I was told that Communion must be taken every Sunday, only on Sunday, and only at church. They said it was a sin to do otherwise because this is what the Bible teaches. Is this true?
There are no specific verses in Scripture that COMMAND or explicitly instruct that Communion be taken EVERY Sunday, ONLY on Sunday or only at Church.
That we ARE to partake regularly of the Lord’s Supper until He returns is not optional (1Cor 11:23-26). That God has clearly set out some sort of special day for it, frequency or location is another matter altogether.
The Church of Christ is the most well known church group to hold and teach this view you describe. It comes primarily from this verse:
Acts 20:7 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. (NKJV)
Taking this verse, a hermeneutic (a method of interpreting Scripture) is applied that is referred to in the Church of Christ as “command, example or clear inference”.
First, let me say this: there is NOTHING wrong with taking the Lord’s Supper every Sunday or at the church service. The question is, does this frequency and location become a matter of doctrine supported by clear Bible teaching and thus a “sin” if not adhered to?
That is where I believe this view goes astray and exposes the multitude of weaknesses that come into light regarding this peculiar (and concerning) method of Bible interpretation (“command, example, or clear inference”).
There is NO COMMAND in Scripture relating to frequency, day or location concerning Communion; if there was, it wouldn’t be a question in the first place.
Using the idea of “example” or PATTERN, as it is often referred to, we do find in Acts 20:7 an EXAMPLE of the day, and an inference of the frequency:
- The first day of the week; Sunday, the Lord’s Day
- And it is clearly implied this was a continual practice.
Fair enough, but who gets to decide WHICH examples we follow, and WHAT inferences are binding? Consider the other examples and inferences in the same passage:
- Should it be only when a church leader is ready to depart somewhere? v.7
- Must it include a spoken message every time? v.7
- By example, the message must continue until after midnight. v.7
- Should the room we are in have windows, with people seated in them? v. 8
- It should occur in an upper room, lit with many lamps. v.8
- The eating of the supper should occur on MONDAY. v.11
Looking at Mark 14:17-26:
- Are we supposed to sing a hymn afterwards every time? v.26
- Should we go outside to a hill or mountain, or can we only do it when the Mount of Olives is close enough for us to visit? v. 26
From Matthew 26:26-27:
- Are we to drink from a shared cup? (which some churches do teach)
- Should we, by example, all be seated at a dinner table?
- Should we be celebrating Passover?
“That’s absurd!” some would say. Of course it is, and such are the problems with a interpretative method like “command, example, plain inference”. You are left with deciding WHICH examples, and declaring what constitutes a “clear inference”.
When it comes to Scripture, you can, and should, only be dogmatic where Scripture is dogmatic. There are several COMMANDS about Communion but none involve frequency, special day of observance, location or how many cups:
- Bread and wine are both necessary – Matt 26:27; 1Cor 11:26
- Self examination and the right attitude of mind is necessary when partaking – 1Cor 11:28-29
- Purifying of sin from one’s life is required – 1Cor 5:7-8
- We are to continue observing the Lords Supper until He returns – Matt 26:29; 1Cor 11:26
Notice that none of these commands are concerned with superficial externals, legalistic regulation or sacramentalism (a topic for another day).
These specifics of communion are clearly COMMANDED, not implied or “exampled”.
There is nothing wrong with taking examples from Scripture and using them to help guide us in the practice of our faith… but to make this method a way to develop DOCTRINE, and consequently label differing view or practice “sin”, is fraught with concern and danger.
Who decides WHICH examples are to be followed? By what measurement is something “clearly implied”? This opens up the door for legalism, denominationalism, Pharisaism and at it’s far end, cultism.
Frequency, location and logistics concerning Communion are a matter of liberty, not something God outlined like a Levitical procedure. To turn this into a matter of salvation, fellowship or sin is “religion”, not Christianity. It is a matter of conscience and liberty in the absence of a clear Biblical command or instruction.
Here are a couple other significant problems with this teaching:
- The Lord abolished the requirement of “special” days. To say that Communion can only be taken on Sunday certainly elevates that day to a “special” day when in fact for Christians, EVERY day is to be as holy, sanctified and dedicated to the Lord as Sunday is. (Romans 14:5). If the “First Day of the Week” was a special day, the only day communion could be observed, then Paul not only missed a great chance to inform us of this, but actually left the issue confused.
- Communion was instituted on a Wednesday or Thursday – Matt 26 and similar Gospel accounts
- Act 2:42-47 arguably indicates that the Lord’s Supper was being observed DAILY
- 1Cor 11:26 says “WHENEVER” or “AS OFTEN” Communion is observed, not “on Sunday when you observe it”.
- When these events were occurring, “the first day of the week” started at sundown on SATURDAY, making Saturday evening “permissible” but Sunday AFTER sundown would not be.
There are many “patterns” in Scripture such as the pattern of blood sacrifice, atonement or justification. These “patterns” are real, and are a great help in understanding Scripture.
However, when “patterns” are substantiated by selectively choosing examples or “clear inference”, then it becomes what has been called “patternistic legalism”….. in other words, creating binding doctrine and practice based on selective use of examples and inferences.
God forbid. Jesus freed us from such bondage.