Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Frequency of the Lord’s Supper in the Early Irish Presbyterian Church

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

“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…” (Acts 2:46)

"Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread..." (Acts 20:7)

"Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper." (1 Cor. 11:20)

In J.S. Reid’s seminal “History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland”, he mentions the frequency of the Lord’s Supper amongst the early Irish Presbyterians (esp. those who were involved in the great Sixmilewater Revival of 1625), which is at variance with the common practice of partaking the Lord’s Supper merely twice a year.

Robert Blair of Bangor describes his arrangement with Robert Cunningham of Holywood: “[W]e also agreed to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper four times in each of our congregations annually, so that those in both parishes who were thriving in religion did communicate together on all these occasions.” (Vol. 1 p. 115) This means that the more godly had the Lord’s Supper 8 times a year.

John Livingston of Killinchy states a similar practice in his area: “[T]he communion… was celebrated twice in the year… We need not to have the communion oftener, for there were nine or ten parishes within the bounds of twenty miles or little more, wherein were godly and able ministers that kept a society together, and every one of these had the communion twice-a-year, at different times, and had two or three of the neighbouring ministers to help thereat, and most part of the religious people used to resort to the communions of the rest of the parishes.” (Vol. 1 p. 117) Let’s say that these people only went to the communions at which their own preachers ministered, that would mean that they had the Lord’s Supper between 6 and 8 times a year. The relation concerning 9 or 10 parishes probably indicates even greater frequency. (Picture is of John Livingston of Killinchy.)

It may be that the frequency of the Lord’s Supper then degenerated into the twice-yearly tradition of today. This tradition is maintained by the belief that we will get more out of it. (The "Communion Season" also makes the observance cumbersome and is not found in the Apostolic Church.) Which shall we benefit from more overall: a twice-yearly remembrance of Christ’s propitiation, or a more frequent celebration? Would we really become so indifferent?

Without being dogmatic about a weekly Lord’s Supper, which is nearer the NT model of Acts 2: the early Presbyterian model or the current tradition?

What a blessing it would be to come together regularly with other congregations to partake of the communion of the Lord’s Supper! Truly, this would be a blessed manifestation of the oneness of Christ’s body and the communion of the saints. No wonder these men experienced revival!

(For further study, see this article and this one on the OPC website, and this further article. See also Calvin's Institutes Book 4 Chapter 17 Sections 44 - 46. Phil has since mentioned the side-menu relating to the Lord's Supper on Eric Svendsen's blog. Regarding daily vs. weekly see this.)

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32 Comments:

Blogger Timothy said...

Yes, I always love that argument... we should only have communion every now and then so it doesn't lose it's meaning and signficance...

Well, if that is the case, let's just preach the word of God only once every month, so it will mean more. Or how about praying... let's apply the same principle to the means of grace in such a manner... let's only pray once or twice a year... wait, half the church is already practicing this...

My contention is that why would a pastor, if he were able, withhold this wonderful means of grace from his flock when he has every right from Scripture to bring it every Lord's day? But alas, I'm not able to...

In my church in Arkansas, I was able to... and no one complained of it losing its specialness by its frequent use. In fact, we foudn the opposite to be true... everyone looked forward to worship so much more because they knew they were feed on Christ by faith...

Sad that we pay more attention to our wretched music than we do to a command that the Lord has given us... "Do this..."

Obviously, you've touched one of my hot bottons.
Blessings

Saturday, May 27, 2006 8:28:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

BTW, can you think of a verse where it says" you shall preach the Word of God every Sunday???" I know we do... but can you think of one that clearly states that?

Saturday, May 27, 2006 8:29:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Tim, certainly you have Calvin's backing on your appeal for a weekly observance. Some people think that because Romanists partake of their pseudo-sacrament at every service, and modern Presbyterians don't, that it is being sacramentarian and Popish to desire a weekly observance. Historically, this is far from the case. The Papists had their Mass only once-a-year, and the Reformers called for a more frequent Communion, esp. Calvin, who called for a weekly observance in his Institutes.

Indeed there is an almost superstitious mysticism attached to the Sacrament by those who are more conservative about the Sacrament. It is a well-known problem with the Scottish Highland churches that many have not taken it as frequently as they could because they have a fear about eating and drinking judgment to themselves. What a sad situation! These poor people need some serious pastoral teaching on assurance.

It is this superstitious attitude toward the specialness of the Sacrament that causes many to be horrified at a frequent observance. Surely it the specialness of a focused meditation on Christ's work of salvation and a communion with him in it that should move our hearts to want it more!

Sometimes I wonder whether some of those who want it less frequently have a problem communing with Christ at the Supper.

Many also overdo the statement about "let a man examine himself". You don't need a Communion Season to do this; indeed, what is called for is to determine whether you have a right to the Sacrament, not an intense week-long introspection. (Self-examination is still an important exercise.) This gets in the way of more frequent observance.

I would strongly tend toward a weekly observance, but I haven't the exegetical confidence to be absolutely dogmatic about it. I would still only really be happy if we had it weekly, indeed I long for that! The arguments for a weekly observance are too strong. As you said, who would argue for only having preaching less than once-a-week?!

One of the great differences between the Lord's Supper and other ordinances is the use of wine, which has historically been very expensive for the common people. This has often been an impediment to weekly observance, but is that just a compromise to circumstances, or is it an argument that those who are dogmatic about a weekly observance go too far?

Sunday, May 28, 2006 2:15:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

P.S. You feel very strongly about having the Lord’s Supper once-a-week. Brother, do you feel as strongly as you should about the use of Psalms in worship? How are things progressing in this regard at Grace PCA? If Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 are part of your basis for singing hymns, then what about giving Psalms their proper place? Surely as you said, "Sad that we pay more attention to our wretched music than we do to a command that the Lord has given us... 'Do this...'" What about the command to sing Psalms?

Sunday, May 28, 2006 2:16:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

Timothy,
I agree with you completely on all that you have written. It is well thought out... as for the Psalm, I must confess that I don't feel as strongly about them as I should. I agree with you completely that we probably need to consider this as well... but I've been told there are some elders who want a moratorium on change, since I've brought so much change since my arrival...

For now, I will have to wait a while before I address anything that might be a change to our worship service...

By the way, have you ever heard a decent argument on the subject of using written prayers in worship? I have been told that Calvin advocated it... but I've never found anything at all that he wrote on the subject.

Sunday, May 28, 2006 5:36:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Regarding the use of Psalms, one would think that was hardly a controversial point. If you were advocating Exclusive Psalmody, then that would be a radical change, but who would disagree with actually singing Psalms? (Unless my trips to Grace were atypical.) I would think several of your elders would be very much for it (on both sides of some other issues).

With regards to the Lord's Supper, you are actually getting to celebrate it monthly. With regards to Psalms, you don't seem to be singing any at all. Dear brother, how can you wait to be obedient to God, when there should be no disagreement in this area?

It seems that you're more concerned about written prayers, which aren't even mentioned in Scripture, than something which is abundantly clear and is commanded. If I am misunderstanding you, then please do tell me.

Sunday, May 28, 2006 6:27:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

Timothy
The written prayer is more of a curiousity...
As for singing the psalm, we've talked about it but haven't done it. I'm not sure they are willing to commit to it...
As for communion, it's once every 2 months....

Monday, May 29, 2006 3:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Elisa said...

hI do believe that the argument concerning the Lord's Prayer, Confessions, and Communion becoming rote is a high fallacy and an excuse for not doing that which we ought to be doing. If the preached word of God has its proper, respected place, that whole matter is addressed from the pulpit. Other than that, it is a spiritual problem with those members of which it has become rote. The elders and pastor then must take up their duty and address those people. There may be a sin issue or spiritual issue that is laying there festering.

I think singing from the Psalter would be wonderful. I like that we read them corporately during worship, but singing them would add more emotion and feeling to it. Sometimes corporate reading is more like reading from an instruction manual rather than speaking truth back to the Lord.

We sang the Psalms in Jackson, Tennessee and it was great. I had a little trouble since they only had the Psalms written and not the music, for I am new to many of the hymns and did not know them.

I also like singing hymns. Though, I do not like the praise music we are singing. Do they truly praise God, or the man writing them? I find that many of them are focused on the self, not God. They are more love songs where I can take out Jesus' name and put in my husband's and have a hallmark card, most being musically inept. Singing the Psalter rather than those praise songs would be a blessing and a more true, more God-centered worship and praise.

Monday, May 29, 2006 4:44:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Tim,

Glad to hear you are looking at introducing Psalms. I'm surprised that the more Reformed of your elders aren't pursuing this more.

I'm not opposed to using written prayers per se, as long as it is occasional and doesn't get in the way of ex tempore prayer. We often use the Lord's Prayer in our family worship, as I do in my private worship. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer and some of Doug Wilson's prayers in his book, "Exhortations", have some great prayers in them.

Some people have a prejudice toward written prayers as if we were going to start introducing episcopacy or it were the slippery road to Rome! You have to remember that historically we non-conformists were being commanded to use other people's prayers. If you choose to use them occasionally yourself, then fine.

By the way, are you aware that Knox was involved in the second edition of the Book of Common Prayer?

I didn't realise you were only getting the Lord's Supper every 2 months. I thought it was monthly. If you were used to weekly it must be some change.

Monday, May 29, 2006 5:44:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

Tim,
Yes, out of fear of being too much like being Rome, or causing the service to be too long... we only have it once every two months. My point is that since it is a means of grace, why do we only have it once every two months? But... since the Scripture doesn't specifically say... they are happy with that...

Elisa says she feels like she has been excommunicated...

Jesus told Peter, "Feed my sheep." I would think that would include not only the preached word, but communion as well...

Monday, May 29, 2006 7:34:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

Anotehr thought is that if they could give us a good biblical reason for only having it once every two months, then I could accept it... but their reasons are, "That's the way we've always done it," even though it isn't. And becuase of a fear of becoming rote... which must be the 11th Commandment... Thou shalt not become rote...
Missed that one in the Decalouge...

Monday, May 29, 2006 7:36:00 pm  
Blogger Philip S Taylor said...

Coming from a Baptist and Brethren background in Northern Ireland I am well used to a weekly communion. In fact, in the Gospel Hall (Brethren) I attended the Lord's Day morning service was actually called "The Breaking of the Bread" as opposed to "Worship Service". I loved it. I am now in a PCI church and we celebrate it about 6 times a year. It is one of the things that is making me contemplate resigning membership with that group of Christians. (Tim ... I know you will pounce on that but note I said 'one' of the things:-)

There are dangers we weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper. But these dangers are not inherent to a weekly celebration, they just show up more if pastoral care is not taken when thinking through how, when, why etc.

Tim, how often does Trinity celebrate it? I would have thought that you Christ centred group of believers at Trinity would be all for weekly or even monthly celebration.

Monday, May 29, 2006 7:59:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Phil,

I'm sure that you'll think through the issue of your current membership carefully. Any Reformed Baptist fellowships around? How about Greenisland?

As for Trinity, we're only celebrating it on a quarterly basis. This is seen as 'radical' in the RPCI! The RPCI Testimony says the following:

"There is no express biblical direction for the frequency with which the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is to be observed."

I wouldn't be surprised if there are quite a few who would like to see it more often and even weekly, but old traditions die hard! (That's really Reformed, isn't it!)

You're also up against the old "it will lose it's specialness" plus "That's Popish, that is!"

All you can do is sow the seed and hope that over time the rising generation, who are less traditionalist, will take it on board.

But you know ol' Tim Davis - he's a nut that boy!

Any RPs like to express their thoughts?

Monday, May 29, 2006 8:17:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Elisa,

Although, like I said, I use the Lord's Prayer in worship, it is primarily a model prayer to teach us how to pray: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1) This should be remembered.

I'm not convinced of the arguments that there should be a joint confession by the congregation. Where do we find this in Scripture? The nearest I can see is the Lord's Prayer. Maybe there is a place for the pastor saying, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us," or whatever, but I think anything else would be adding to the worship elements as God has given us.

We are to confess our sins to God certainly (1 John 1:9), but this would seem to be at an individual level. As soon as we are convicted of sin we should confess it to God (and to others where necessary - James 5:16).

Where sin is committed by another moral/ legal body, such as a government, nation or church, then it is appropriate that it should be done at that level, as we see throughout the Old Testament. Such national confessions occured throughout the Puritan era.

As for soppy hymns, obviously I'm an Exclusive Psalmist, but if I were convinced that Scripture gave us warrant to use uninspired songs in worship, then I would get sick of those sorts of songs very quick. It reminds me of someone eating sweets at all their meals. Even if you believe in man-made hymns, surely you'd want to model your songs on the example of Scripture? Where do you see these "love songs", apart from the Song of Solomon? (Which I don't believe is speaking of Christ, as some do.)

Man-made hymns are subject to man's corruption and man's bias. Look at all the themes of the Psalms. Are they covered in our man-made hymn-books?

Monday, May 29, 2006 8:30:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Phil,

One last thing, the main point of this post is to show that our Presbyterian forefathers celebrated it more frequently than us, so Presbyterians shouldn't think it un-Presbyterian to have it frequently. Sadly you have to break-down modern traditions with older traditions, to remove the weeds of prejudice before you can sow the seed of God's Word.

"Reformed Presbyterian" - sometimes I wonder! On the positive side, I believe that in both Ireland and in the rest of the World the RP churches are reforming and moving forwards, without getting overcome by modern evangelicalism. Long may it continue!

All we need to do next is to convince people that it isn't being negligent in church discipline to allow Baptists into membership.

Monday, May 29, 2006 8:40:00 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

I remember when I was examining the whole exclusive psalmody issue, I began to realise how many hymns said things that I didn't agree with, or wasn't sure I agreed with! I began to sing less and less of the hymns. It was refreshing to know that when I sang a psalm, I was singing the word of God and could have full confidence in it. (This was only one of many considerations that led me to exclusive psalmody. Now I enjoy the better hymns as Christian poetry.)

Regarding the frequency of the Lord's Supper, I think one benefit of weekly celebration would be constantly keeping on top of our relationships with both God and man, as the Lord's Supper tends to make us examine our lives more closely.

Monday, May 29, 2006 9:11:00 pm  
Blogger Philip S Taylor said...

This thread is turning into a family affair I see. Greetings Mary. I hope you are keeping well. Keep that husband of your on a short leash with his crazy ideas :-)

Monday, May 29, 2006 9:22:00 pm  
Blogger Philip S Taylor said...

Actually, if you go to the website:

http://ntrminblog.blogspot.com/

and scroll down a little. On the right hand side there is a section called Notable Series. The first section contains all of the posts relating to the Lord's Supper.

Super stuff.

Monday, May 29, 2006 9:27:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Good resource, Phil!

Monday, May 29, 2006 10:02:00 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

Greetings back, Phil! I've been doing a lot better lately, praise God. :) I hope you're doing well also. We hope to have you guys over soon, now that things are better at our end.

Yes, I must keep a good eye on that Tim. You never know what he'll come up with next... ;)

God bless!
Mary

Monday, May 29, 2006 10:36:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen Steele said...

You called?

Well I think we're all agreed that we should have communion more often. Dromore & Ballyclabber have stepped it up to 6 times a year (& I think that even if you wanted to go weekly, the way to go would be gradually).

I haven't thought a /wile/ lot about the issue, but I have always had a 'healthy suspicion' (in my view!) of weekliers, out of tradition probably (imagine what I'll be like when I'm any age!) but the 'don't do it too often' argument has always been in there too.

But just looking at the texts - because that's what we should be worrying about. On first glance (& I'll likely be shot down as you're probably all big Greek expers) I do have a few questions:

Acts 2:42-47
v 45 seems to be saying they did it every day - none of yous up for that?!
And look at 42-47 in context - none of that is normative Christian living. Wonders & signs, everybody together and having all things in common!! That's a passage people try to use to prove communism!

Acts 20:7
It's not necessarily saying they broke bread every week, is it? It's just describing what they were doing when Paul talked to them?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 2:01:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

What! Davey and Warren have upped it to 6 times! Those dirty, rotten modernisers! Grrr!

I agree with the gradual approach, unless you can make the big leap without causing division. Such radical changes should be taken with great care and thought, but not left off so that we never implement them. Having it less frequently is better than having congregations smashed to pieces.

Here are my thoughts on these texts:

Acts 2:42
All this text seems to be saying is that twice-a-year doesn't seem to sound like what they were doing.

Acts 2:46
Again, I think this is saying the same thing. I think that the "daily" refers to the assembly in the Temple. It may be that at this exciting point of history they did meet together for the Lord's Supper on a daily basis. Afterall, it wasn't normal to meet together on a daily basis in the Temple!

Acts 20:7
I have thought in the past that the interpretation that you gave could be equally plausible, but the more I study the passage, the more I think it is saying more.

The passage seems to be saying that they specifically came together on the first day (lit. "one of the sabbaths") to break bread. Why not say that they came together to worship? Is it just an off-the-cuff statement that they happened to be having their bi-monthly Lord's Supper celebration? The other interpretation doesn't adequately explain why the verse is phrased the way it is.

An alternative explanation is that they may have assembled as smaller assemblies on other Sabbaths, but on occasional Sabbaths ("one of the Sabbaths") they came together as a super-assembly to have the Lord's Supper. (See also 1 Cor. 11:20 below.)

I don't think that a weekly observance is conclusive, but I think that the evidence strongly inclines towards that view. Where do we get our practice for performing the other ordinances on a weekly basis?

What I would say is that the twice-yearly celebration doesn't resonate with the texts.

I would also add 1 Cor. 11:20 for your consideration: "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper."

Thanks for your input. The purpose of this blog is not for me to pontificate, but to be mutually "sharpened" and "edified".

(I've been off sick with a bacterial infection, in case you're wondering how I can be so verbose at this time of the day!)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 3:02:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Regarding daily vs. weekly, and the practice of the Early Church see this.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 3:36:00 pm  
Blogger Philip S Taylor said...

Healthy suspicion of weekliers??? What planet do you come from? What is your suspicion? Lets see if it is really healthy.

I am with the learned Timothius on this one. Weekly seems to resonate with the scripture. The joy and wonder of meeting with the Lord in a special way, focusing on his death and looking forward to His return in power and judgement should be something we do more often as we meet corporately.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 5:05:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Phil,

Don't you realise that Steve is concerned about the health implications of taking Communion on a weekly basis? I was always suspicious of you - it's those shifty eyes! Now I know what it is: too much communion bread. It really can't be healthy!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 6:10:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

In relation to the Greek "εν δε τη μια των σαββατων", although it literally means "on And the one of the Sabbaths", Gordon Keddie points out that it should be translated "On the first in relation to the Jewish Sabbath", i.e. the first day of the week. He quotes Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19; and 1 Cor. 16:2 as support.

The definitive lexicon, Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich also agrees with this interpretation. (Calvin still thought it was "one of the Sabbaths", even though he knew of the alternative translation.)

This a good example of "dynamic equivalance" where the literal rendering of the Greek isn't given.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 5:50:00 pm  
Blogger C G said...

Ah … that old chestnut … the Independents at the Westminster Assembly appear to have practiced it weekly, in accordance with NT pattern …

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 7:19:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Crawford,

You say "appear to". Are you sure and what is your evidence? (Just interested.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 9:29:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

To all "weekliests":

Are you dogmatic about it being weekly and if so, how do you justify the dogmatism?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 9:30:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

Well, Acts 2:42 is the best proof text for it, although we all agree it doesn't specifically say so.

But also, does it ever say to preach the word every Lord's day? Or sing psalms every Lord's day??? Yet we know in our hearts that this is right.

and since this is feeding on Christ, a means of grace, why would we withhold this from our congregations...

Look, we can build all our cases we want, but in the end, we must admit that the Spirit has to convince us in our own hearts of the necessity of weekly Communion, just as the Spirit had to do the same for infant baptism, and things like the Trinity (although the Trinity is attested to by far more Scripture than baptism and communion.) I wish there were one clear verse that nailed it... but alas...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 9:57:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen Steele said...

Regarding preaching and all being weekly, is a big part of that not just the similarity between the weekly synagogue worship & our worship sevice as Christians?

Friday, June 02, 2006 1:49:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Before there was such a thing as a synagogue, God declared in the OT that the people of God should assemble for worship, e.g. "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings." (Lev. 23:3)

The various elements of the worship that take place when the people of God come together is discerned from various passages throughout the Bible. It is true that our worship is more similar to the synagogue worship than the Temple worship and developed out of it, but ultimately it is God's Word that tells us the elements of worship, esp. the passages under discussion. (See RPCI Testimony for various references to the elements of worship.)

No where are we told to follow the synagogue worship. Indeed the sacraments obviously aren't found in synagogue worship, nor are elements of our Church government found in the synagogue either, e.g. deacons.

Behold the thinking of a fallible man! All corrections of said fallibilities gratefully received.

Friday, June 02, 2006 9:46:00 pm  

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