[The following post is part two on this topic. To see the first post, click here.]
In beginning part two on this subject, I’ll first say that (a) the topic exposes that clearly these posts are primarily directed toward Baptist or non-denominational Christians, and (b) obviously many of these suggestions are found in other church traditions (as discussed in the previous post). However, as I’ll explain in the section below, I feel justified in discussing Catholic theology in particular.
2. The Lord’s Supper: frequency, theology, and passion
Sadly, the Protestant heart for the Lord’s Supper seemingly continues to deteriorate. We see this both in church practices and also in many believers’ approach or attitude about the Lord’s Supper. In church practice, this deterioration is seen in the congregation celebrating the Lord’s Supper monthly or quarterly. In individuals, this reality is seen in some sort of dismissal (e.g., a Baptist with a memorial view saying, “it’s only symbolic, so how often we practice this doesn’t matter”) or a mode of celebration that likely shows less reverence toward the Eucharist (e.g., celebrating the Supper at home with something like Gatorade and a chip as substitutes for the elements).
Lots of Protestant congregations only sparingly celebrate the Eucharist. The following overview of various denominations’ practices is largely based on some quick Google searches, which I would think are at least somewhat accurate (but I’m open to correction). So, how often do church members in various traditions partake in the Lord’s Supper?
- Presbyterian/Reformed churches: most often monthly or quarterly
- Lutheran churches: mostly weekly, but some less often
- Southern Baptist churches: mostly quarterly
- Methodist churches: typically either monthly or weekly
- Anglican churches: weekly
- Pentecostal churches: varies widely? (less certain search results)
- Non-denominational churches: typically quarterly or monthly
The subject of the Lord’s Supper is the first of multiple suggestions that essentially point out that Catholicism can help us better think through our own theology even if we disagree with a given Roman Catholic position. I briefly hinted at this in the first post with a differentiation between the Catholic approach to tradition and the Protestant approach as seen in the Reformation (while articulating how lots of Protestants today don’t approach tradition and church history like the Reformers did).
Scripture does not explicitly dictate the frequency at which we partake in the Lord’s Supper. Even 1 Cor. 11:25-26 is not clear—how often is “as often as you drink it”? Thus, the point here is not that churches must institute the practice of weekly communion, but rather that the Catholic emphasis on weekly communion and the sacrament’s significance should make us consider the practice more deeply. For icing on the cake, we can add what we received in the Reformation as the Reformers sought to reclaim a proper practice of the Lord’s Supper, such as believers receiving both the bread and the wine. The Reformers did not hold up the authority and the preaching of God’s word and thus diminish the Lord’s Supper. They cared lots about the Eucharist and even fought between each other on the issue (e.g., see Calvin responding to Zwingli and others in the Institutes).
Infrequently partaking in the Lord’s Supper does not always reflect an unhealthy and diminishing take on the practice. But Protestants do often have a theology in famine when it comes to this subject. For us Baptists or non-denominational believers, we might all do well to read Michael Haykin’s new Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands: Recovering Sacrament in the Baptist Tradition, from which I am excited to learn. If our only response to this subject is, “well, the Bible is unclear so we have free choice,” are we really taking seriously enough the depth of the practice? Calvin, influenced deeply by the Church Fathers, talks about how it is in the sacraments that God condescends to us in grace and sustains us in our weakness. Do we feel that way? Even if you take a memorial view—that the Lord’s Supper is merely a sign and symbol—an attitude of “frequency isn’t important because it’s just symbolic” (which I’ve heard a Baptist say) doesn’t seem to demonstrate the seriousness that the New Testament has about communion. (Hopefully I’ll write a post soon defending the Reformed/spiritual presence view of the Lord’s Supper.)
I don’t think transubstantiation (the Catholic position on the elements) is biblical. But I do think that the Catholic focus on the Eucharist can pull us back to retrieve a passion for the Lord’s Supper in our own churches. You probably disagree with Aquinas on this: “It is absolutely necessary to confess according to Catholic faith that the entire Christ is in this sacrament” (Q. 76, Art. 1). I disagree. But let’s at least consider the heart of his fellow Catholic, Ignatius of Loyola (16th century), here: “One of the most admirable effects of Holy Communion is to preserve the soul from sin, and to help those who fall through weakness to rise again. It is much more profitable, then, to approach this divine Sacrament with love, respect, and confidence, than to remain away through an excess of fear and scrupulosity” (quote found online).
The Lord’s Supper: the new covenant Passover meal, the pointer to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the glorious meal of the saints. Let’s enjoy together, partake frequently in remembrance of Jesus, and offer thanksgiving to God.