The Frequency of Communion Calmly Considered

Editors’ Note: Weekly communion may be standard in Anglican churches, but it’s become a badge of honor in a growing number of Presbyterian and Baptist churches. Is this a good trend, and should other churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper every time they meet on Sunday? We solicited three perspectives to help you make up your mind. See also:


This essay maintains that none of the approaches to the question of frequency of communion (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually) are self-evidently the “right” one, given the fact that the New Testament does not directly address the frequency question. Dogmatism on the subject cannot, therefore, be warranted.

We cannot make direct appeal to the three Gospels, which record Jesus’ institution of this meal, for the Synoptics record no statement of Jesus bearing on the frequency question.

One might infer that the connection of this meal with the annual Passover, observed by Jesus with his disciples, implies that we should maintain an annual equivalent to that Passover. Is such an idea hinted at in 1 Corinthians 5:7? Not likely. Again, there is Paul’s own seeming elaboration of Jesus’ words given at 1 Corinthians 11:25-26: “Whenever you drink it.” But what frequency is that?

There is a third Scripture: Acts 20:7, which some claim records the Lord’s Supper as a weekly observance. It does say, “we came together to break bread.” Is not Acts 20:7 therefore a support for weekly communion? This will depend on the meaning of “break bread,” an idiom used more than 20 times in the NT (most notably in Acts 2:42 and 46). About this idiom, there are two concerns.

First, in the vast majority of its NT occurrences, the idiom refers to the sharing of food. It is used in describing Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitudes in Matthew 14:19. We see it in the account of Paul, eating with fellow survivors after shipwreck in Acts 27:35-36. In Acts 20, it appears twice: in verses 7 and 11. There is no compelling reason for concluding that “breaking of bread” means more than shared food in this episode. After all, a visit from the notable apostle Paul certainly provided an occasion for a shared meal. John Calvin, acknowledging this established meaning of “breaking of bread,” tried hard to sidestep that meaning here. After all, a congregation large enough to require “many lamps” (v. 8) and to require a listener to perch on a window ledge (v. 9) was too large to feed at church. Well, perhaps! There is no compelling reason to understand the Acts 2:42 and 46 references to the “breaking of bread” any differently. Especially verse 46 describes rounds of shared meals enjoyed house by house.

Second, we ought to ask more questions about the adequacy of the idiom “breaking of bread” for a ceremony consisting of two elements. In 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul is discussing the meaning of the broken bread and the cup of thanksgiving. Each represents a “fellowship” or “communion” with Christ (perhaps the “fellowship” referred to in Acts 2:42?). Why should the holy meal—instituted by Christ with bread and wine—be adequately referred to solely as “broken bread”? For example, in Acts 10:41, Peter speaks explicitly of being among those who “ate and drank with Jesus” after Easter.

In sum, Acts 20:7 provides no adequate basis for claims about weekly observance. It may not refer at all to the Holy Meal. In any case, it is a piece of narrative about a single place and single occasion.

Arguments from History

But wait,” some will say, “we have second-century witnesses reporting weekly communion meals.” This is true and yet not conclusive. The Didache and Justin Martyr’s First Apology indicate that weekly administration of the Lord’s Supper existed. But it is unwise to extrapolate from records of isolated places towards some supposed universal practice.

Are we content to rest in the statements of the NT? Thoughtful Protestants do not employ Patristic writings to establish matters about which the Scriptures themselves are reticent.

Ah, but Calvin favored weekly communion!” This appeal is made by a growing number who like to cite Calvin’s opinions as decisive. By 1559, Calvin favored “at least weekly” communion (his views had fluctuated somewhat earlier). He believed that this was an early church practice; yet his preference never prevailed in Geneva. But the vital questions for us are, “What scriptural basis did Calvin provide for his preferred view?” In the Institutes: Acts 2:42; in the Acts commentary: Acts 20:7. “Did Calvin’s contemporary co-Reformers agree with him?” Not especially. “Do the common doctrinal confessions of the Reformation era endorse Calvin’s view?” In a word, “no.”

Doctrinal and Pastoral Questions

Two basic concerns remain. First, what is the proper relationship between the preaching of the Word and the ceremonies Jesus instituted? Historically, Protestants have judged the proclamation of the Word to be absolutely essential to salvation, and the administration of the two ceremonies to be only relatively essential. We make the distinction not to disparage these ceremonies, but in light of such Scriptures as Luke 23:43 and 1 Corinthians 1:17. The Word of the gospel can stand alone; the ceremonies cannot because they “lean on” the Word and derive their meaning from it. Frequent communion is not, therefore, essential, even if we consider this desirable.

Second, Christians today increasingly compress the Lord’s Day into one hour. It was not so, formerly, when there were two gatherings: one chiefly focused on believers and another more focused on the not-yet believing. This state of affairs is now almost gone. Increasingly our single services are all-purpose. Calls for more frequent communion must thus balance distinct concerns:

  1. Does the Word remain central in our services, addressing both believers and unbelievers?
  2. Are the ceremonies that “lean on” the Word offered with suitable frequency?

An insistence on weekly communion both goes beyond the NT evidence and compels congregations—with multiple bona fide priorities—to attempt too much in that always more compressed hour of the Lord’s Day.

In sum, we honor the command of Jesus to remember him with bread and wine by a periodic observance tailored to local church realities.

For Further Reading

C. K. Barrett, Church, Ministry, and Sacraments in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), chap. 3.

John Calvin,Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1559 ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), IV. xvii. 43-44.

Arthur C. Cochrane, ed., Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966, reprinted 2003).

Didache Sections 9, 10, 14.

I. Howard Marshall, Last Supper and Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 155.

Justin Martyr, First Apology, chaps. xvi, xvii.

Tom Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, eds., The Lord’s Supper (Nashville: B&H, 2010).

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  • Stephen

    Acts 10:41 doesn’t even refer to the Last Supper, but to the natural fellowship Jesus enjoyed between the Resurrection and Ascension (this only helps your case).

  • Rick

    “An insistence on weekly communion both goes beyond the NT evidence and compels congregations—with multiple bona fide priorities—to attempt too much in that always more compressed hour of the Lord’s Day.”

    If the only critical aspect is:

    “The Word of the gospel can stand alone; the ceremonies cannot because they “lean on” the Word and derive their meaning from it. Frequent communion is not, therefore, essential, even if we consider this desirable.”,

    then there are a lot of things that need to be taken out of the service, and just have the person preach for an hour. No music, certainly no offering, and absolutely no announcements. I think communion is more important that most, if not all, of those, so I am sure we can squeeze in communion if we try.

    • John Carpenter

      Rick, Music in the service should proclaim the gospel. That’s what it is for; we worship through the gospel. The offering doesn’t have to take any time; we do it while some music is going on. The fact is that the author is right: the Lord’s Supper is meaningful only as explained by the Word.

      • Rick

        It absolutely should be proclaimed/explained, and that is party of its beauty.

        I find it funny that we want to make sure the offering gets fit it, but not communion.

        Why can’t communion be done during music?

        • John Carpenter

          Being able to plant a new church over the past four years, I’ve been able to reinvent everything unrestrained by mere tradition. There are pragmatic reasons to take the offering every week, although I’ve toyed with the idea of not doing so. In the end, I concluded that we needed to take it every week but while a special piece of music is being played, usually with singing; a “special” (not an instrumental “offertory”). The offering is very low key and the focus is on the song which is usually worshipful. To do that with the Lord’s Supper would be to denigrate it. The Lord’s Supper is so important that while it is being served the focus should be on it alone.

  • Dustin

    What are the theological implications of blending the ideas of “breaking bread” together? Could the “Lord’s Supper” actually include a more familial, informal ‘feast’ alongside it? Rather than distinguishing the two ideas into a forced duality, perhaps we may consider if the phrase is supposed to incorporate both nuances.

    • John Carpenter

      Some are dogmatic that not only must we have the Lord’s Supper every service but that we have to have it with a full meal. That Paul told those who couldn’t control themselves and refrain from over-eating, to have their main meal at home and then take the Lord’s Supper with the church (1 Cor. 11), suggests that the Lord’s Supper and the “breaking of bread” (the meal) were severable.

  • Ken Stewart

    Stephen: I agree with you that Acts 10.41 is probably not about the Lord’s Supper. For the purposes of my argument it simply illustrates how natural it was to name both food and drink as characterizing a meal with Jesus.

    Rick: Careful attention to what I said will illustrate that I was not suggesting that our services consist only of the Word. I was maintaining simply that in the interplay between Proclamation and ceremony, one is primary and indispensable while the other is auxilary and less essential. Any decent systematic theology will elaborate this relationship. Of course Christian worship will contain a number of things referred to in the Scripture including prayer, song, giving etc.

    • Rick

      It appears we have a different opinion on its importance, and what it communicates. One of its strengths is that it is proclaiming the Word as well.

      As Ray Van Neste stated:

      “…could we not benefit from a move to a regular use of the Christ-ordained means for reminding us of the cross? If we want to be gospel-centered why not make the Christ-ordained portrayal of the gospel a centerpiece in our weekly worship? In an increasingly “visual” age might we not benefit from regular use of the visible, tangible portrayal given to us by Christ? In a day seemingly interested merely in Our Best Life Now, do we not regularly need the Christ-ordained means of reminding us of the Lord’s return and the wedding feast of the Lamb?”

      I agree with him.

      You stated in your follow-up comment: “Of course Christian worship will contain a number of things referred to in the Scripture including prayer, song, giving etc.”

      Are you saying that song and giving are seen, in Scripture, as more part of the service than communion?

      • John Carpenter

        Are you Rick Owen, of that Shepherd’s church in the Nashville area?

        • Rick

          No I am not. Sorry.

      • paul

        Hey Rick,

        As a reformed church, we receive the gospel primarily through HEARING the articulated gospel, (which Apt Paul explains in Galatians). It is the knowledge of Christ and the cross that saves and this is the centrality of our faith.

        I think the author is just stressing what is essential and what is non-essential, although the communion ceremonies can be a very powerful supplement to the preaching of the gospel.

        While communion is beneficial, it is harmful when we lift it above the simple foolishness of the gospel message that saves.

  • John Carpenter

    I think this is an excellent, mature article. That’s to Dr. Steward for writing it and the Gospel Coalition for posting it.

    I especially like, “The Word of the gospel can stand alone; the ceremonies cannot because they “lean on” the Word and derive their meaning from it.” While weekly communion is an option for an evangelical church, if that principle about the Word is not understood, there is the danger of sliding into sacramentalism.

  • Ken Stewart

    Of course I am not saying that giving and song are more important that communion. This is your gloss on my statement. The question of how the various component parts of worship are arranged and the proportion given to them and their frequency are all under the direction of the the church. All I am maintaining is the the Word of God, read and proclaimed, must be absolutely central inasmuch as it nourishes all other elements of the service. As for the Communion, its whole meaning is dependent on the words of institution given to us by Christ and Paul.

  • Melody

    Where did the “ceremony” of passing a basket come from? I have been to a church that has boxes on the wall for people to drop money in and I have sat through the “ceremony” of the basket. It doesn’t matter if someone is singing a song at the same time. I didn’t see anyone worshiping. It’s just something people get through.

  • Don Raymond

    I wonder why the reticence to sit in quietness in the remembrance of the Lord, which there is direction, and supplant that with Sermonizing , which the NT does not directly identify , at least in the manner that it is done in the modern “churches”


  • Jason

    I would not be dogmatic about frequency of observance, although my church observes the LS weekly (but not in a “sacramentalist” attitude). The author’s observations about the relative weakness of scriptural arguments for frequency is a point well-made. With that said, the only part of this article that gave me any real trouble was the statement that churches leave the LS out of their weekly gatherings because of other, “bona fide priorites”. Seeing this was one of only two ritual observances commanded by Christ (saying of the LS “do THIS in remembrance of me”), I am troubled that it may be pushed aside by any local church as less of a priority than, say, taking up a collection. Or, perhaps I misunderstood the point. While I certainly agree the articulation of the gospel is THE ultimate priority, I would like to know: What are the other “bona fide priorities” to which the author is making reference?

    • John Carpenter

      It’s mistaken to think simply because we don’t do something weekly, it’s not a priority. My wife and I don’t celebrate our anniversary every Saturday — the day of the week we got married — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a priority.

      You’re right that some have neglected the Lord’s Supper because they don’t seem to understand how important it is. I cringe at those who come for the preaching and then leave just before the Lord’s Supper because they think they have something more important to do with their time. This is a major concern in some fundamentalist circles. But I don’t see that the solution is to have them do it every week. It’s to get them to see, as you say, it was commanded by Christ Himself as the way to remember His sacrifice.

      • Jason

        John, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that because the LS is not observed weekly means it’s not a priority or that a church doesn’t have a high view of the LS if it observes it less often than weekly. In truth, a weekly observance can just as easily foster a low view of the LS if it becomes rote and merely habitual. I’ve seen it.

        My concern was that the author used the term “bona fide priorities” to refer to things that might take precedence over observing the LS because of our modern time-constraints (one hour worship). The comment was that “insisting” on observing the LS weekly would be “too much” to squeeze into a one-hour worship schedule. I understand this conversation could become much larger than this simple issue, but I wanted some clarity about what the author’s “bona fide priorities” of a Sunday church gathering might be and why the LS wouldn’t make the cut. I wish he had spelled that out a little more clearly.

  • Jason

    I hope the author would admit that weekly observance is not inherently an elevation of the act over its relative importance. He seems to be against “insistence” upon weekly observance as normative for every church.

  • Jim

    The Continental Reformers had a high view of both word and sacrament. With the advent of Celebrity Reformed Preachers where often the medium is the message, weekly communion is a good reminder that is about Jesus and not the preacher. There are plenty of Christians who rate the preaching and the preacher and judge how good the sermon was rather than actually allowing the Word to transform them. Preaching and Preachers easily become idols and often are in the Reformed world. Should preaching have primacy in a service over sacrament? If so, why? Does the Bible teach “the articulation of the gospel is THE ultimate priority?” What about prayer? worship?

    • paul

      Hey Jim,

      I thought you made a very interesting argument, specifically on the importance of the articulation of the gospel. And you are right, I often find myself judging the sermons and the pastor, but I find that this is necessary.

      The lens through which the sermon should be judged is how faithfully, the pastor preached the gospel, which should in effect decrease the pastor’s importance and increase the glory of Christ and the cross. If the gospel is preached correctly, the bearer of the message holds no significance over the new convert; we are all sinners saved by grace. However, the pastor is blessed in the fact that the grace of God is working in him, and he will be rewarded as a faithful servant of God.

      I believe that this passage (1 Corinthians 1:17) best illustrates this. Apostle Paul was careful not to speak in eloquent speech or wisdom in order not to mask the power of the gospel that saves. Is eloquent speech or wisdom bad? Of course not, but when it glorifies the speaker and takes away from the power of the gospel it is not beneficial.

      Lastly, from Apostle Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts and tongues, and his preference of 5 intelligible words rather than a 1000 in clouded mystery, I am convinced that Apostle Paul would uphold the preaching of the articulated gospel as the utmost importance in the church.

      Christ was crucified on behalf of sinners, and all who believe will be saved- this is the foundation of the reformed church. And to faithfully preach this message and resist temptations to add onto this message is our duty as servants of the the living God.

    • John Carpenter

      Did the continental Reformers practice a weekly communion? I know that Calvin wanted to but didn’t prevail in Geneva. Do you see that one can have a high view of the Lord’s Supper and not practice it every week?

  • Jason

    I agree with the author that Scripture is not clear on frequency of observation, though we observe communion weekly. We have different elders lead communion and do it a little differently each week. We use it as a time to briefly teach about communion, what it is, what it is not, why we do it, which always points to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We also hang around for 5-6 hours to eat lunch, fellowship, and sometimes conference together on Sundays, so we have plenty of time for it. I would never insist that others do communion our way. It’s just what we do. God bless!

  • Ken Stewart

    By “other bona fide priorities” I mean such things as baptisms/dedications, observance of notable days in the Church year and family, guest services especially oriented to the not-yet believing, honoring of graduates, church missions weekends etc. None of these are unwelcome intrusions; none of these have no business in our services. All must be accommodated. The churches current penchant for meeting less and less frequently only exacerbates this problem further.

    • Jason

      Ken, thanks for the clarification. Interesting discussion.

  • Heather E. Carrillo

    I agree, Dr. Stewart. I’ve really enjoyed reading this discussion.

  • Rob Sturdy

    Was that a cheezit in the promo shot?

  • Steve Martin

    If nothing is really happening in the meal, other than our remembering, then I say it really doesn’t matter how frequent or seldom we do it.

    But, if He is truly present in the meal, then I would say that every week, or at least every other week would be a good thing.

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  • Tony Calman

    It seems to be more important to remember why communion is practiced and why it was given to the church. It is a “memorial” and a “proclamation” of Christ’s death whenever we do it. Perhaps it should be done as often as we need to remember and proclaim Christ’s death?! To make limits because of our modern practices seems to be working backwards.

  • Ken Stewart

    Readers who want to see a more extensive advocacy of the position that evangelicalism need not be caught up in slavish imitation of the primitive church on these questions, can consult this online article: