Why Does the church of Christ Observe the Lord’s Supper Weekly?
We in the church of Christ strive diligently to follow the pattern of worship of the first century Christians. Scripture teaches us that the doctrines and commandments of men render our worship “vain” and worthless (Matthew 15:9). In addition to this Paul taught by inspiration that the Jews being “ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness“, had “not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). So with this thought in mind we recognize that in order to be assured our worship is according to God’s righteousness and not men’s, we look to the pattern of worship practiced by the first Christians as recorded by inspiration of God and follow only that pattern adding nothing nor subtracting anything from it.
On Pentecost when the church was established as recorded in Acts chapter 2 we see these words: “They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added (unto them) in that day about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:41-42). It is significant that Pentecost being 50 days after the Passover Sabbath day fell on the first day of the week, therefore Christ’s church was established on the first day of the week. Notice the words “continued stedfastly” in “the breaking of bread“. The words “breaking of bread” is used here in reference to the Lord’s supper. The definite article “the” sets this apart from the “breaking bread at home” in the sharing of their common meals seen later in verse 46. Of significance here is the word “continued“. One cannot continue something that has not already begun so we can rightfully infer from this that the three thousand souls baptized on Pentecost partook of the Lord’s supper that day. The fact that they continued to observe it stedfastly indicates that this is not a one time occurrence for a new Christian, rather an event that was observed habitually with some frequency on a regular basis.
What follows is to determine from scripture precisely when the Christians observed the Lord’s supper and follow their example. In Acts 20 we read of Paul worshipping with the Christians in Troas. Paul arrived in Troas where it is written that he, Luke and his other traveling companions stayed seven days (Acts 20:6). This would have been on a Monday. It is significant here to note that Paul waited seven days in order to meet with the entire congregation. Notice what verse 7 says, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” Notice carefully the words “when the disciples came together“. The word “when” is an adverb that associates and limits a recurring event to a specific time, in this case, a day. This weekly event was understood in the minds of Paul’s readership to refer to a specific day when an assembly took place. Knowledge of this event was commonly known, therefore expected in the minds of the readers. Keeping in mind that Acts 2 teaches us there is a frequency of “breaking the break”. Acts 20:7 teaches us that the first day of the week was “when” this event routinely took place.
Acts 20:7 teaches us more than when the Christians came together to break bread. It also teaches us when they did not. We know for a fact that the breaking of bread in this context is the observance of the Lord’s supper and not a common meal because the common meal was not eaten only on the first day of the week. If this were a common meal, certainly Paul and company did not wait seven days to eat. The breaking of bread in Acts 20:7 was done only on the first day of the week. If this “breaking of Bread” were done any day other than the first day of the week then the first day of the week would not have been “when” it was done.
Moreover, if it were acceptable to observe the Lord’s Supper on any day of the week other than the first day of the week, Paul would not have been constrained to wait seven days to observe it with his brethren in Troas. Saturday would have been a much more convenient time than Sunday. In the first century, Sunday was a workday just like all the rest of the workdays in the week. That is likely why the Christians met in the evening with Paul’s sermon continuing on past midnight. They all assembled after a hard days work. The earliest Christians never considered Sunday to be a rest day. The first mention of Sunday being a day of rest was in 220AD by Origen. Some sources say that emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire declared Sunday to be the official day of worship for the Christians sometime in the 3rd century. Until then, Christians had to make do, sometimes meeting early in the mornings before work or late in the evenings afterwards but always on the first day of the week to worship and to break the bread.
Critics of the Lord’s Day only participation of the Lord’s supper frequently refer to Acts 2:46 to support their beliefs. It is a known fact that the phrase “breaking bread” meant either eating a common meal or partaking of the Lord’s supper. This phrase is what is known as an idiom. An idiom is an expression whose meaning is not derived from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, such as “kick the bucket” or “hang one’s head”. In this case the phrase “breaking bread” was understood to refer to both the common meal or the Lord’s supper. The only way to determine which use in view is by the immediate context surrounding the phrase. In Acts 2:46-47, we read, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart“. The context of Acts 2:46-47 is in the context of eating food. This usage of the idiom, “breaking bread” is therefore understood as referring to a common meal and not the observance of the Lord’s supper.
The first century Christians partook of the Lord’s Supper when they assembled on the first day of the week and they assembled every first day of the week. Notice in 1 Corinthians 11:20,33 Paul chastises the Christians for unbecoming behavior concerning the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Verse 20 reads, “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper“. This is similar to a school teacher telling her pupils, “When you come to class, you are not here to study“. What is meant here is that they should have come to class for the purpose of studying, but because of their misbehavior, such was not the case. Similarly, Paul told the Corinthian Christians they should have come to the assembly for the purpose of observing the Lord’s Supper but it was obvious from their misbehavior that they were not there to properly observe the Lord’s communion service any more than the misbehaving school children came to study. Verse 33 reads, “Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another”. Notice again the words “when ye come together“. The Corinthian Christians were observing the Lord’s supper every time they assembled, albeit improperly but every time nonetheless.
1 Corinthians 16, 1-2 tells us exactly when they assembled and the frequency of their meetings. The New American Standard Bible renders this passage thus: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come“. So also does the NIV, TEV, RSV, NRSV and the NASU in like fashion render this passage as being the first day of every week. In the Greek the words for every first day are “kata mian sabbatou”. Noticing the word “kata” is translated “every” in Acts 14:23 (“every church“), and again “every” in Titus 1:5 (“every city”). “Kata” means the same thing in connection with the first day of the week in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Taking notice of verse 1 in particular we see that the churches of Galatia were likewise instructed, so we know this is universally applicable to the whole church in general.
In addition we must acknowledge that not only was the church established on the first day of the week and that the first Christians assembled to partake of the Lord’s supper on the first day of every week, by the time of the writing of the Revelation, John made a reference to the “Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). This can be no other day but the first day of the week. The New Testament gives much prominence to the first day of the week.
The psalmist wrote, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner…this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:22-23). Jesus applied this verse to his rejection by the Jews and then his subsequent exaltation and their destruction as written in Matthew 21:42. But Peter applied it more specifically to Christ’s resurrection in Acts 4:10-11. There are occasions in scripture where “day” refers to a dispensation of time, especially, in a messianic context such as Zechariah 13:1. While it is certainly proper to view “the day that the Lord hath made” in Psalm 118:22-23 as the dispensation of an age, Peter connected Psalm 118:22-23 specifically to the resurrection of Jesus which occurred on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9). Jesus made the first day of the week special when He overcame death and was resurrected from the grave. John acknowledged that fact when he made a reference specifically to the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10. This Lord’s day has been assigned as a day belonging to the Lord by inspiration, and can be no other day but the first day of the week; The day the Lord hath made.
In addition to Acts 20:7 being when the disciples came together to break bread, as seen earlier, the first day of every week was when Paul instructed the saints in Corinth to lay by in store as God had prospered them (1 Corinthians 16:2). It was upon this day that the first century Christians congregated and who were also commanded not to forsake their assemblies (Hebrews 10:25). Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9), Christ appeared after His resurrection on the first day of the week (John 20:26), Pentecost occurred (Acts 2), with the Holy Ghost descending (Acts 2:1-5), on the first day of the week. And 3000 souls were baptized and added to the Lord’s church on Sunday and they partook of the Lord’s supper on that day and then continuing afterwards stedfastly.
And finally, evidence of a weekly observation of the Lord’s supper from uninspired writers:
- Augustus Neander said, “As we have already remarked, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was still held to constitute an essential part of divine worship on every Sunday, as appears from Justin Martyr (A.D. 150.) (History of the Christian Religion and the Church, Vol. 1, page 332).
- The Didache, (an early uninspired document from about 120 AD) says, “That every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanksgiving.” (Chapter 14).
- Pliney (Epistles Book 10), Justin Martyr (Second Apology for the Christians) and Tertullian (De Ora, page 135) all three affirm that it was the universal practice of the Christians to assemble on the first day of the week to sing, pray and partake of the Lord’s Supper together.
The evidence for the regular observance of the Lord’s supper on, and only on, the first day of the week is overwhelming and compelling. Since those in the church of Christ today seek to pattern their worship in every way after the examples given in the New Testament it is for this reason we hold to that pattern of worship today, continuing stedfastly in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers just like they did in (Acts 2:41-42).
And we know that if we believe what they believed, live how they lived, teach what they taught and worship how they worshipped, we will be assured of being today just what they were then. They offered acceptable to worship to God in the first century and left their pattern for us by inspiration through the scriptures. We can follow that pattern precisely and be today what they were then. Faithful Christians, worshipping and serving God in spirit and in truth.