The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are central to Christianity. Christ lived His life upon earth knowing He would be sacrificed for mankind and it would be in brutal fashion. Today Christians proclaim the message of the Lord’s death, how and why it came to be, and how death was defeated, when they partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Many questions have arisen about partaking of the Lord’s Supper. How often is it to occur? Is there a specific time? Is it the real body of Christ? Can the fruit of the vine be alcoholic? Who can partake of the Lord’s Supper? Does partaking make our sins forgiven? The list of questions goes on and on. This examination aims to answer more questions regarding the Lord’s Supper and specifically address the practice of offering a second partaking of it.
When we ask questions about our current practices or traditions, some folks become very concerned. They worry that by asking these things we may disrupt unity and sow discord. Certainly doing that would be terrible. God hates discord (Proverbs 6:16-19). Yet understand that unity as Christians only comes in Christ through the Word of God. There is one Faith according to Ephesians 4:5. This is the gospel Christ brought. It is a gospel that brings a sword of division between strangers, friends, and family (Matthew 10:34-39). In wielding this sword, Jesus did not sow discord disrupting unity, He shared the truth of the Word of God (John 17:17) and brought about unity. Truth shatters the vices of the wicked and its value is beyond measure (Proverbs 23:23, Matthew 13:44).
All Christians should be comfortable with finding authority for partaking of the Lord’s Supper whenever they do so (Colossians 3:17). That is the aim of our examination. As we look at different passages and ask questions, we will try to come to a clearer understanding of our worship practices. We will also consider differing points of view and weigh their merit. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to study and confirm the scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). Remember “[We do] not live by bread along, but by every word of God.”(Matthew 4:4).
Why do Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper? As mentioned in the beginning, it is a proclamation of the message of the Lord’s death (I Corinthians 11:26). In Matthew 26:26-29, Jesus gives his disciples unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine. Before doing so in each case He acknowledges God. With the unleavened bread Jesus expresses it is His body. With the fruit of the vine He expressed it as His blood. This language was figurative and meant to be representative of His coming sacrifice. This is the first account of four gospel accounts of this setting. From these accounts we know Jesus told the disciples to remember Him in this supper. Later, following Jesus resurrection, He instructed the disciples to teach all nations to observe what He had commanded them (Matthew 28:18-20). This evidently included the partaking of the Lord’s Supper as Paul conveyed to the Corinthian Church the necessity of doing so (I Corinthians 11:23-26).
When do Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper? The partaking of the Lord’s Supper is something that widely varies in different religious bodies. Some eat it yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly. There are many variations. The importance as always is discovering what the first century Christians did. Historically, we know they partook once each Sunday, the first day of the week. However, history does not hold any weight when it comes to the scriptures. It is from the mouth of God we find authority. Acts 20:7 provides an example as to when the Christians met and partook of the Lord’s Supper and that was the first day of the week. No other direct example with a specific time regarding the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in scripture. However, with Biblical authority, once is enough if that is all the Bible has to say on the matter. Such a time certainly makes sense though as Jesus was resurrected overcoming death on the first day of the week (Mark 16:2-9).
How do Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper? It has already been seen that the elements are to be unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine. God is to be approached before the partaking of each. Also stated previously is that the supper is a proclamation of the Lord’s death until He comes. I Corinthians 11:27-32 expresses those partake unworthily drink judgment unto themselves. Because this partaking is directed at the Lord, it is worship (John 4:24). It must be done with minds on Christ and according to truth (which is the proper pattern of partaking the supper). Partaking in the proper way is the crux of the context in I Corinthians 11 and will take up the remainder of this examination. The context of this passage focuses predominantly on Christians breaking up into divisions (vs. 18) in a common meal rather than partaking as a complete assembled body. Whether or not Christians should partake apart from one another is a very important aspect of taking the Lord’s Supper in truth or not.
When tackling the topic of assembly and the Lord’s Supper, the entire purpose of the first day of the week must be contemplated. Going back to Acts 20:7 the disciples met for the purpose of taking the Lord’s Supper. Did they do other things? Yes. However, they met for the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. We have no other record of assembling on the first day of the week for another stated purpose. Moving to I Corinthians 11:18-34, Paul starts out by identifying the Church was broken up into factions. He also identified they were making the Lord’s Supper a common meal. Most importantly he states they were not coming together to eat the Lord’s Supper. The inverse of that is they were supposed to be assembling for the purpose of eating the Lord’s Supper. This is the same purpose given for assembly in Acts 20:7. Where other spiritual activities going on? Yes, but twice now the stated purpose has been the Lord’s Supper. The actions of the Corinthians made them partakers who were spiritually sick and eating judgment unto themselves. In exhortation, Paul tells them to separate their common meals from worship and to wait for one another before eating the Lord’s Supper as an assembled body. One other very important passage in this discussion of assembling and partaking the Lord’s Supper is I Corinthians 10:16-17. Here Paul states eating the Lord’s Supper is a sharing, a fellowship, a communion in the body and blood of Christ.
If Acts 20:7, I Corinthians 11:18-34, and I Corinthians 10 are to be followed then this sharing occurs on the first day of the week as part of an assembly whose purpose for assembling was to partake of the Lord’s Supper together. There are no passages in scripture showing any other manner of eating the Lord’s Supper at any other stated time. Biblical authority is very clear. At this point let us turn our attention to arguments against what we have examined and to questions about second offerings of the Lord’s Supper.
The first common objection to the stated Biblical fact that Christians were coming together on the first day of the week for the purpose of partaking of the Lords Supper is that it minimizes or cheapens the other aspects of worship. Of course, this is not true at all. In regard to the acts of worship, giving, praying, singing, teaching, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, all are directed toward God (John 4:24) and are thus of equal importance and should all be treated with the same reverence. They are equally bound together as worship the same as hearing, believing, having faith, repenting, confessing, baptizing, and living faithfully are bound together for salvation. None are greater than the other. It has been said by some that I Corinthians 16:1-2 is an example of giving being a purpose for gathering. However, being commanded to give when an assembly occurs is not the same as that being the purpose for the assembling in the first place. For instance, I can tell my son that every Saturday when he goes to visit his friends to greet their Mother and Father. I can also tell him each week I want him to go to His friends because he needs to build the friendships. The purpose for the visit is building friendships, the greeting of parents is commanded, but not the purpose for the visit. Giving appears to be incidental to the day and specifically tied to the expedience of Paul avoiding collections.
Another objection is cited using I Corinthians 10:16-17 to support partaking outside of the assembly of Christians on the first day of the week. It is offered that the communion or sharing going on is stated by Paul to be with the Corinthians while he himself was far away. In other words the sharing did not have to be literal. Thus, Christians can take part in the communion anywhere and be authorized to do so. But if this is true, why would it be stated in I Corinthians 11 that the Christians were to be coming together to partake of the Lord’s Supper. This would be a contradiction. Rather consider Paul, in his location, literally met with Christians on the first day of the week the same as those in Corinth and they did so for the purpose of sharing the Lord’s Supper. Thus, he discusses the worship practice they both were engaged in.
Third and fourth objections focus on the concept of “tarry” or wait in I Corinthians 11:33. First it is stated that tarry means the Corinthians were to wait for others so they would not be hungry. However, that would be applying to something which Paul said to remove from the worship – the common meal. Paul certainly did not condone the common meal. Second it is argued if the Christians had to tarry for others before they partook then they would never be able to partake because someone is always sick, traveling, working, etc. Rather than this, what Paul was trying to establish was the Corinthians not partake in their divisive groups when they chose, but rather eat together in a full assembly of those present to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Having observed some objections to what we have examined thus far in scripture, it is time to turn out attention to the second serving of the Lord’s Supper. Typically, this is done during an evening Bible Study assembly. This practice is very common in a great number of Churches. It is offered for those who missed the earlier serving. In all instances I have heard of or experienced the majority of the body of the church has not come together for the purpose of partaking of the Lord’s Supper and does not commune with those partaking. This is an interesting situation because we have no scriptural example for this behavior. Even outside of scripture, second services weren’t heard of until the 1600’s and then they were simply presented as Bible Studies most often for children. It appears the practice most likely came into being during WWII at which time there was no small objection to it. However, history does not determine Biblical authority. The problem again, we have no Biblical authority for such a scenario. That being said, let us look at arguments for having a second serving of the Lord’s Supper.
The first argument is that Christians are commanded to partake of the Lord’s Supper. As noted this started with Jesus and was taught by the apostles. However, we also noted this was to be done with authority and meet the pattern set – the assembly, the proper purpose, the proper elements, the proper manner, the proper time, etc. Biblical authority shows us churches meeting on the First day of the week as the Body of Christ and eating the supper together as that body, not in small groups apart from one another, at different times, and with most of the body not there for the purpose of eating the Lord’s Supper. If a Christian is not forsaking the assembly, God certainly will not condemn the Christian missing the partaking. I would say this of the sick, infirm, those with emergencies, and other aspects that are not forsaking. No second serving would be needed.
A second argument is made based upon expedience. I Corinthians 6:12 and I Corinthians 10:23 are used to point out that it may be lawful to set a worship time at 11 am, but it may also not be expedient for some. Let me suggest as above, that those not forsaking would certainly be forgiven by God and therefore would not need a second service. However, let me say I know of a situation similar to this. I am aware of a congregation with so many people that the group comes in two different groups at two different times to the same building for the purpose of partaking the Lord’s Supper. The purpose is right and the pattern of partaking is right. The elders have used the expedience of two separate times to engage an action that is identical to the first century as far as the action of partaking. The entire body may not be together in this instance, but it’s not because they do not want to do so. Tarrying would not help in this case. If this situation is in violation of God’s Word, I cannot pinpoint the violation clearly. It would have to be in the area of not having the full body present. However, the case is not a portion of the body choosing to not be present, they simply cannot be present.
There are two items I would like to address because I have been asked to do so. The first situation is that of an individual who is baptized in a congregation who has already partaken of the Lord’s Supper. It is my conviction that this individual simply wait until the next week to partake with the body because it is God’s intention that Christians partake with the body. Second is the situation of the chronically infirm, aged, or others simply physically unable to assemble. In this case it is my conviction that God will not hold that person accountable for not partaking of the Lord’s Supper which is something outside of their control.
In closing, I want to add some personal thoughts. Whatever your current position on partaking the Lord’s Supper, I suggest you do not violate your conscience. This is discussed in Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8. If you fully believe from your study you need to partake of the Lord’s Supper some other time on Sunday because you missed Sunday morning, then I certainly don’t condemn you. Also if you missed Sunday morning and you don’t partake of the Lord’s Supper, I won’t condemn you either. Let us continue to grow in the matter and strive to glorify God.