Weekly, quarterly, or yearly? There’s no consensus among churches. Even asking artificial intelligence to scour online resources cannot give a clear answer. So, are we left to decide for ourselves how often to take communion?
Regarding the Lord’s Supper, otherwise known as communion, the Bible says:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.1 Corinthians 11:26
See? The Bible says we are to do this often. How often?
The Lord’s Supper is something Christians have been doing since the first century. It’s simple in element and process, but profound in concept. According to the New Testament, Jesus took unleavened bread and fruit of the vine and gave it to His disciples. He told them to eat and drink in remembrance of Him. Christians examine themselves and proclaim Jesus’ death in this simple meal. It’s so simple that some people even hesitate to call it a “meal;” however, the Bible has no problem with that terminology. Communion is done by eating and drinking simple food elements—the Bible gives no indication of how long the process should take. It can be done in a matter of minutes, or more reflective occasions may call for a half hour or longer. But does the Bible say anything about how often it should be done?
Most churches do take the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis. Some do it weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, some yearly, and others do it simply when they think the occasion calls for it. Which, if any of these, is correct? Just for the fun of it and to ensure I’m looking at this from all angles, I even went to artificial intelligence (ChatGPT) to scour all online resources to find the answer of how often churches should take communion. It said: “The decision on how often to take communion is typically made by the leaders of the church or denomination.” Based on this and the behavior of the different churches, it seems reasonable to conclude the Bible has nothing to say on the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. Right?
We’re going to study the Bible in this lesson to answer this question with confidence. And stay with me, because we have to make a few small points first before making the big ones. Stick around to the end, because in answering this question, we will raise another important question that threatened to destroy some Christians’ relationship with God, and you’ll want to ensure it doesn’t happen to you.
After the resurrection of Jesus, the first day of the week (Sunday) became significant to His disciples. The tomb was found empty on the first day of the week. Jesus’ first resurrection appearances were on the first day of the week. Although Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of forty days (according to Acts 1:3), every time He appeared after His resurrection, and a specific day is given in the Scriptures, it always says it was on Sunday. The first time the apostles taught about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was on—you guessed it—the first day of the week (specifically, it was the day of Pentecost; compare Acts 2 with Leviticus 23:15–16). And it was on this day (Sunday) that the disciples customarily gathered together (as seen in Acts 20:7). All this to show that Sunday was a big deal to the apostles and first century church. Because Sunday was so significant to them, many have concluded that the early disciples began referring to the first day of the week as “the Lord’s Day” (see Revelation 1:10).
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he could safely assume that the church assembled each first day of the week. He said:
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 each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.1 Corinthians 16:1–2 NASB
Not only was it the Corinthian church’s custom to gather on the first day of each week, but it was also the custom of “the churches of Galatia.” And not only was it a custom, it was something that the apostles had directly taught the Christians they must do. And Paul had warned the same congregation:
If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.1 Corinthians 14:37
The things we are studying in this lesson are not about traditions and opinions, or even artificial intelligence. Rather, these are the teachings of the Lord. Paul had “received from the Lord” his instructions on the Lord’s Supper. When we study the Scriptures, we’re studying God’s word. What that means for you and me is if we learn something from Scripture that goes against our current understanding or practice, what should change—the Scriptures or us? We know the right answer. And this is hard for most of us, because it is comfortable to keep believing and doing what we’ve always done. But every good Bible student must be willing to be challenged and changed by the word of God.
Why did the disciples gather each first day of the week? If their purpose was anything like the Troas church’s purpose (and it was), then it was “to break bread.”
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.Acts 20:7
This was a synecdoche—a way of simply saying a part for the whole. If I like someone’s car, I may say, “nice wheels.” Am I complimenting only the wheels? Of course not. I’m using a part for the whole. When the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper, He used unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. When the disciples in Troas gathered together to break bread, were they only using bread for Communion? Certainly they included the fruit of the vine too.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warns the Christians of the dangers of idolatry. With that warning, he explains that the Christian’s drinking of the cup and eating of the bread is a communion (or sharing) of the blood and body of Christ (vv. 14–17). In the next chapter, he expresses his disappointment in the church because they had turned the meal into an opportunity to serve themselves, instead of honoring the Lord and discerning His body.
Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.1 Corinthians 11:17
Ouch! What a stinging rebuke. Could you imagine the Lord saying that to your congregation? “You come together for the worse.” In other words, “Things would be better if you stayed home and didn’t assemble.” What does it take for Jesus to feel this way? Simply abuse the Lord’s Supper. Don’t listen to what the Lord has instructed regarding communion.
By defiling the meal, they had turned their assemblies as a strike against themselves. They were abusing each other and dividing, thus dishonoring the body and blood of Jesus. The apostle’s rebuke continues.
Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.1 Corinthians 11:20–21
Here’s another reminder that understanding the context of a passage is vital. We could take this first phrase and say, “See! We don’t assemble to take the Lord’s Supper!” But since we’re reading in context, we won’t be fooled that easily.
Paul once again safely assumes that the church was assembling regularly. But in order for their assemblies to be for the better (for edification of the body, remembrance of the Lord, and glorification of God) the disciples needed to repent. Sure, they were eating the bread and drinking the cup. But where were their hearts while doing so? By their attitudes and actions, the apostle said their assemblies were “not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” But—and this is key—their assemblies were supposed to be to eat the Lord’s Supper. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the text here implies that the reason the church in Corinth assembled every first day of the week was supposed to be for communion in the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.
How often should I eat the Lord’s Supper? Here’s the answer from the Holy Spirit: Every Sunday.
But be careful: the apostle’s instructions in this also come with a warning. As important as it is we get the elements and frequency correct, there is something deeper about the Lord’s Supper that if we get wrong, it could destroy our relationship with each other and God.
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.1 Corinthians 11:27–30
The disciple of Jesus who takes Scripture seriously will assemble with Christians every first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The elements will be unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, just as Jesus instructed. But he or she will also take special care to not just go through the motions. The disciples must do it in remembrance of Jesus (vv. 24 and 25), in a proclamation of His death (v. 26), in a worthy manner (v. 27), in self-examination (v. 28), and while discerning the body of Jesus (v. 29)—both the body on the cross and the body which is His church. Otherwise, the disciple risks not eating the Lord’s Supper, despite physically eating and drinking.
Some people have brought up the concern that taking the Lord’s Supper every Sunday (as opposed to monthly, quarterly, or yearly) could turn the action into a box-checking ritual, instead of a deeply devoted time of worship. This concern is legitimate, and the apostle Paul seemingly shared it. Those who want to please the Lord in His Supper will:
- Recognize that the weekly eating of the Lord’s Supper is mandated, despite our concerns. Therefore, just because we are afraid of the observance turning into a heartless ritual, we have no authority to change the frequency from weekly to anything else.
- As noted, the disciple of Jesus will examine himself or herself during the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup every week. To suggest we need to change the frequency because of our tendency to fall into mindless observation is to place the blame on the Lord, as opposed to the heart’s terrible and sinful propensity to treat His body and blood as commonplace. If we do that, we destroy the body of Christ—His church—and we eat and drink judgment to ourselves.
Given this fact, a new question is raised: In that case, why shouldn’t we partake more often? On the opposite extreme, there are those who are seemingly so devoted to the Lord and remembrance of His sacrifice that they suggest eating the Lord’s Supper more often than every first day of the week.
Although this suggestion or practice may come from the desire to honor the Lord (which is commendable), once again, we must recognize we do not have authority to eat the Lord’s Supper on any other day or less frequently than every Sunday. Has the group of people you worship with been partaking of the Lord’s Supper biblically in all three areas: element, frequency, and self-examination? If not, what are you going to do about that? It should be the disciple’s goal to do “all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). To go beyond (or take away from) what He has written, no matter how sincere I may be, is to do it in my own name. It’s not about tradition or preference. It’s about honoring the Lord as He said.
Of course, since we are constantly receiving “a kingdom which cannot be shaken,” we must always “show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28 NASB). In other words, we don’t reserve our worship and prayer for Sundays only. It is always appropriate to remember and be thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice. Not only is it appropriate; it is also expected (see Ephesians 5:20). The death and resurrection of Jesus is the most significant event in all history. The blood of His death and power of His resurrection impact eternity.
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8
Always be thankful for that demonstration of love. However, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, it was the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup they were to specifically do in remembrance of Him. And isn’t it beautiful that it’s a simple as it is? No need to erect a lavish building in his memory. No need to travel to the other side of the world. No need to say the most eloquent prayers. Just eat the bread and drink the cup. Following the instructions and examples of the Bible, the apostles, and the first-century church, we must eat the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and only Sunday. We will not exclude the poor or hungry. We will wait for each other. We will judge the body rightly. And we will not fall into the sin of blaming the Lord or His apostles for our difficulty in following His commandments, for “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).