This is what the Corinthians were thinking. For the apostle makes it quite clear: What you are doing 'is not to eat the Lord's Supper' (verse 20). And: You are 'not discerning the Lord's body' (verse 29).
Therefore, Dr Lee again:
The total context (1 Cor.11:20-29) makes it quite clear that the celebration of the Lord's Supper at Corinth over the years should have been occurring much less frequently than was actually then happening there.
There are some dangers indeed in a frequent celebration of the sacrament: Its festive character is easily lost, and a kind of ritualism replaces it. Quite easily one is no longer aware of what actually one should be doing. We must remember that the body of our Lord, and what it achieved, is involved!
Here Dr Lee's paper may be helpful to us.
This leads us to what he writes about the date on which the Lord's Supper was celebrated in a few congregations, as mentioned in the New Testament.
First of all he refers to the fact that the Old Testament Passover has been fulfilled in Christ. The Saviour Himself stated this when, during the last Passover, He said: 'I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God' (Luke 22:46).
Then there is also 1 Corinthians 5:7,8: 'For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the 'feast'.
The Lord's Supper is Passover-fulfilled! 1)
It is no wonder that in the early Christian church it was celebrated on the same date as the Jewish Passover, or shortly afterwards. 2) We can read this in a few places.
In Acts 20 we are told that at Passover ('the Days of Unleavened Bread') the apostle Paul was at Philippi, and five days later went to Troas. It was the intention of the congregation to celebrate the Lord's Supper on that Sunday: 'the disciples came together to break bread' (verse 7). However, this was delayed, first of all by the long sermon delivered by the apostle, and then by the incident whereby a young man, Eutyches, fell asleep, was killed when he fell down from the window in which he was sitting, and was raised to life again by the apostle.
That in this context the phrase 'to break bread' must be understood as celebrating the Lord's Supper, may be clear when at the end of the story we are told that the apostle broke bread and tasted it (not, as the NKJV and other translations have: eaten). He took a little piece of bread only, just as we do when we sit at the Lord's Table. 3)
So, the Lord's Supper was celebrated at Troas shortly after Passover. 4)
The second place in Scripture to which Dr Lee refers is 1 Corinthians 5. There the apostle Paul states: 'For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us'.
It must be admitted that it does not literally say that the old Passover date was (more or less) maintained, but it can be derived from it.
The annual 'Feast of Pentecost' is, remarkably, included by Dr Lee. According to him does the story of Acts describe the 'seasonal' Sacrament right after the Passover (Acts 20:6) and before the next Pentecost fifty days later (Acts 20:16)'.
I cannot see that the New Testament lays a permanent relationship between this feast and the sacrament. According to Acts 2:42 the young Christian congregation may have celebrated the Lord's Supper on the 'Day of Pentecost' or shortly afterwards, but at other places the New Testament is silent about such a relation.
The only reason I can find is that Dr Lee supports a 'seasonal' administration of the sacrament. The very last pericope of his paper reads as follows:
'Three times you shall keep a Feast for Me in the year'. 'The Feast of the Unleavened Bread' (in the first quarter), and 'the Feast of the Harvest' alias Pentecost (in the second quarter), and 'the Feast of the Ingathering' (in the third quarter), and the later Winter 'Feast of the Dedication' at 'Christmastime' (in the fourth quarter of the year).
After having summed up a number of Scripture places, he concludes with the brief sentence:
Thus saith the Lord!
Yes, the LORD said to ancient Israel that they should keep a feast three times a year. But nowhere in the New Testament do we read that He repeated this regarding the Lord's Supper, as if it should be celebrated four times a year, each season. We must be careful with the use of sentences such as: 'Thus saith the LORD'.
1) For the fulfilling of Passover in the Lord's Supper see J.Behm in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Editors (Grand Rapids 1964/74), or the abbreviated version of 'Kittel' by Geoffry W.Bromily (Grand Rapids 1985), 437ff.
2) The Old Testament already opened the way to celebrate Passover on an alternative day, one month
later. After having touched a corpse one was unclean and therefore not permitted to take part in the Passover festivities. This was also impossible for those who had been far away on a journey (Numbers 9:6-10). In king Hezekiah's days Passover could not be celebrated 'at the regular time', in the first month of the year; therefore it was done in the second month (2 Chronicles 30:1-3, 13-21)
3) We owe this translation of the verb geuomai to Dr Lee. It can also be read in Matthew 27:34, where the NKJV correctly translated it by 'tasted'. Christ tasted the sour wine mingled with gall: 'But when He had tasted it, He would not drink'. Similarly the apostle did not have a meal after the nightly worship service at Troas, but participated in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and perhaps even administered it.
4) The early Christian congregation may have abstained from celebrating the Lord's Supper on Passover itself, to avoid giving offence to the Jews and try to win them for Christ.
It must be appreciated that Dr Lee has shown us that one proper date for the celebration of the Lord's Supper is on Good Friday or shortly afterwards.
This proves at the same time that the ancient Christian church set an example for us to commemorate the great event of Christ's sufferings, death and resurrection. Contrary to a different use of the term, I would like to call this a 'regulative principle'.
Another implication is that in determining the dates of the administration of the Lord's Supper, our churches should follow the example of the ancient Christian church.
As for having it on Good Friday, in some church groups this date is still maintained though meanwhile these churches have lost much of their Reformed character.
Others have Easter among the dates, which is based on an old tradition.
Bringing the sacrament back to, among others, the Easter period will create some practical problems. In these modern days many members make use of the opportunity of getting a break in the normal routine and have a brief holiday, so that a substantial part of the congregation is absent. However, what about following the example set by the church at Troas (and perhaps also that of Corinth)? This will give the annual commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection more substance!
'Youthful' and 'mature'
Dr Lee's now appeals to John Calvin to support his idea of 'seasonal communion'.
He distinguishes two periods in Calvin's life, and, subsequently two different opinions on the frequency of the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
First he gives a few quotations from what Calvin wrote during the years 1536 to 1540, when he was 'the young Calvin'.
Dr Lee writes:
The young Calvin not yet thirty expressed the desire for more 'Frequent Communion'. This was chiefly in youthful protest against, if not in rash over-reacting to, Rome's false and ritualistic grounding of its own 'Communion Service' upon the annual day of atonement (Lev.16).
For example, when he was 27 years old Calvin wrote in the first edition of his great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion:
The Sacrament might be celebrated in the most becoming manner, if it were dispensed to the Church very frequently, at least once a week (IV 17, 43).
Dr. Lee, however, writes:
At twenty-seven, Calvin was wrong about the frequency of the Passover Communion at the same young age, Calvin was wrong also about the desirable frequency of enjoying Passover Communion.
Another illustration of Calvin's alleged immaturity, now at the age of 31, is given by the author when he refers to the reformer's Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper, written in the year 1540 or a little later. Lee writes:
Here, at age 31, Calvin still over-reacts to Romish idolatry. For here, he still ignored relevance of the infrequency of the Bible's own quarterly feasts such as Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles etc.
We may feel happy when in Dr Lee's paper a section follows, entitled: 'Calvin's views on Communion matured, from 1540 to 1560f.'
Quotations are given from a letter written by the reformer to his older colleague and friend William Farel, March 1540, also from a letter to his colleague Nicolas Parents, December 1540, from the Ecclesiastical Ordonnances, written in the year 1541, a letter to the ministers of Berne (1555), and the second edition of Calvin's Commentary on the Book of Acts (1560).
In all these writings we meet, in Dr Lee's opinion, a more mature John Calvin. 1)
Lee is convinced that, in the year 1540 already, Calvin was in favour of a 'Seasonal Communion'. He writes:
Calvin was by then fast approaching the earlier Zwingli's Biblical ideal of celebrating the Lord's Supper quarterly.
He considers this confirmed by the Ecclesiastical Ordonnances of 1541. He quotes them as follows:
The Supper was instituted by our Lord for our frequent use We have decided and ordered that it should be administered four times a year ([Gen.1:14; 8:20-22; Ex.23:14-17; 34:22-26; Lev.23:14-37; Dt.16:16], - namely at Christmas [in the Winter], Easter [in Spring], Whitsun [or Pentecost, in the Summer]; and on the first Sunday of September in Autumn [of the Fall]'. Indeed, Calvin later re-affirmed this in 1546 and again in 1555.
The question arises: Is all this 'a true record' of John Calvin's thoughts about the frequency of the celebration of the Lord's Supper?
1) It is not very consistent with Lee's distinction between a young and a more mature Calvin, when he calls it once again an 'over-reaction to the Romish practice at that time', when in his 1555 letter to Berne Calvin again advocates 'a more frequent use'.
Let us first have another look at the last quotation as it is presented by Dr Lee. He apparently used the same source, and consequently the same translation, as I possess it in The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin. 1)
We copy the whole paragraph from that book. It reads as follows:
Since the supper was instituted by our Lord for a frequent use, and since also it was so observed in the ancient Church until the devil overturned everything, setting up the mass in its place, to celebrate it so seldom is a fault requiring correction. For the present, however, we have decided and ordered that it should be administered four times a year, namely, at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, and on the first Sunday of September in the autumn.
As a matter of fact this is a quotation from a document that acted as a kind of Church Order in the church of Geneva. It was compiled at John Calvin's request by a committee of members of the city Council, which assisted Calvin in writing it. Promulgated by the General Council on 20 November 1541, it was, when in 1546 the Register of the Company of Pastors was commenced, included in this book.
The sentence on the frequency of the Lord's Supper expressed a provisional agreement. On the very day of his return to Geneva, 13 September 1541, Calvin contacted the Council. Then he was still in the position of making conditions, some of which were accepted. However, the condition on the frequency of the Lord's Supper was not accepted, and this can be clearly noticed in the formulation of the above-given quotation when it says: 'For the present, however, we have decided and ordered.'
It is remarkable that Dr Lee has overlooked the words 'For the present', thereby showing that he is unaware of the fact that, even to the end of his life, John Calvin had the ideal of a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper.
In this respect there have never existed two different Calvins, a youthful-immature one and a somewhat older and mature John Calvin!
Furthermore, it may be clear that Dr Lee has not only omitted a few words but also added some to the quotation. In the text we read only the word 'autumn', but not Spring, Summer, and Winter. All the words placed within [ ] are his, as is the underlining.
Apart from this, is it not too big a jump from one season to another when Easter is given a place in spring and Pentecost in summer?
We are aware of our duty to produce further proof that in Calvin's thinking about the frequency of the celebration of the Lord's Supper no change has ever taken place.
For that purpose we must dig somewhat deeper into history, and in this respect I can make use of the material gathered when I had to write a doctoral thesis on this subject.
1) The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin is a publication by William Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Edited and Translated by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, 1966.
The above-mentioned dates for the celebration of the Lord's Supper in the Genevan church had an historical background. They were not determined by the four seasons, but by other factors.
For a description of what in this respect had occurred in the course of church history, we take our starting point in the situation at Basle, the city to which Dr Lee refers when he says that 'Only Basle provided for a weekly celebration'.
This is true, but it is only half of the truth.
The church of Basle was indeed somewhat 'progressive'. It was ruled that in the city every Sunday the Lord's Supper must be administered in at least one of the churchbuildings. So, not in each building. In the villages it would be celebrated every three, four, or five weeks. That is to say, if there would be any communicants! However, at the same time other dates had been adopted. They had been developed in the course of the Middle Ages, and were adopted at Basle under the influence of Zwingli's Zurich.
The historical background of this is that, when in February 1525 Oecolampadius was installed at Basle, he was told that he did not have to 'read the mass'. This enabled him to try to restore the celebration of the Scriptural sacrament of the Lord's Supper in his ward, the church of Saint Martin.
As far as the dates were concerned there were no problems. Oecolampadius could simply follow the dates on which the 'Gemeindekommunion' was held: the Easter-cycle, Pentecost, and Christmas. 1)
It is from Basle that these dates found their way to the city of Berne, and from there to Geneva, though at Geneva the celebration in the month of September was added.
1) Markus Jenny, Die Einheit des Abendmahlsgottesdienstes bei den elsassischen und schweizerischen Reformatoren (Zurich 1968), 87.
We just mentioned the 'Gemeindekommunion' (congregational communion). This was the fruit of a double development which took place in the course of the Middle Ages in the Southern part of what today is Germany, in the North-East of France, and in Switzerland. It was a reaction to what had become a 'show-mass'. People had only to watch how the priest actualized the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood. Communion was no longer considered to be an essential part of the mass. It was reduced to once a year: at Easter (the name used for the cycle of the Passion Week and what today we call 'Easter').
Many of the ordinary people felt they were missing certain things, for example the preaching and participating in the communion. This led to a double development: in the first place to the 'Pronaus', a preaching service, the order of which has had some impact on the Reformation; in the second place to the 'Gemeindekommunion'. They were not meant to compete with the official church service which consisted of offering the mass, but to be additional to it. This was, for example, proved by the fact that no consecration of wafer and wine took place in the 'Gemeindekommunion', but that ingredients were used which before had been consecrated during the mass.
Of particular interest to us are the dates on which this 'Gemeindekommunion' was held. The emphasis was on the Easter-cycle, but other Christian feast days were used as well. In the diocese of Augsburg such a ceremony took place at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas; at Biberach immediately after the preaching-service on Palm Sunday for young people, after the early mass on Maundy Thursday for others, on Good Friday after the ceremony of 'The Sepulture', 1) on Easter Day after the early mass, and on Pentecost between the early mass and the preaching-service.
1) 'The Sepulture' means: the internment of Christ.
The question whether these dates were new must be answered in the negative. The tradition upon which these dates rested goes further back into history. Early in church history the dates of the Christian feasts were preferred as proper dates for the 'eucharist'. 1)
The Easter-cycle was a 'natural' date. Then the Lord Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. At Troas it was celebrated approximately one week after Passover/Easter (Acts 20:7,11). In combination with the so-called 'love meal', a form of Christian charity in support of the poor, it was more frequently held at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11), and elsewhere (The Didache, or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a kind of liturgical church order, most likely written at the end of the first century AD).
Later on it was celebrated less frequently. The British nun Egeria reported at the end of the fourth century that in Jerusalem this sacrament was administered every Sunday. Spanish synods, such as held at Elvira (306), Sardika (appr. 343), and the First Council of Toledo (398) had to threaten with punishment those who were neglectful in taking part.
In certain regions the Lord's Supper was celebrated once or twice a year only, and sometimes there were hardly any participants. After the persecutions had ended the situation grew even worse because many people preferred to go to the circus instead of attending church. The result was a reduction of the frequency to the great Christian feasts, the Easter-cycle taking the prominent place.
For a long time the situation remained the same. Only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was there a slight revival. The Lateran Council of 1215 ruled that everyone must take part in the Communion at least once a year, at Easter. Other synods urged people to do the same on other festive days. The synod of Rodez (1289) mentioned Christmas and Pentecost, that of Halberstadt (1375) referred to Easter and Christmas.
Some people even 'went to Communion' on Assumption Day, All Saints' Day, and (Mary-) Nativity as well.
Now something strange happened. Whereas these dates were meant to be a minimum, they became a maximum. For a more frequent participation in the Communion special permission from the bishop was required. This privilege was granted to certain persons as a reward for achieved virtue.
1) On purpose we use the name 'eucharist', because originally it was used for the Lord's Supper, and later for what slowly developed into the mass.
We understand now that the dates on which the 'Gemeindekommunion' was held, were the fruits of another slight revival. Since the Reformation broke even more radically with the domination of the clergy, and was partly resting upon the 'Gemeindekommunion' and the 'Pronaus', it is not strange that in several cities and regions the same dates, those of the Christian feasts, were maintained for the celebration of the (restored) Lord's Supper.
This is how the medieval dates arrived in Geneva.
That they partly ran parallel with the dates which had been adopted by Zwingli's Zurich, can be explained by the fact that, as far as this sacrament is concerned, the Reformation in that city returned to the dates maintained in the medieval church, before the time when taking part in the Communion of the mass was virtually reduced to once a year.
Returning to a still earlier era, a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper would have required the abolition of, in a sense, a centuries-long tradition. And some traditions are rather stubborn. This is exactly what John Calvin experienced.
To make the picture a little more complete, we must make mention of the remarkable fact that in the Southern Netherlands no fixed dates were set. The only agreement made was that the Lord's Supper would be administered 'at least four times a year'.
In the Northern part of The Netherlands the first synods recommended a frequency of six times a year, but at a later stage an alternative was added, that of four times a year. Whereas in this process initially no fixed dates were mentioned, later on the medieval feast days were re-introduced. This happened at the National Synod of The Hague 1586. We will not be surprised to hear that in this brief series the 'Paesdach' (Easter) took the first and prominent place. The well known Synod of Dordrecht 1618/19 repeated this.
However, since the General Synod of Utrecht 1905 the binding to these medieval dates has been lifted. The respective versions of the Dutch Church Order speak of 'at least every two or three months', or simply of 'once every three months as a minimum'.
Another remarkable thing is that celebrating the Lord's Supper on the Christian feast days, at least on Good Friday, is maintained in churches that at vital points have left the Reformed path, but stick to certain old traditions. As for our Dutch sister churches, it is not known to me whether any of them still maintains these dates.
We must return to Geneva, and to Dr Lee.
The question whether there are two different John Calvins, a 'youthful' one and a 'mature' one, is still waiting for an answer.
Although we have already made mention of a few particulars, we will re-start telling the history at this point.
Before Calvin arrived in the city of Geneva, the congregation was ministered by William Farel. He was also the man who, having heard that the young John Calvin was on his way to Strassbourg and intended to stay in the city for one night, very strongly urged him to remain in Geneva and help him in the reformation of the city.
Until then a liturgy was used which most likely was designed by Farel. It did not mention any dates for the Lord's Supper, but since Geneva was more or less dependent on the city of Berne, and Farel had previously ministered in that region, it is very likely that the dates on which this sacrament was celebrated at Berne were introduced in Geneva as well.
Another proof of Geneva's dependence on Berne is that, when in the year 1537 Calvin and Farel requested the government of the city of Geneva to introduce a weekly celebration, Berne had to grant permission -which was promptly declined.
This request was made in a 'Memorandum', sent to the two Councils of the city. It was stated in that document that no church can be called well-organized if the Lord's Supper is not celebrated frequently. It was not instituted by the Lord Jesus with the intention that His death would be proclaimed only twice of three times a year, but for a frequent exercise of faith and love. Reference was made to Acts 2:42, and the frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper in the ancient church, which in the course of time had been replaced by 'the abomination' of the mass. As a matter of fact, there was much weakness among the people: the sacrament could easily be detested when frequently administered.
Therefore it deemed the ministers good to administer it once a month, until the people had gained more strength of faith.
However, meanwhile the ministers would like the sacrament to be administered in each of the three city churches on a different Sunday, so that each month the congregation could participate on three successive Sundays.
Does this proposal prove 'immaturity' and 'youthful over-reacting'? It rather shows a wise and careful approach.
Both Councils approved other parts of the Memorandum, but it was decided to leave the frequency of the Lord's Supper as it used to be: four times a year. 1)
In the year 1538 Calvin was exiled, together with Farel. He then appealed to the Convent of Zurich, which at that time had been convened, having 'church unity' as on its agenda. He sent them a series of 'Articles', 2) in which he made a plea for a more frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper. If it would not be possible to follow the example of the ancient church to have it every Sunday, then it should be administered at least once a month. 3)
In 1541, or a little later, he wrote a treatise entitled Petit Traite de la Sainte Cene. Therein he stated that, though Christ did never issue a command concerning the frequency of taking part in the Lord's Supper, this should be done more often than most people were accustomed to do. In a well-established congregation this sacrament must be celebrated as often as the situation in the congregation allows it. 4)
In the series of writings on our topic from the hand of Calvin, the Ecclesiastical Ordonnances of 1541 follow. To the information presented earlier we may add that Calvin had submitted to the Councils a draft, entitled Project d' Ordonnances ecclesiastiques.
Therein he proposed that the Lord's Supper would be administered once a month, in such a way that this would be done on successive Sundays in one of the three church buildings, so that in each ward it would be celebrated once every three months. Besides, it should be administered in all the ward churches at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas with the proviso that it would not be held twice in the same month in any of the wards concerned. 5)
The text of Calvin's proposal is partly the same as he wrote in the Institutes. So, he had not changed his mind, although his proposal was a kind of compromise.
The same can, in a weaker sense, be said of the decision made by the Councils, which expressly stated that the dates were adopted 'pour apresent' (only for the time being). 6)
In the year 1543 the first French edition of the Institution was published. Therein Calvin wrote more elaborately on the sacrament of the Lord's Supper than in the first (Latin) version. The strong plea for a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper was repeated.
In all the subsequent editions, edited by John Calvin himself, this plea remained unchanged. 7)
In 1555 Calvin wrote to the City Council of Berne, he was no innovator, but had left the situation in Geneva as he found it when he arrived there. However, he was striving for improvement in accordance with Scripture and the ancient church. 8)
That Calvin, against his will, had to yield to the tradition is clear from one of his 'Concilia'. In August 1561 he advised an unknown person that he still maintained that a monthly celebration of the Lord's Supper was the minimum. He did not want to stubbornly fight for a higher frequency, but it would be better to be patient in view of the people's weaknesses. However, he had inserted in the public acts a clause that said that the current tradition was not normal. He expressed the hope that the next generations would be able to make improvements. 9)
On 20 November 1561 a new version of the Ecclesiastical Ordonnances was adopted. Even at that late stage of his life Calvin appeared to be unable to achieve any fundamental changes. The only amendment made was that the Lord's Supper would no longer be administered on Christmas, but on the Sunday closest to that day. The celebration on Easter, Pentecost, and the first Sunday of September would be maintained. So the 'pour lepresent' of 1541 was continued! 10)
1) Calvini Opera XXI,206 quotes the decision of the 'Little Council', reading as follows:: 'icy este parle et sont estes leuz les articles donnes pas Me.G.Farel et les autres predicans. Este arreste mettre en nostre advys quest, que de la cene elle se face quattres foys lan.' So this smaller body advised the 'Larger Council', existing of 200 members, to decide that the Lord's Supper should be celebrated four times a year. This is exactly what the latter decided: 'Icy sont este leus les articles et la resolution sus faicte en conseil ordinaire et est arreste que larrest du conceil ordinaire et bien.'
2) Its full title was Articuli a Calvino et Farello propositi ad pacem genevae restituendam.
3) The twelfth article reads as follows: 'Prius est ut frequentior coenae usus instituatur, si non secundum veteris ecclesiae consuctudinem at saltem singulis quibus mensibus' (Calvini Opera X 2, 191).
4) Calvini Opera V 445: 'Et d'avantage, nous n'avons pas de commandment expres de contraindre tous Chrestiens a en user chascun iour qu'elle leur est presentee. Toutesfoys, si nous regardons bien la fin a laquelle le Seigneur nous meine, nous congnoistrons que l'usage en doibt estre plus frequent que beaucoup ne l'ont'.
5) Calvini Opera X 25: 'Puys que la cene a este jnstituee de nostre seigneur pour nous estre en usage plus frequent, et aussi quil a ainsi este observe en lesglise ancienne jucques a ce que le dyable a tout renverse, erigeant la messe au lieu dicelle, cest ung deffault quon doibt corriger, que de la celebrer tant peu souvent. Parquoy sera bon que tousiours unesfois le moys elle soit administree en la ville, tellement que tous les troys moys elle revienne en chascunce paroysse, Oultre que trois fois lan on la face par tout assavoir a pasques, penthecoste et noel, en telle sorte neantmoins que ce moys la elle ne soit repetee en la paroysse laquelle lors seroit en son jour'. The decision reads in Calvini Opera X 25 as follows: 'La meme texte adopte l'addition: Toutesfois pour apresent avons advise et ordonne quelle soit administree quatre fois lannee etc.'. No further mention of the dates is made, but from the text published in Hughes' The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin, 44, it is clear that Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and the first Sunday in the month of September were meant.
6) G.J.van de Poll, Martin Bucer's Liturgical Ideas (Assen 1954), 116 footnote 1.
7) Calvini Opera IV 1051f: 'Et certes ceste constume, laquelle commande de communiquer une fois l'an, est une trescertaine invention du diable, par quiconques elle ait este mise sus On devoit a tout le moins chacune sepmaine une fois proposer a la congregation des Chrestiens, la Cene de nostre Seigneur ...'.
8) Calvini Opera XV 538, Letter No.2173: 'Il y a une chose diverse, mais non pas nouvelle, cest que nous celebrons la cene quatre fois lan et vous trois. Or plust a Dieu, Messieurs, que vous et nous en eusion lusaige plus frequent. Can on voit par sainct Luc, au livre des Actes, quen lEglise primitive on lavoit bien plus souvent. Et cela a continue par longue espace de temps en lEglise ancienne, iusque a ce que ceste abomination de messe a este dressee par Sathan, qui a este cause quon ne recevoit la cene quune fois ou deux lannee. Parquoy il nous fault confesser que cest un default a nous de ne suivre lexemple des apostres'.
9) Calvini Opera XI 213: 'In coena administranda aliquando Pauli verbis usus sum: sed quia apud singulos repeti non poterant, quin longior mora iniiceretur (si autem inter ipsam recitationem plures transirent, vix decimus quisque assequebatur quid vellem, nemo percipiebat integram sententiam) desistere malui. Iam vero singulis mensibus coenam celebrari maxime nobis placeret: modo ne usus frequentior negligentiam pariat. Nam dum maior pars a communione abstinet, quodammodo dissipatur ecclesia. Malimus tamen singulis mensibus invitari ecclesiam, quam quarter duntaxat in singulos annos: ut apud nos fieri solet. Quum hub primum veni, non distribuebatur nisi ter quotannis: et quidem ut inter coenam Pentecostes et Natalis Christi, septem toti menses intercederent. Mihi placebant singuli menses; sed quum minime persuaderem, satious visum est populi infirmitati ignoscere, quam pertinacius contendre'.
10) Calvini Opera X 104: 'Puys que le Cene a este instituee de nostre Seigneur pour nous estre en usage plus frequent, et aussi qu'il a este ainsi observe en l'Eglise ancienne iusque a ce que le diable a tout renverse, dressant la Messe au lieu d'icelle; c'est un defaut qu'on doit corriger, que de la celebrer tant rarement. Toutesfois pour le present avons avise et ordonne, qu'elle soit administree quatre fois l'annee, assavoir le plus prochain Dimanche de Noel, Pasques, Pentecoste, et le premier Dimanche de Septembre an automne'.
There is no reason at all to make a distinction between a 'youthful' and a 'mature' John Calvin. Throughout his life the reformer has been of the opinion that the Lord's Supper should be celebrated on a weekly basis.
However, he was also so wise and careful as not to 'push' the issue. His pastoral approach prevented him from doing so, and this shows an even early maturity!
The question could be raised on which Scriptural grounds Calvin based his desire for a more frequent administration of the Lord's Supper.
However, this requires a separate study and discussion, which we hope to undertake in the second part of our contribution
The same can be said about the question whether we should resume the thread of the conversation and, together with John Calvin, strive for a weekly celebration.
'Pour le present' (!) our aim was to discuss Dr Lee's paper on 'Quarterly Communion at Biblical Seasons Annually', the conclusion of which is that, neither exegetically nor church-historically a 'seasonal communion' can be defended.
In Part 1 we promised to deal separately with the question on which Scriptural grounds John Calvin based his desire for a more frequent administration of the Lord's Supper.
There is even every reason to widen our continuing study, because within the Ref-net group a discussion was opened on this subject. This was done by the Rev.Robert C.Davis of Freeman, SD, who made the following statements:
1) It is evident from Scripture that at least weekly communion was the practice of the church (Acts 2:42,46; 1 Cor.11:20);
2) We know that Calvin wanted weekly communion, but was prevented by the government of Geneva;
3) The Reformed Church does not practice weekly communion because of all sorts of bad reasons;
4) Thus the Reformed Church is not really 'reformed' until weekly communion is established in our churches in accords with the practices of the New Testament.
Especially in this last statement a strong claim is made.
The discussion that followed dealt with some other aspects of the issue, particularly historical aspects.
It also produced proof that the matter of the frequency of the celebration of the Lord's Supper has, and had, the attention in other churches, among them our Canadian sister churches. In Clarion the Rev. P. Aasman published a brief series on 'Celebration of the Lord's Supper How Often?', in which he defends John Calvin's stand for a weekly celebration. 1)
As we have focussed our special attention in Part 1 on the stand taken by John Calvin, we, first of all, will quote him when he produced the grounds on which he tried to promote a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper. Then we will evaluate these grounds.
After that we will deal with various aspects from the brief discussion that took place among the subscribers to Ref-net in January of this year. 2)
For our purpose it is not necessary to discuss this question at length. For, if either in one of these two verses or in both of them, the Lord's Supper was meant, it was celebrated in the context of something similar to the love-meal as we know it from the church of Corinth.
1) This brief series was published in Volume 46 (1997) No's 4 and 5. Spindle Works (http://spindleworks.com/) has recently included it in its 'Library'. http://spindleworks.com/library/aasman/lshowmany.htm
2) After Part 1 was written, and in the context of the above mentioned Ref-net discussion, Spindle Works also included in its 'Library' prof.dr.Lee's discourse. http://spindleworks.com/library/lee/quarterly.htm
His grounds 1)
Calvin based his desire for a more frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper first of all on the description of the life of the young Jerusalem congregation and the situation in the church of Corinth.
In his Institutes (IV 17,44) he writes:
Luke relates in The Acts that this was the practice of the apostolic church, when he says that believers continued in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers (Acts 2:42, cf.Vg.). Thus it became the unvarying rule that no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper, and almsgiving. 2) That this was the established order among the Corinthians also, we can safely infer from Paul (cf.1 Cor.11:20). And it remained in use for many centuries after.
Yet this was not the most important reason for Calvin to make a plea for a weekly celebration. Not these historical data were decisive, but the nature and aim of this sacrament.
He explained this in connection with the ideas propagated by others. Calvin doesn't mention his name, but he may have had Ulrich Zwingli in mind when he wrote the following lines (IV 17,7):
I am not satisfied with those persons who, recognizing that we have some communion with Christ, when they would show what it is, make us partakers of the Spirit only, omitting mention of flesh and blood. As though all these things were said in vain: that His flesh is truly food, that His blood is truly drink (John 6:55); that none have life except those who eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53), and other passages pertaining to the same thing.
Zwingli appealed to Christ's saying of John 6:63 It is the Spirit Who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. In other words, one is not united with Christ by eating His flesh and drinking His blood in the Lord's Supper. Only the Holy Spirit makes one alive, and He does not bind Himself to material things. To Zwingli the prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit (the epiclesis) was most important. In order to receive the salvation which is in Christ, we are in need of Him and not of the Lord's Supper. Therefore, the Supper is a meal of commemoration, and expression of our gratitude for Christ's atoning sacrifice and death. Consequently we don't need a frequent celebration of this sacrament. To Zwingli the presence of the Holy Spirit was more important than Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper.
Over against this John Calvin put Christ's saying of John 5:26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. Referring to John 6:51 he wrote (IV 17,1):
Christ attests Himself to be the life-giving bread, upon which our souls feed unto true and blessed immortality.
As for God, He has received us, once for all, into His family, to hold us not only as servants but as sons. Thereafter, to fulfill the duties of a most excellent Father concerned for His offspring, He undertakes also to nourish us throughout the course of our life. And not content with this alone, He has willed, by giving His pledge, to assure us of this continuing liberality (IV 17,1).
Now who does not see that communion of Christ's flesh and blood is necessary for all who aspire to heavenly life? (IV 17,9).
As for the apostle Paul:
Paul graced with a still more glorious title that intimate fellowship in which we are joined with His flesh when he said, We are members of His body, of His bones and of His flesh (Ephesians 5:30) (Ibidem).
To summarize: our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ in the same way that bread and wine keep and sustain physical life. For the analogy of the sign applies only if souls find their nourishment in Christ which cannot happen unless Christ truly grows into one with us, and refreshes us by the eating of His flesh and the drinking of His blood.
() Now, that sacred partaking of His flesh and blood, by which Christ pours His life into us, as if it penetrated into our bones and marrow, He also testifies and seals in the Supper not by presenting a vain and empty sign, but by manifesting there the effectiveness of His Spirit to fulfill what He promises (IV 17,10).
This is repeated in a little booklet entitled Treatise on the Lord's Supper, written in 1540 or 1541. Calvin wrote this:
With reference to the number of times that the Lord's Supper is to be partaken of, no fixed regulation can be adopted. For in the case of every one there are frequent special hindrances which obligates all Christians to partake of it every time when it is offered. In all cases, if we keep its object rightly in view, we will recognize that its uses ought to be more frequent than is commonly the practice. For the more our weakness makes itself felt in us, the more frequently must we practice that which may and will serve for the confirmation of our faith and our furtherance in a holy life. Therefore in all well regulated churches the custom is to be insisted on that the Supper should be celebrated as frequently as the circumstances of the congregation may allow. () It is within the purpose of the Lord that we should partake of it often, otherwise we lose the benefit which arises from it.
There is also this:
As long as we tarry in this mortal life, Christ is never imparted to us in such a manner that our souls are satisfied once for all by Him, but He will be our constant support.
1) This section is mainly a translation of what I wrote in Part III of Met al the Heiligen. Liturgie in Hemel en op Aarde. (Together with all the saints. Liturgy in heaven and on earth, Barneveld 1990, 169-173).
2) This statement of Calvin will be discussed when we deal with what others have written about the story of Pentecost and after.
So, in Calvin's opinion the nature and purpose of this sacrament determines the frequency of its celebration.
Since even Calvin's writings must be scrutinized, we must ask: Was he correct when he so strongly tried to promote a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper?
We must delve further into Calvin's writings.
We turn now to his commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:14. There he states that in the Lord's Supper we are given 'the true body of Christ, as a life-giving power infused into us from His flesh by the Holy Spirit'.
Calvin's way of reasoning becomes clear from the following quotations:
When Christ promises that He will give us His body, He at the same time commands us to take and eat of the bread. Hence, unless we obey this command, it is to no purpose that we glory in His promise. () Take and eat. For the meaning of the words is: 'By participating in the breaking of bread, according to the order and observance which I have prescribed, you shall be participants also in My body:'. () Hence the bread is Christ's body, because it assuredly testifies, that the body which it represents is held forth to us, or because the Lord, by holding out to us that symbol, gives us at the same time His own body; for Christ is not a deceiver, to mock us with empty representations. () He is, however, obtained, I affirm, not only when we believe that He was made an offering for us, but when He dwells in us when He is one with us when we are members of His flesh (Ephesians 5:30,) - when, in fine, we are incorporated with Him (so to speak) into one life and substance.
Even more clear is what Calvin wrote in the Catechism compiled shortly after his return to the city of Geneva in the year 1541. The section on the Lord's Supper begins with the following question:
Let us speak of the Supper. And, first, what is its significance?
The answer is:
Our Lord instituted it to assure us that by the communication of His body and blood, our souls are nourished, in the hope of eternal life.
A little further the Catechism returns to this communion. It asks whether it takes place apart from the Supper alone, and the answer reads as follows:
Yes, indeed, we have it through the gospel, as Paul declares (1 Cor.1:9): in that the Lord Jesus Christ promises us in it, that we are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones (Eph.5:30), that He is that living bread which came down from heaven to nourish our souls (John 6:51), and that we are one with Him, as He is one with the Father (John 17:21).
Then follows what we are particularly interested in:
What is the blessing that we have in the sacrament, and what more does it minister to us? This communion is more abundantly confirmed in us, ratified as it were, for although Jesus Christ is truly communicated to us both by baptism and by the gospel, nevertheless this is only in part and not fully.
All this means that, according to Calvin, in comparison with baptism and the gospel-preaching, the Lord's Supper has a certain 'surplus value'. This may explain why he puts such a strong emphasis upon bread and wine, and upon the necessity to obey the command of take and eat, and all of you, drink of it.
In the same Catechism he says:
What then fully do we have through the sign of the bread?
That the body of the Lord Jesus which was once offered to reconcile us to God, is now given to us, to certify to us that we have part in this reconciliation.
What do we have in the sign of wine?
That the Lord Jesus, Who once shed His blood in payment and satisfaction for our offences, gives it us to drink, that we may have no doubt at all of receiving its fruit.
The same 'surplus value' can be noted in other documents from his hand, for example in the Memorandum sent by him and his colleagues to the Council of the city of Geneva in the month of January 1537, so at an early stage already. He said there that the promise presented to us in the Lord's Supper is also that we are made true participants of Christ's body and blood, of His death, His life, His Spirit, and all His goods.
By this emphasis, put on the elements of bread and wine and the action of eating and drinking, the aspect of strengthening our faith comes to the fore very strongly but at the expense of other aspects.
This may explain the fact that, under certain conditions, Calvin allowed 'communion of the sick', for sick people too need the sign and seal of the communion of faith with Christ, particularly in their special circumstances which are accompanied by temptations. When the communion with Christ is fully enjoyed in the Lord's Supper only, the sick should not miss it.
Doesn't this tend in the direction of the sacrament being indispensable?
Is it true that in the Lord's Supper Christ is more strongly present among His people than in the preaching of the gospel and baptism?
Scripture shows us a somewhat different approach. Christ promised that wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there in their midst of them (Matthew 18:20). Before He ascended into heaven He said: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He is with those who are His in and through His Spirit, Who shortly afterwards was poured out upon His church. This promise is fulfilled yes, full-filled!, made true in full even without the Lord's Supper being celebrated.
This may explain why the New Testament focuses our attention more strongly upon what happened on the day of Pentecost, and speaks more often about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, than about the Lord's Supper, even though the latter is of great significance in a believer's life and the life of the church.
This does not make us followers of Zwingli in his vision on the Lord's Supper. For that sacrament is one of the means used by the Spirit. Our Form for the administration of the Lord's Supper clearly states this when it says:
By His Spirit, Who dwells in Christ as the Head and in us as His members, we have true communion with Him and share in all His riches, life eternal, righteousness, and glory.
So, there is no dilemma: communion with Christ either by the Spirit or in the Lord's Supper. This is what Zwingli's view may suggest.
However, the special character of this sacrament is not that there is a kind of intensified presence, represented by the elements of bread and wine for that goes into the direction of the Roman-catholic doctrine and practice -, but it lies in the way in which Christ introduces and gives Himself to His people. He presents Himself as the Lamb of God, which was slaughtered but is alive again. This is the image left behind by Him when He ascended into heaven (Revelation chapter 5).
Truly, in 'the words of institution' Christ speaks of His body and blood. He symbolises and seals them in the signs of bread and wine, to let us know: This is what I did for you. In this peculiar way He assures us that His Self-sacrifice at Calvary is still effective. Then He showed us His great love for us, sinful people by nature, but He is still the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He wants to be acknowledged and loved as the One Who has shown His incomprehensive love when He offered His body and blood (that is: Himself) in a cruel death. The communion with Christ in the Lord's Supper is a communion with Him Who once gave His body and blood, but Who now is our living Lord. And it is the Holy Spirit Who assures us of all this through this sacrament. Christ is with us in His Spirit.
This, then, should be our 'remembering Him' according to His command: Do this in remembrance of Me (1 Corinthians 11:24,25). We take the bread and eat it. We drink from the cup after having given thanks, and realize: This is His body, this is the new covenant in His blood, the blood of the Passover Lamb protects our life. In the Lord's Supper Christ Himself gives us His salvation. He offers us His communion, the communion with Him Who still has deep love for His people.
This is what makes the celebration of the Lord's Supper into a feast. We celebrate the salvation which is in Christ Jesus. It is a joyous meal; just as there was gladness in the young pentecostal church (Acts 2:46).
Celebrating the Lord's Supper is then a proclamation of Christ's death until He comes
(1 Corinthians 11:26), more beautiful and richer than the story which the Jews told to one another during their Passover meal, the Haggada, being its fulfillment. It is making a confession of faith, a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruits of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15).
When we summed up the grounds on which John Calvin tried to promote a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper, we heard him state that, over against our weakness, such a celebration would confirm our faith and furtherance in a holy life.
This may be so, as a kind of general rule. But there are also the voices of those and they could be heard in the Ref-net discussion! -, who are afraid that a weekly celebration will become a mere tradition.
It is a matter of fact that also going to church can become a habit or 'a deadening familiarity with the sacrament'. 1) But don't let us forget that we may expect the preaching to be somewhat different almost every Sunday, in this sense that it shows us the great variety of themes and aspects which the gospel contains. In this respect there is some difference between the weekly preaching and a weekly celebration of the Supper. And, let us be honest, how high, or low, will the percentage be of those who really listen to the reading of God's Law every Sunday morning? Is not the singing of the Creed, instead of listening to its reading by the minister, beneficial to the congregational members: they are active in personally and collectively professing their faith. Familiarity cannot be fully avoided in church life.
John Calvin was well aware of the fact that the spiritual level could differ from congregation to congregation. More than once he made the restriction 'the circumstances permitting'.
What we quoted from his Treatise on the Lord's Supper, may have answered a question asked in the Ref-net discussion: When a weekly celebration is introduced, should everyone participate every week, under penalty of being disciplined? We remember that he wrote:
With reference to the number of times that the Lord's Supper is to be partaken of, no fixed regulation can be adopted.
Although, on the other hand, Calvin again emphasized the great benefit of frequently celebrating the Lord's Supper. Taking all things together, Calvin's efforts to promote a frequent celebration was not lacking pastoral care.
1) D.G.Hart and John R.Muether in 'The Lord's Supper: How Often?' in Ordained Servant Volume 6 No.4, October 1997, reference to which article was made in the course of the Ref-net discussion.
In spite of John Calvin's pastoral care for his fellow-believers, we cannot follow him in his efforts to promote a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper on the grounds produced by him. The main reason for this is that in Calvin's thinking the Lord's Supper has a certain 'surplus value', and that this led him to making a plea for a weekly celebration.
There is another reason why we cannot follow John Calvin in these efforts.
He referred to the situation in the young congregation of Jerusalem as it is described in Acts chapter 2 (particularly to 2:42), and to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:20). Now Acts 2:42 did play a role also in the electronic discussion held within the Ref-net group in the beginning of this year, and initiated by the Rev. Robert C.Davis.
In one of his 'theses' he too referred to this Scripture place. Together with verse 46 and 1 Corinthians 11:20 it is, in his opinion, proved that 'at least weekly communion was the practice of the church'.
It appeared to be necessary to have a closer look at these Scripture places.
Now there is some difference of opinion about Acts 2:46.
For example, according to Dr Lee it is 'not referring to Sacramental Communion but only to the frequent sharing of ordinary food'.
He repeats this when, over against the 'Weekly Communionist', the Rev.Grover Gunn, 1) he quotes John Calvin's Commentary on Acts.
Calvin wrote, concerning the phrase 'breaking of bread' in Acts 2:42:
Some think that breaking of bread doth signify the Lord's Supper; other some do think that it signifieth alms; other some that the faithful did banquet together among themselves.
() my reason why I would rather have breaking of bread to be understood of the Lord's Supper in this place is, because Luke doth reckon up those things wherein the public estate of the Church is contained. Yes, he expresseth in this place four marks whereby the true and natural face of the Church may be judged.
However, when he saw the same phrase return in verse 46, Calvin wrote the following:
Whereas some do think in this place, by breaking of bread is meant the Holy Supper, it seemeth to me that Luke meant no such thing. He signifieth, therefore unto us, that they used to eat together, and that thriftily. 2)
Still today there is difference of opinion on the question whether the Lord's Supper is meant in Acts 2:42 and 46. The Rev.R.Aasman's paper clearly demonstrates this by presenting a number of quotations from contemporary commentaries.
It is true that 'breaking bread' usually means to have a (joint or communal) meal. In this sense we read it in Mark 6:41, Luke 24:30 and other places. But is that the meaning of the phrase in Acts chapter 2 as well?
The fact that in verse 46 a clear distinction is made between 'breaking bread' and 'eating together with glad and sincere hearts' may favour the interpretation that both verses inform us about a daily celebration of the Lord's Supper. The latter is not just a repetition of the former. This would mean that what was done on the day of Pentecost and after, was repeated soon afterwards, but for practical reasons 'by households', the thousands of believers were split up into various groups. I cannot, with John Calvin, see why in verse 42 the phrase would refer to the Lord's Supper, and in verse 42 to a communal meal.
However, for our purpose it is not necessary to discuss this question at length. For if, either in one of these two verses or both of them, the Lord's Supper was meant, 3) it was celebrated in the context of something similar to the love-meal as we know this from the church of Corinth. 3)
1) See Part 1 on the Rev.Grover Gunn.
2) Translation taken from a CD-ROM in the AGES Digital Library Series.
3) Aasman refers to G,F.Hawthorne's article 'Lord's Supper' in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopaedia of the Bible, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids, 1975/6, 982/3), who is of the opinion that it was 'the enjoyment of a religious meal that was common in Judaism'. Aasman also points to 'the fellowship meals which the Lord enjoyed during His ministry on earth'. Luke records no less than nine of them.
That these joint meals had something in common with the 'love-meals' of the Corinthian congregation, 1) being an act of charity also, may be apparent because the context mentions the care taken of the poor believers, for example the many widows to be mentioned in chapter 6. 2)
This bring us to another observation, namely that the weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper in the Corinthian congregation 3) had been incorporated into the 'love-meal'. It was part of it. 4) And just as there is no command regarding these love-meals, there is no command for a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper either.
1) Also Jude verse 12 mentions the love-meal, and its decay.
3) Aasman refers to Chrysostom (347-407), according to whom 'this passage shows that Christian fellowship expressed itself in the very same way in Corinth as it did in the beginning in Jerusalem'. (See Chrysostom's Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians.
4) That we can safely assume that in the Corinthian congregation the Lord's Supper was celebrated weekly may be clear from the fact that the phrase 'when you come together', as we read it in 11:17,18, and 20 returns in 14:26, and that in 16:2 the apostle mentions 'the first day of every week'.
That in the early stages of the life of the ancient Christian church the Lord's Supper was celebrated weekly, is confirmed by the Didache or the Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, dating from the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century.
It says in chapter 14:
On the Lord's own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure.
That this took place in the context of a 'love-meal', is suggested when already in chapter 9 this document dealt with this sacrament, and in chapter 10 connects ordinary food and drink with the spiritual food and drink of the Lord's Supper. For it says there:
You, almighty Master, created all things for your name's sake,
and gave food and drink to men to enjoy,
that they might give You thanks; 1)
but to us You have graciously given
spiritual food and drink.
The same is suggested when this chapter begins with the words:
And after you have had enough, give thanks as follows
Having enough makes us think of being satisfied by a complete meal, that of a kind of a 'love-meal', which included the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
Much clearer is what we read in the letter to the Smyrnaeans, written by Ignatius of Antioch (-107).
There we read:
It is not permissible either to baptize or to hold a love-feast without the bishop.
So in the early post-apostolic days these love-meals were still held. 2)
It is not very clear how long this situation lasted. That, perhaps very slowly, the connection between the love-meal and the Lord's Supper was broken, may be read in what Justin Martyr (110-165) wrote in his First and Great Apology:
In Chapter LXVII we read the following about the weekly worship services:
And the wealthy among us help the needy, and we always keep together, and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writing of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks has been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
All this is about the administration of the Lord's Supper. But immediately afterwards the text returns to what was said in the first-quoted line, namely:
And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. 3)
It seems that in Justin's day and environment the care of the needy was no longer directly connected with the celebration of the Lord's Supper by means of the love-meal, but that a kind of collection (not yet of money but of goods) was taking its place. 4)
1) Here the ancient name of the Lord's Supper, 'eucharist', thanksgiving, sounds through.
2) That in Ignatius' day the Lord's Supper was weekly celebrated, is clear from his Letter to the Ephesians (20), when it says: Continue to gather together breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ. 'Breaking bread' was at that time the name used for the Lord's Supper, at a later stage being replaced by the name 'eucharist' (thanksgiving).
3) Aasman requires our attention for an old tradition. In the Old Testament days communial meals were held, which had a charitable character: sharing bread with the needy took place according to the Septuagint version of Isaiah 58:7.
4) The historical origin of the church-collections is, indeed, the Lord's Supper. Even wherever the offerings are not taken at the Lord's Table, they should be limited to charitable purposes.
It may be obvious that the weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper in the Corinthians congregation 1) and in (at least part of) the ancient Christian church was determined by the fact that it was incorporated into the love-meal, which was held every Lord's Day.
A second observation is that - except in the epistle to Jude - nowhere else in the New Testament do we hear about another congregation having arranged love-meals. It seems that this was not a generally-kept tradition.
This leads to a third observation, namely that there is no command to re-introduce a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper. If that would be so, we could expect the New Testament to inform us about other congregations having the celebration of the Lord's Supper combined with a love-meal, let alone that it would contain a clear command for us.
Before we formulate our conclusion we lift out a few details from the Ref-net discussion and the documents it produced.
The first is that according to the Rev.Robert C.Davis (in his Ref-net e-mail of January 6, 2001) it is grammatically possible to translate 1 Corinthians 11:20 as a question: Therefore, when you come together in one place, is it not to eat the Lord's Supper? This would mean that the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of the fact that they came together for the celebration of the Lord's Supper. However, in this case that grammatical possibility is not there. For the next sentence, which begins with the Greek word 'gar' (= for, because), would, logically, not be an explanation of the previous sentence. Besides, the believers came together for other purposes as well. See 1 Corinthians 5:4; 12:8-10; 14:2-19, 23-25.
It is true, at the background of the Lord's Supper there is the incarnation. The Son of God came into the flesh. He became 'a man of flesh and blood', and this flesh and blood played a significant role in our redemption. It still does, for example in the Lord's Supper.
This element 1) should not be forgotten. It is virtually the same as what John Calvin emphasized.
However, this does not mean that for the awareness of this aspect a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper is required.
The same can be said about the testimony of this element in our faith in these days full of Liberalism, Modernism, and returning Gnosticism. Let us be realistic: Whether we celebrate the Lord's Supper weekly, monthly, or quarterly, it does not make any difference to those people.
As for the sacrament becoming 'an unscriptural mystery of awfulness', 2) this depressive idea cannot be taken away, unless God's faithfulness to the covenant of grace is preached. A weekly celebration will not improve this situation.
In a few countries - where weekly communion is not practised -, as, for example Scotland and South Africa, some churches have fallen into another extreme: The Lord's Supper has become an annual event. In South Africa the Boer came from far away to celebrate it in a city or township, and celebrating meant in this respect more than participating in the Lord's Supper. Scotland has its 'communion season', a week-long festival, including a Thursday as a day of fasting, a Saturday for a preparatory service, during which communion tokens are distributed, which on Sunday are handed back by the participants, and a thanksgiving service on Monday which concludes the festival.
This tradition 'migrated' to the United States of America, so that there too some spiritual leaders tried to improve the situation by pleading for a more frequent celebration, even a weekly communion. 3)
Have we become Zwinglians in practice, when we celebrate the Lord's Supper a few times a year only? 4) In Part 1 we made it clear that Ulrich Zwingli did not 'invent' the 'schedule' of a quarterly celebration. He simply followed the traditional dates of the Middle Ages, which had been restored by what can be considered to be a very limited reformatoric trend in Mid-Europe. One was not happy with having Communion once a year only, for example on Good Friday, but arranged a 'Gemeindekommunion', four times a year.
With a quarterly communion Reformed churches have definitely not adopted Zwingli's ideas about the Lord's Supper.
1) This was brought forward in the Rev.Davis' Ref-net message of January 6, 2001.
2) This is mentioned in 'The Lord's Supper: How Often?' by Hart and Muether. The Scottish situation had, and still seems to have, its parallel in The Netherlands.
3) This information has mainly been derived from the Hart/Muether article.
4) This is claimed by Hart/Muether.
Re-introduction of a weekly celebration would meet with a number of obstacles. We simply cannot return to the circumstances under which the Lord's Supper was enjoyed in the days of the apostles and in the post-apostolic era.
First of all: The Lord's Supper was combined with the love-meal. We don't have this tradition any more. Our needy members are looked after in a different way. And communal meals are very rare in our church life.
Besides, in the days of the Didache the worship services were different from ours. The emphasis was not on the brief sermon, but on an extensive Scripture-reading, the reason being that the canon of the New Testament had not been acknowledged yet, so that not every believer had access to 'a Bible'.
The average congregation was smaller. The New Testament even mentions the existence of 'house congregations'.
The literature that covers this period of time also creates the impression that the celebration of the Lord's Supper had a more joyous, even festive, character. Not for nothing would it a little later be called 'eucharist', thanksgiving.
Over against this, the current tradition in most churches of Reformed character has led to a Supper-service in which a lengthy form is read. In the Palatinate it was even preceded by a special service during which a 'preparation form' was read. It contained the well known 'three parts' of the Catechism in the form of questions, to be answered with 'I do' by those who wanted to participate the next day. In these days of a 'young reformation' this may have had its sense and benefits, but I guess that most of us would brand this as 'too much!'
The current form despite its beauty as a clear exposition of the meaning of this sacrament and of the conditions under which one can participate doesn't strongly emphasize its festive character. The repetition of the ritual during the 'successive tables' does not promote this festive character.
It is therefore regrettable that many congregations are too large to have all participants sitting around the table in one single session which would be the ideal situation. Many church buildings are not suitable to have a long table placed in its front section.
We just mention a few points, in order to show that our current way of celebrating the Lord's Supper requires improvement. However, this does not mean that such an improvement could be reached by a higher frequency of its administration, let alone by the introduction of a 'weekly communion'. The matter of the frequency is a different issue!
Part 1 ended with the conclusion that we cannot be in favour of a 'seasonal communion'. The same must be said at the end of this second Part regarding a 'weekly communion'.
It may be clear that we cannot endorse the Rev.Aasman's conclusion:
From a Biblical and a church historical point of view, Calvin is certainly correct in labeling our practice as being defective.
Neither can we agree with him when he ends his paper with the wish that 'the complete reformation of the Lord's Supper may yet be realized' (by means of introducing a weekly celebration).
Davis expresses himself even more strongly in his harsh fourth thesis:
Thus the Reformed Church is not really 'reformed' until weekly communion is established in our churches in accords with the practices of the New Testament.
However, he has no biblical ground for this conclusion.
Therefore 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, though we find his grounds for a 'seasonal communion' as insufficient as the grounds for a 'weekly celebration'.
Kelmscott, Western Australia
Around the turn of the year, the century, and the millennium
Minister-emeritus of The Reformed Church of Steenwijk, The Netherlands (1977-1983); previously minister of The Reformed Churches of Waardhuizen c.a. (1944-1948); Zwijndrecht (1948-1952); Leyden, The Netherlands (1952-1955); The Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania, Australia (1955-1973); The American Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. (1973-1977).
Postal address: PO Box 163, Kelmscott WA, 6991, Australia
E-mail address: [email protected]