Christianity was launched and set ablaze by the fire of Pentecost, and then sustained by the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit.
The book of Acts describes four major components of life together in the early church: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42)
And Acts 20:7 states, "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread."
Commenting on this passage, Ray Van Neste writes, "Paul, on his way to Jerusalem has stopped at Troas. Here 'on the first day of the week' he meets with the local church, and Luke directly states that the purpose of their gathering was 'to break bread,' i.e. to celebrate the Lord's Supper. This passage need not mean the Lord's Supper was the only purpose of their gathering, but it certainly is one prominent purpose and the one emphasized here. The centrality of communion to the weekly gathering is stated casually without explanation or defense, suggesting this practice was common among those Luke expected to read his account. These early Christians met weekly to celebrate the Lord's Supper."
But why would the early Church celebrate the Lord's Supper so frequently? They obviously didn't look at it the way many do today who say, "If we celebrate communion weekly, it will become less meaningful."
Stop and think about that assumption for a moment. Does preaching become less meaningful if you hear a biblical sermon every week? Or instead, does God's Word take on even more meaning in your life? What about prayer and fellowship?
In reality, the four components in Acts 2:42 become even more meaningful when believers joyfully and reverently engage in them often.
And since each component brings a blessing to God's people, it makes sense that many Christians over the past 2,000 years have included all four of them in weekly worship, just like the first Christians did in the book of Acts.
In fact, here are 4 reasons the early church celebrated the Lord's Supper every week:
1. Jesus Christ graciously instituted this holy meal for the benefit of His disciples, and Christians in the early Church were therefore grateful to celebrate it often.
The Lord's Supper never "got old" or lost its appeal in the early Church. Those believers were filled with the Holy Spirit as they met together for worship and thanksgiving, and they didn't take the Lord's Supper for granted.
They knew their sins were completely forgiven before, during, and after their participation in this meal. This assurance of salvation gave them confidence to celebrate the Lord's Supper for the right reason, as compared to those who go to communion without confident trust that their sins are already completely forgiven through faith in Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
2. Since the Lord's Supper is a meal for Christians, the early church was eager to celebrate their unity as fellow members of the body of Christ.
St. Paul wrote, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (1 Cor. 10:16,17)
3. Weekly communion helped the early Church stay focused on the cross, while maintaining a spirit of repentance and holy reverence for the Lord.
In our culture today, some churches downplay the message of the cross in favor of topics aimed at building self-esteem. But Christians need God's Word, which brings the conviction of sin and the comfort of the Gospel. Without a focus on the cross, worship becomes man-centered rather than Christ-centered. Frequent celebrations of the Lord's Supper help believers stay focused on the cross.
"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." (1 Cor. 11:26)
That's not to say those early believers always maintained a laser-like focus. Their "agape (love) feasts" which preceded communion were intended to be a time of food, fellowship, love, and respect. But judgmental attitudes and selfishness dominated those "potluck dinners" in Corinth, and this greatly offended the Lord (1 Cor. 11:17-34). It turned their subsequent participation in the Lord's Supper into a mockery.
The Lord's discipline in Corinth served as a vivid reminder that God's power was present and flowing whenever they gathered in the name of Christ. God disciplines and corrects His children when necessary because He loves us. And the Lord is pleased whenever Christians worship Him in repentance, faith, and mutual love for one another.
Believers must remember that our access to God comes only through the blood of Jesus, and to approach God flippantly or while deliberately sinning is a terrible idea.
The believers in Corinth were "guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord," (1 Cor. 11:27) and were therefore "judged by the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:32).
St. Paul wrote, "That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep." (1 Cor. 11:30)
In other words, some of them even died and went home to heaven.
But that shouldn't surprise us. After all, the Lord's Supper is not an empty ritual. It is a holy communion with a holy God who made a holy sacrifice for man's sin. And so we dare not approach the Lord's Supper with a heart that plans to engage in deliberate sin.
Hence St. Paul writes, "A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup" (1 Cor. 11:28).
This much-needed weekly soul-searching by believers is often overlooked today when considering how often to celebrate the Lord's Supper. In addition to remembering the Lord's death for our sins, communion is also a time for Christians to repent of any willful sins and unloving attitudes.
4. The early Church cherished the Lord's Supper as much as the apostles' teaching, fellowship, and prayer. (Acts 2:42)
If you compare it to athletics, the early Church did not place the Lord's Supper on the "JV" team. Communion was a first string player every week, just like the preaching and teaching of God's Word. Christians choose components for weekly worship which they perceive to be the most essential to Christian growth, discipleship, and reverent exaltation of the Lord.
I grew up in a church that celebrated the Lord's Supper twice a month. In recent years, I have come to see how a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper provides tremendous strength and spiritual stability for God's people. And so the congregation I have been serving since it was planted 8 years ago now celebrates the Lord's Supper every Sunday. Weekly communion has been our practice for the past several years.
That's not to say it is sinful for churches to celebrate the Lord's Supper less frequently. As long as it is being done with reverence, a Christian congregation is free to decide how often to celebrate communion. Needless to say, the frequency varies greatly among churches.
Obviously, there are logistical issues with weekly communion if your congregation is huge. Perhaps this is one reason why the early Christians never set out to establish "megachurches." Instead, they wanted every Christian to receive "mega power" from the Lord, which is a very different proposition than trying to grow an individual congregation into thousands of people.
New Testament worship focuses on building up the body of Christ rather than getting the largest number of worshippers under one roof. The meal Jesus instituted took place among an intimate group of disciples. The larger a church becomes, the less intimacy believers experience when gathering for weekly worship. That's just the nature of numbers and crowds.
As you consider how often to celebrate the Lord's Supper, try asking yourself this question: "Why do we sing songs of praise every week, and why do we have a message from God's Word every time we gather for worship?" And then prayerfully decide where the Lord's Supper fits in that equation. You and your church are free in Christ to structure your time together in ways that honor the Lord and feed His sheep (John 21:15-17).
Whatever your congregation decides in this regard, it is critical to emphasize "the message of the cross" (1 Cor. 1:18) every time you gather for worship. The sermon, the songs, and the Lord's Supper are all powerful ways to keep our eyes on Jesus and the tremendous sacrifice He made for our salvation.
Christ gave His disciples this instruction concerning the Lord's Supper: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). And when our hearts, minds, and bodies engage in something as beneficial as a biblical sermon and as tangible as the Lord's Supper, our faith in Christ and our lives of discipleship are deeply strengthened by the grace of God.
It's no wonder the early Christians were so eager to celebrate the Lord's Supper every week. It was just as essential to worship as the sermon. And their heartfelt desire to share together in weekly communion honored the Lord who gave His life on the cross for their eternal salvation.