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Many denominations have the Lord's Supper once a month, once every three months, once a year, only on special holy days, or just whenever they feel like it. Other groups sometimes have it on weekdays.
Some non-instrumental "churches of Christ" have begun having the Lord's Supper on days other than the first day of the week.
Some in "conservative" churches have told us that this is simply a matter of personal conscience, not a matter of right or wrong.
And some members of the church will go weeks at a time not attending when the saints commune, even when they could come. This shows they don't really view participating each first day of the week as being important.
The questions to be answered in this lesson, then, are:
(1) What day should we have the communion, and how frequently does that time occur?
(2) How important is the day for having the Lord's Supper? Does it really matter?
The following principles of Bible teaching will be important in our study:
The Bible principle
We must not participate in any practice in God's service unless we find it taught in the gospel. If God's word says to do a thing, we must do it just as He says and not change it.
Matthew 15:9 - Our worship to God is vain if it is based on human doctrines.
Galatians 1:8,9 - If we follow man-made doctrines that differ from the gospel, we are accursed.
2 John 9 - If we do not abide in the teaching of Jesus, we do not have God. To have God, we must abide in Jesus' teaching.
The Bible is a complete and perfect guide to everything God wants us to do (2 Tim. 3:16,17; John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:3). We do not need to have a passage specifically forbidding us to do certain acts in order to know they are wrong. When God tells us what to practice, then it would be wrong to do something different, even if He nowhere expressly said not to do the other thing. If He says to do one thing, and we do something else, then we are following human doctrines and a different gospel, so our worship is vain and we have not God.
Why shouldn't we use milk and lamb on the Lord's Table? Because God said to have unleavened bread and fruit of the vine.
Why shouldn't we sprinkle or pour for baptism? Because God says to bury in baptism.
Why shouldn't we baptize babies? Because God said people must understand, believe, repent, and confess before baptism.
These and many other acts are wrong, because there is "no Bible authority for them," even though no passage expressly forbids them. They are different from what God said. They are nowhere taught in the Bible.
Likewise, if we find that God has told us what day to have the Lord's Supper, but we do it on some other day, then we would be acting by human authority. This would violate Bible teaching just as surely as the other examples we have mentioned.
This principle of following Bible authority is fundamental to our understanding of this and other subjects.
To abide in Jesus' teaching, we must know how to determine what His will is. His will is sometimes stated directly in commands and direct statements. But it is other times taught by examples and by reasoning to conclusions that necessarily follow from what is stated.
1 Peter 2:21 - Jesus left an example that we should follow His steps.
Philippians 3:17; 4:9 - Paul gave us an example to follow as a pattern. We should do the things seen in Paul, as well as the things heard from him.
1 Corinthians 11:1 - We should imitate Paul as he imitated Christ.
Hebrews 5:14 - Not all lessons to be learned from Scriptures are simple and obvious. We must have our senses exercised in Bible study, so we can discern the proper conclusions.
Acts 17:1-3 - Paul reasoned with people from the Scriptures to reach conclusions that necessarily followed but were not directly stated in those Scriptures. This is done in many Bible passages (see Matt. 22:23-32; Heb. 7:11-25; Matt. 19:3-9; etc.).
So, God's will on a matter may be revealed by examples or by conclusions that necessarily follow from what is stated, even though the conclusion itself is not directly stated.
Acts 3:22,23 - We must hearken to all things Jesus teaches.
Matthew 4:4,7 - Man must live by every word from God's mouth. When the devil quoted a passage, Jesus cited another passage to show the devil had misused the first passage.
For instance, suppose we find a passage that shows God approved of His people doing a thing in a certain way, then in another passage we find that He approved of them doing the thing a different way. We should then conclude that it doesn't matter which way it is done. But if we take all the information we have on a subject, add it up, and find that there is only one way revealed for doing a thing, then that is the pattern we must follow.
The Lord's Supper is a memorial feast. We participate in memory of Jesus' death (Matt. 26:26ff; 1 Cor. 11:23ff; etc.). In the Old Testament, God instituted several other memorials and feasts. These are not in effect today (Heb. 10:9,10; Gal. 3:23,24; 5:1-4; Col. 2:14,16; etc.). But the Old Testament record can teach us some useful lessons (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-12).
This is a universal truth with no exceptions in Scripture. Consider the following examples:
14th Day, 1st Mo
1st Day, 7th Mo
10th Day, 7th Mo
15th Day, 7th Mo
7th day of week
1st day of week
If the Lord's Supper does not have a specified time and frequency for partaking, then it is the only one of God's appointed memorials or feasts in history that does not. And it is a memorial to the most important period of time in history! Why go to all the trouble to design the memorial, describe in detail how to do it, then leave no guidelines about when to do it? Surely we should expect the New Testament to tell us when to have the Lord's Supper.
Consider the Old Testament examples already listed. In most cases God simply named a day to have it, but the people were expected to understand from that how often to have it. They were to have it every time the specified day occurred!
If a feast or memorial was to occur on a certain day of a certain month of the year, then the people would do it as often as that time occurred; hence, an annual feast. If it was stated to be on a certain day of the month, then as often as the day of the month occurred, it would observed; hence, a monthly observance (Ezek. 46:1,6,7). If it was to occur on a certain day of the week, then it would be done as often as that day of the week occurred; hence, a weekly observance (such as the Sabbath).
When God set a day for the observance, then that also settled the frequency. He did not have to expressly state it should be done every time that day occurred. This was understood (a "necessary inference"). If people observed the memorial on days other than when God said, would they have been obeying Him? If the specified day arrived and people could observe it but failed to do so, would He have been pleased?
This is the passage that tells us most about when the New Testament church observed the Lord's Supper.
After the days of unleavened bread (the Jewish Passover - v6), Paul and his traveling companions left Philippi in Macedonia on a journey to Jerusalem. They took five days to get from Philippi to Troas, then they waited there seven days.
The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. At that time, Paul preached to them, and spoke till midnight, though he was planning to leave the next morning.
The expression "break bread" here must refer to the Lord's Supper as it does in Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16; and 1 Cor. 11:23,24. In some contexts this phrase may refer to a common meal (see Acts 2:46), but that cannot be the case here. This context clearly refers to a church worship assembly, and Paul had already taught in 1 Cor. 11:17-22,34 that Christians were not to eat common meals in their worship assemblies. If this were a common meal, Paul would have violated his own teaching in 1 Cor. 11.
During Paul's long speech, Eutychus fell asleep, fell out a window, and was killed. But Paul raised him from the dead.
As planned, Paul left at daybreak (v13). His intent was to cross land and catch up with the boat, which had already sailed earlier (vv 13,14). They were hurrying to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost (v16). Pentecost was fifty days after Passover (Lev. 23:15,16). So they had only fifty days to make this trip from the time they left Philippi (v6).
Our study of Old Testament memorials has taught us to expect that God would tell us when we should have the Lord's Supper. But remember that God teaches by example as well as by command. So, the example of Acts 20:7 shows that the day for the Lord's Supper is "the first day of the week."
Just as in the Old Testament observances, when God states a time to do a thing, it should be done just as often as that time occurs. The day for observing the Lord's Supper is the first day of the week. But every week has a first day. So, whenever the first day of the week comes, that's when the disciples should come together to break bread.
Note the parallel to the Sabbath:
When Israel obeyed God's command regarding the Sabbath Day, how often would they remember it to keep it holy? Every seventh day, as often as that day came. So it was a weekly observance. Likewise, Acts 20:7 says the disciples came together to break bread on the first day of the week. That language also means that we should have the Lord's Supper every first day.
If you took a job and were told that pay day was on Friday, how often would you expect to be paid? Wouldn't you understand that the nature of the language necessarily meant you would be paid once a week, every week, on Friday?
I once read an ad for a denomination that said: "Communion: first and third Sunday." Obviously, that differs from what the Bible says. But the point is: Can we understand what that language means? How often would you expect that group to have communion? Every time the first or third Sunday of the month occurred, right?
But the gospel says that disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. So when and how often should we have the Lord's Supper? If we follow the Bible example, we will come together to have it on the first day of the week, every first day of the week.
Suppose people want to have the Lord's Supper once a year, once a month, or on week days, etc.? What Bible authority could they offer for it? If we respect Bible examples, and if we must find our practices authorized in the gospel, then if we had the Lord's Supper at times other than each first day of the week, wouldn't that be disobeying the gospel just the same as if we baptized babies or had lamb and milk in the communion?
If we must obey New Testament examples as in Acts 20, folks sometimes ask, "Does that mean the preacher must preach till midnight, and somebody must fall asleep, fall out the window, and die?"
Of course not, but the context of the example itself clearly implies that these were unusual circumstances. These were not normally expected or required even of the disciples at Troas. If an event was exceptional for them, then it surely would not be a requirement for us. So, we know these events are not intended to be patterns we must follow because the context itself shows us that they were not the normal practice.
Someone may think that maybe the disciples' assembling to commune on the first day was an unusual circumstance. Like these other things, maybe this too was not their normal practice, so we don't have to imitate it. Perhaps they met that day only because an apostle was visiting.
What is there in the context that would indicate it was unusual for the church to meet on the first day? On the contrary, the context clearly shows that this was not unusual.
The passage says they came "to break bread," not that they came because there was a visiting apostle (v7).
When Paul arrived in town, he had to wait 7 days till the church met. But he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem, so much so that he left the next morning after staying up all night. His ship had already left, and he had to travel over land to catch up with it (vv 8-16). If the church could have met for the Lord's Supper on Saturday or any other day, why wait so long to call the meeting? If the main purpose of the meeting was so they could hear a visiting apostle, why not set the meeting at a time convenient for his plans?
Paul's travel companions had arrived ahead of time (v5), so the disciples in Troas had advance notice of his coming. Knowing Paul was coming, and then knowing he was in such a hurry, why would the church wait till the last possible day to meet, make him stay up all night, and make him leave by land instead of on his boat? Why not just call the meeting for Saturday or even earlier? Clearly the first day of the week mattered.
The implication of the passage is that the first day of the week was the normal time the church met for the Lord's Supper, and Paul simply used that meeting as an occasion to teach.
And why does the account even name the day of the week on which they met?
Why bother to tell us how long they waited after arriving (v5) and then name the day when the church met (v7)? Many other passages mention special meetings of Christians called for special purposes; but we are not told what day of the week those meetings occurred. The only day of the week ever singled out for special mention regarding worship of Christians is the first day of the week.
Christians did meet on other days, but the only day especially mentioned, and the only day on which we are told they had the Lord's Supper, is the first day of the week. If the day is not significant, why mention this day, and never mention any other day?
We will soon see other evidence that the first day of the week is significant, including evidence that the church did meet each first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16).
So, Acts 20 clearly states that the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. There is no evidence that it was exceptional for the church to assemble on that day for that purpose. On the contrary, the evidence indicates that the first day of the week was especially significant. The church met on that day, because that is when they normally met.
And remember, if Acts 20:7 is not telling us when to have the Lord's Supper, then we cannot know when God wants us to participate.
If the practice described in Acts 20:7 is an exception, not the pattern of usual practice, then God has given us a memorial, commanded us to observe it, but told us nothing about when to do so. This would make the Lord's Supper - the memorial to the most important period of time in Bible history - the only memorial feast God ever authorized for which He does not tell us when to do it.
When we believe that God will tell us when to participate in His authorized memorials, and when we realize that we should respect Bible examples, then we understand that God's word is teaching us to come together to break bread each first day of the week. We know when to do it and how often to do it. Local churches that respect God's word will have the Lord's Supper that often, and individual disciples will be there when the church meets so they can participate.
We now know that Christians should find New Testament authority for all our practices, that God always tells His people when and how often they should observe His authorized memorial feasts, and that Acts 20:7 teaches us that disciples met for the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. However, we recall that we must take all the Bible says on a subject.
For example, some ask why we don't have the Lord's Supper in an upper room (third story), since that is where the church met in Acts 20:8,9. The answer is that, when we study other passages, we find there is no significance to the place. Churches met in various places. For example, the church in Jerusalem met regularly in a porch of the temple (Acts 5:11-14). So taking all the Bible says on the subject shows that where we meet does not matter.
So what do we learn from other passages about when to have the Lord's Supper? Could it be that there are passages other than Acts 20:7 showing that the church may have the Lord's Supper at some time other than the first day of the week? Or does other teaching strengthen the conclusion that the first day of the week has special significance as a time for Christians to meet?
The first congregation of converts "continued steadfastly" in breaking bread as well as the apostle's doctrine, prayer, etc. (Again we note that the other items in this verse are acts of worship. So, as discussed earlier, "breaking of bread" here must refer to the Lord's Supper, not a common meal, since 1 Cor. 11 forbids having a common meal in worship meetings.)
"Continue steadfastly" does not define how often the disciples had the Lord's Supper. But it does tell us it was a regular event, commonly done among them, and they were diligent in practicing it. It was not a rare event, nor was it hit and miss.
The church had regular assemblies, and the members were taught to not neglect those meetings. This does not mention the Lord's Supper, nor does it tell how often the assemblies occurred. It does, however, reinforce the idea of regular meetings. And it shows that members are responsible to attend those meetings. When the church is meeting, members should be there.
Jesus wants all His people to remember His death in the Lord's Table (vv 23-26). This is not optional. We should participate in it diligently.
Further, we should eat the Lord's Supper when the church assembles (vv 20,33; cf. vv 17,18,34). This contrasts to common meals, which Paul says we should not eat in our assemblies. We should have common meals at home (vv 22,34) - i.e., apart from church activity.
Note: Some people assume the phrase "as often as" (v26) means we are free to decide for ourselves when to have the Lord's Supper. But "as often as" simply means "whenever" or "every time" - see NIV, NEB, etc. It simply means that, whenever one thing happens, then the other thing happens. But of itself the expression does not absolutely tell you how often either thing happens. [It is a "relative adverb," per Vine and Thayer.]
Example: Suppose your company says: "We will deduct income tax from your check as often as you get paid." How often will they deduct tax? As often as you get paid. When and how often will that be? The statement does not tell. All it says is that the one thing happens as often as the other does.
So, the passage does not tell what day or how often we should have the Lord's Supper. It simply says that, "as often as" it is done, it should be done in the manner here described. But it does tell us that the Lord's Supper should be eaten in church assemblies, and that God instructs each member to participate regularly and diligently.
Corinth and other churches were ordered to take up collections on the first day of the week.
Churches in Galatia, Achaia, and Macedonia (and no doubt elsewhere) were all instructed to participate in this practice (see the references below). This clearly implies assemblies on the first day of each week.
This passage commands a common collection in which the members gave money into a church collection. It does not refer to just private treasuries of individuals at home. Individual treasuries would have to be gathered together when Paul came to take them on to Jerusalem, and this is exactly what he said should not happen. The passage specifically says the "churches" - not individuals - were ordered to take these collections (v1).
Further note that this collecting occurred, not just on one first day of the week, but as an ongoing practice done repeatedly on the first day of each week (see NASB, NIV, RSV, NEB, etc.). All this necessarily implies that the churches were meeting each first day of the week.
And note that the passage says the same thing about collecting money that Acts 20:7 says about the Lord's Supper. Both were done on the first day of the week. Denominations often have the Lord's Supper once a quarter or once a year, but they have the collection every time you turn around. But for both acts, the Bible says the same thing about when and how often to do them.
Note also the clear connection between Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1,2.
1 Corinthians says Paul had instructed churches to collect funds to send to the needy saints in Jerusalem. Afterwards, he and other men went through those cities and gathered up those funds to take them to Jerusalem. (See 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 & 9; Rom. 15:25-27; Acts 24:17.) This is the trip Paul and his companions were taking in Acts 20. As they traveled, they stayed in Troas to have the Lord's Supper with the church there on the first day of the week. (In Acts 24:17 Paul refers to this trip saying he was bringing alms and offerings to his nation.)
Note carefully: This means that the instructions in 1 Corinthians had been given a significant amount of time before the event in Acts 20:7. This proves conclusively that it was not unusual or coincidental that Troas met on the first day. Of course, they were meeting regularly on the first day: God had commanded them to do so as Paul revealed in 1 Corinthians 16! As Paul traveled, he met with the church at Troas on the day God had appointed for the collection. But the example of Acts 20:7 shows that the day they met for the collection was also the day they met for the Lord's Supper! Surely this is not just coincidence!
Put all this information together. The disciples were steadfast in the Lord's Supper and in attending their assemblies. They had the Lord's Supper in their assemblies. And they took up common collections when they assembled on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 then adds that the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread.
So, the churches assembled regularly, including assemblies on the first day of the week. When they assembled on the first day of the week, they had the Lord's Supper and they took up a collection. It all fits together, so the pattern becomes clear.
Studying other passages does not prove that Acts 20:7 was an unusual event. Nor is there any indication that the Lord's Supper was taken on other days. Instead, the pattern confirms that the practice of Acts 20:7 fits the overall teaching of the New Testament. This was the consistent pattern for the practice of New Testament churches. Faithful churches today must follow this pattern, not changing it or substituting human ideas.
When we study other passages, do we find other evidence to confirm that the first day of the week had special significance to Christians? Is there anything that would explain why God would choose that day as the time for the church to assemble for the Lord's Supper and collection?
The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are in many ways the greatest events in the history of the world. The crucifixion was absolutely essential, but the crucifixion would have been a defeat had it not been for the resurrection. The crucifixion left the disciples in sorrow and grief. The resurrection was the ultimate victory and cause of rejoicing.
Important as the crucifixion was, there is no passage that directly names the day of the week on which Jesus died. Yet all four gospel accounts tell us Jesus arose on the first day of the week, and most of them mention it repeatedly. Why this emphasis on the first day unless there is some significance to it?
(See Luke 24:1,4,21; Mark 16:2; Matt. 26:1-7; Luke 24:1-9; John 20:1-10; see also the verses under the following points.)
Jesus' appearances are also crucial to our faith, because by them He proved that He really is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:1-8).
On that first day of the week after He had arisen, He appeared several times (Mark 16:2,9; Matt. 26:1,8-10; Luke 24:1,19-21; John 20:1,11-19). Note that one of these appearances occurred when the disciples had assembled. The disciples assembled on the first day of the week because Jesus had arisen on that day, and Jesus Himself chose to come to that meeting (cf. Luke 24:33-40).
Again we are told the disciples came together. This was the eighth day after the first appearances. The way days were counted would make this the next first day of the week (cf. Lev. 23:39).
So on the day Jesus arose the disciples assembled; then the next first day the disciples assembled again. On both occasions Jesus honored their assembly by coming Himself. Is this just coincidence?
These were not really church meetings, since the church had not yet begun. Nor did they include all of His disciples. So, we would not expect these passages to mention the Lord's Supper. But if there is no significance to the fact these things happened on the first day of the week, why are we so expressly told the day when it happened?
Note that the apostles had gathered together on this day, even before they had any idea that the Holy Spirit would come then (cf. 1:1-11). But the Holy Spirit did come to their meeting. As a result many assembled together, the gospel was preached, and 3000 were baptized.
Note the great events that occurred on this first day of the week:
(1) The Holy Spirit came.
(2) The gospel was preached for the first time.
(3) The first people were converted and became Christians.
(4) The church began (cf. v47). This was the fulfillment of many prophecies that Christ would reign on David's throne in His kingdom (vv 29-36; cf. 1:1-8; etc.).
And notice that they began and continued to participate in the Lord's Supper, along with other acts of worship - from this time on (v42).
All this happened when the disciples were assembled together on the first day of the week.
This may be the only passage that directly mentions the disciples eating the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week, but it is certainly not the only passage that shows the first day of the week is significant. Nor is it the only passage that shows the disciples meeting on the first day of the week.
Together with all the other passages regarding the first day of the week and regarding Christians' assembling, this confirms that Christians assembled and took up the collection on that day.
Note the tremendous significance the first day of the week has to Christians.
Many of the greatest events in the history of the church occurred on that day. And of the events that occurred on that day, five of them involved Christians meeting on that day. On two of these occasions, Jesus Himself attended those meetings, and on another occasion the Holy Spirit attended. How can anyone doubt that the first day of the week has special significance in God's plan?
To see the force of this, consider what passages or events expressly name any other day of the week.
All these events, assemblies, and acts of worship are expressly mentioned as occurring on the first day of the week. But not one time is any other day of the week named as have any significance whatever to Christians. The second day of the week, third day, etc., are never even mentioned.
Some today believe that they should have the Lord's Supper on the Jewish Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. The Sabbath day is sometimes mentioned after Jesus' death and resurrection, but only in connection with meetings of Jews, never in connection with meetings initiated by Christians or events of special significance to Christians. The gospel tells us that the seventh-day Sabbath, along with all the Old Testament law, was removed when Jesus died on the cross (Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 10:1-10; 7:11-14; 8:6-13; 9:1-4; Galatians 3:24,25; 5:1-6; Romans 7:1-7).
Some important events may have happened on other days, but no special significance is ever attached to any other day. The day of the week is never named for other events. Why all this emphasis on the first day, unless there is something special and significant about it?
So our study of other passages has turned up nothing to indicate the taking of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week in Acts 20:7 was just optional or coincidental. And no passage gives authority for having it any other day of the week.
In fact our study of other passages simply confirms the importance of the first day of the week. Considering these other passages, we are not surprised to see the disciples breaking bread on the first day of the week. We would be surprised to see it on any other day of the week.
The only day that has special significance for Christians is the first day of the week, and that is the only day on which we find Christians partaking of the Lord's Supper.
Consider what we have learned in this study:
1) We must have Bible authority for all we do, and we must refuse to do that for which we have no Bible authority.
2) God's authority is revealed to us by examples and necessary inferences, as well as by commands.
3) God has always revealed the time and frequency for observing His special memorials and feasts.
4) The Lord's Supper was eaten when the church was assembled.
5) Disciples assembled and had the Lord's Supper regularly.
6) Many major events in New Testament history occurred on the first day of the week.
7) Several passages mention Christians assembling on the first day of the week.
8) Christians were commanded to give regularly on the first day of the week.
9) The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread.
10) The New Testament attaches no significance to any other day of the week, nor is there any indication the Lord's Supper was eaten on any other day.
Conclusion: Bible authority teaches us to have the Lord's Supper on each first day of the week. To have it any other day is to act without God's authority. It follows that faithful local churches should arrange assemblies each first day of the week to provide the Lord's Supper. And faithful Christians must be diligent to attend each first day of the week so they can participate.
What about the church you attend? Does it have the Lord's Supper each first day of the week? And how diligent are you in participating?
Copyright 1999, 2012,David E. Pratte; www.gospelway.com
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The Church and Worship
Importance of Attending Church Meetings
Attendance, Unity, Fellowship, & Service
Observance of Religious Holy Days
Should We Keep the Old Testament and the Sabbath Today?
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
What Does God Think about Denominationalism?
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
How Many True Churches Are There?
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church?
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.