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Jonathan Edwards on Weekly Communion

I’ve often heard that while the classical Reformers such as Martin Bucer, John Calvin and John Knox favored weekly Communion, their spiritual heirs (particularly, the Reformed experientialists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) did not. In general, that statement may be true, but there are some notable exceptions, including Jonathan Edwards.


In a letter written to John Erskine, Jonathan Edwards wrote,

We ought not only to praise God for every thing that appears favourable to the interests of religion, and to pray earnestly for a general revival, but also to use means that are proper in order to it; and one proper means must be allowed to be, a due administration of Christ’s ordinances: one instance of which is that, which you and Mr. Randal have been striving for; viz. a restoring the primitive practice of frequent communicating. I should much wonder … how such arguments and persuasions, as Mr. Randal uses, could be withstood; but however they may be resisted for the present, yet I hope those who have begun will continue to plead the cause of Christ’s institutions; and whatever opposition is made, I should think it would be best for them to plead nothing at all short of Christ’s institutions, viz. the administration of the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day:—it must come to that at last; and why should Christ’s ministers and people, by resting in a partial reformation, lay a foundation for a new struggle, an uncomfortable labour and conflict, in some future generation, in order to a full restoration of the primitive practice.

Edwards finds the case for weekly Communion convincing and calls for the full reformation of the church, which, among other things, includes the “full restoration of the primitive practice” of weekly Communion.

Edwards also said,

They were wont to have the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the primitive church very often, by all accounts of ecclesiastical history. And it seems by the account of holy Scripture that they were at first wont to celebrate this ordinance daily, as Acts 2:46, “and they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and in breaking bread from house to house”; afterwards weekly, every sabbath day, Acts 20:7, “and upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread.”[1]

In this episode of East of Eden, three Reformed scholars explain why Edwards was in favor of weekly Communion, despite the controversy at Northampton regarding the Lord’s Supper.

I have reservations regarding Edwards’ interpretation of self-examination in 1 Corinthians 11, and I disagree with his understanding of the nature of the punishment of the unworthy communicant. But I agree with him regarding the apostolic practice of weekly Communion. I want to commend this episode to my readers.

Endnotes

1. Jonathan Edwards, “Self-Examination and the Lord’s Supper,” in M. Valeri & H. S. Stout, eds., Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733, vol. 17 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1999) 264.

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Cristina Scheeler

4 years ago

In the Book of Acts, it teaches, when ever the apostles got together they were always breaking bread when they got together. But I think the reason against it, would be to keep it always fresh, to bring us together, and ‘to make it special’. So, I guess, some would say, once a month.

glenclary@gmail.com

4 years ago

That’s one of the common arguments against celebrating the Supper too frequently. I think a good response to that objection is that it wouldn’t apply to any other element of worship. We shouldn’t pray only once a month to keep it fresh and make it special. And we shouldn’t preach only once a month to keep it fresh and make it special. Etc.

Charlie Nye

4 years ago

I would agree with Glenclary, our church partakes of the Lords supper every week and it points us back to the need for Christ’s broken body and shed blood for the remission of our sins. This should never grow stale to those who need often the reminder of the cost that brought us peace with God.
We do have a tendency to allow things to become rote, but maybe because we have lived in this world of constant change where each day we need something new to satisfy us. We must fight this as we face an eternity of praising God.

RichardB

4 years ago

Shawn

4 years ago

Well, those passages are debatable. And the logistics of the matter are neigh impossible (if they did have communion daily). And the arguments in favor of less-than-weekly should be taken as a given since we are supposed to be conservative. Weekly arguments must withstand scrutiny and not be taken as the default. Historically, weekly was not part of “revival” in Geneva nor in Scotland. This is more of a romanticizing of Communion, IMHO. But, then again, I would reply like this since I wrote my M.Div on the topic: http://www.denverprovidence.org/Weekly_LS_Booklet_Booklet_Version_2.pdf

glenclary@gmail.com

4 years ago

Certainly, those passages are debatable, but I think it’s worth pointing out that most Reformed theologians have interpreted them as referring to the Lord’s Supper. In addition to Edwards, here are a few others….

John Calvin on Acts 2.42

[This description of worship was] the practice of the apostolic church…. Thus it became the unvarying rule that no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper and almsgiving (Institutes 4.17.44).

John Murray on Acts 2.42

The co-ordination [of the four elements] in Acts 2:42 implies that the Supper was an integral part of the worship of the early church, practiced by those who received the Word, were baptized, and were added to the disciples (Collected Writings, 2.380).

Francis Turretin on Acts 2.42 and 20.7

The practice of the apostolic church … constantly retained the breaking of bread. Hence the disciples are said to have “continued in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Christians are said to have come together upon the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7), i.e., to celebrate the holy Supper, which was consistently done on the Lord’s Day when they assembled to hear preaching and perform the other public exercises of piety. Hence the whole action is wont to be described by the breaking of bread. To say that this rite was indeed used here, but not as necessary, is to beg the question and take for granted what is to be proved. For on the contrary, we solidly gather the necessity of this rite (the breaking of bread) from the practice because the church could do nothing here, nor prescribe it to other, except what she had received from the Lord and to which she felt herself bound by the command of Christ. (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3.445-46).

Zacharius Ursinus with reference to Acts 20.7

And as God will have his word publicly preached and heard, so he will also have the true and lawful use of the sacraments observed and seen in the public assemblies of the church, inasmuch as both are marks by which the true church may be known and distinguished from all other religions and people. The sacraments, also, just as the word, constitute a part of the public worship of God in the church, and are means to stir up and cherish faith and godliness in the faithful. Hence the use of sacraments is most intimately connected with a proper observance and sanctification of the Sabbath (Commentary on the Heidelberg, 568).

John Owen with reference to Acts 20.7

How often is that ordinance to be administered? Every first day of the week, or at least as often as opportunity and conveniency may be obtained” (Works, 15.512).

John Stott on Acts 20.7

…the disciples met on the Lord’s Day for the Lord’s Supper … and the evidence is that the Eucharist, as a thankful celebration of the now risen Savior’s death, very clearly became the main Sunday service … word and sacrament combined in the ministry given to the church at Troas (Acts, 321).

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