Weekly (weakly?)

This quote is taken from James Gardner’s The Christians in New England:

All Christian Connection churches served communion as a part of their worship services; but many did so only a few times a year, or when a minister happened to be present; and almost none of them placed the emphasis which Campbell did on strict observance of the Lord’s Supper every week. (102)

For as long as I can remember, I have experienced the observance of the Lord’s Supper distantly. It has so rarely been the communion I want it to be. I have wondered if the thinking of Alexander Campbell and the vast majority of his spiritual descendants was askew on the point of weekly observance.

For the uninitiated … the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches (Independent), and Disciples of Christ have for their entire history been known for a few distinctives. Weekly communion is not exactly a distinctive, I suppose–the Romans and, presumably all the Orthodox churches do the same–but it is one hallmark of these groups collectively known as the American Restoration Movement (or, colloquially, as Campbellites). This weekly observance does not come out of thin air, but it’s a weak hermeneutic that has legislated weekliness. A few points:

  1. Jesus said, “As often as you do it, …” He did not say, as far as we know, “Do it each and every Sunday, and only on Sunday.” In fact, the founding of what we think of as communion was on the night He was betrayed–either Wed. or Thurs., depending on how you reckon things.
  2. Paul does imply a weekly gathering (although not a weekly collection) in 1 Cor. 16:1-2.
  3. Luke makes mention in Acts 20 of Paul’s having waited a week in order to meet with the church on the first day of the week. The text does not clearly specify communion with the phrase “break bread”; in fact, a glance back at 2:42 and 2:46 shows that the same phrase apparently refers to daily eatings-together.  Whatever the text means in 20:7, it may be significant that Paul waited around for a week to get to do it at Troas.
  4. Early church tradition, I’m told, strongly does imply that weekly communion was common.

The devil is in the details, I suppose. While it’s certainly a Jesus-honoring intent that seeks to remember Him formally on a weekly basis, the actuality has become, for me and at least some others, rather humdrum … and weak in its working-out.

I currently have the spiritual pleasure of being a part of a church that almost always sets up the Lord’s Supper thoughtfully through comments and/or sung worship or prayer. The Lawson Road Church does so much better than most. But the formality of the passing of the trays, and the general lack of familial communing “around the table” does hamper. It so often seems to be a ritualized observance that individuals are left to imbue individually, with personalized significance. Not that personal meditation is bad, but I’m persuaded that the communal “meal” was intended to be different.

What experiences have you had? Insights?

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