Though We Cite Scripture When We Take Communion, We Don’t Do it in a Biblical Way
Most Christian churches celebrate communion in some form in their worship practices. Though they do this in different ways and with varied frequencies, the central process is similar.
As a basis for their practice of communion—also called The Lord’s Supper or the Holy Eucharist—they cite biblical explanations of when Jesus instituted this practice.
Three of the four biographies of Jesus give us details about the first communion. These appear in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-20. Paul also recaps this in his first letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
These passages are often part of our modern practice of communion, either formally as part of a liturgy or informally in explaining the practice or as the elements are in your introduced.
Because we invoke Scripture when we take communion, we assume we’re doing it in a biblical way. Unfortunately we aren’t. Though we crouch the experience in Scripture, we have veered far from what it should be, from what Jesus expected us to encounter.
To understand communion we need to look at the occasion when Jesus introduced this to his disciples. It happens as they celebrate the Passover meal. Exploring this situation lets us know the meaning behind communion and informs us how we can rightly experience it today.
The Context of Communion
First we must note that both Passover and the setting when Jesus introduced communion happened during a meal. When is the last time you took communion as part of a meal?
I suspect your answer is seldom or never. And that’s the point. By separating the sacrament of communion from a meal diminishes its true meaning and turns a celebration into a ritual.
If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to make it part of a meal, not as a separate ceremony.
The Setting of Communion
Next consider the setting of where Passover and the first communion were celebrated. Passover occurred in the family home, with friends gathered and possibly some neighbors invited over.
It didn’t happen at a religious service or during some large gathering. Instead it was in a private setting, an intimate gathering with people close to you.
Jesus followed this when he celebrated his final Passover meal with his disciples. They met in the upper room of a home, and Jesus surrounded himself with his closest friends here on Earth.
They shared a meal and during that meal he introduced the symbol of the bread to represent his body and the wine to represent his spilt blood.
If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to do it in our homes with our family and friends, not in church.
The Frequency of Communion
Some Churches take communion every week, others once a month, and some quarterly. A few churches do communion at random times without any prescribed schedule.
So how often should we take communion? The answer will surprise you. It’s not weekly, monthly, quarterly, or randomly. There are two possible answers, which we can glean from the four accounts in the Bible about the first communion.
In these accounts Jesus tells us to do this in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19), and Paul adds the phrase, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26, NKJV). Well how often is that?
If you want to disassociate the phrase “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” from the annual practice of Passover, then the only interpretation indicates every time you have a meal. That means we should practice communion each time we sit down to eat.
That’s three times a day. And if we practice communion that often, we run the risk of it becoming a meaningless ritual much like the obligatory prayers we say before we eat.
However, since the setting was Passover and Passover is an annual event, it’s likely that Jesus intended for us to celebrate communion once a year, an annual holiday like Christmas or Easter.
If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to do it once a year as an annual celebration, not more often.
This gives us three principles to follow if we are to rightly celebrate communion: It is part of a meal, enjoyed in the intimate setting of our homes surrounded by family and friends, and done as an annual event.
Noticed that a church building and a church service are nowhere in this understanding. Instead of celebrating communion at church, church should teach us how to celebrate this with our family in our homes.
When we do this, we will reclaim the celebration of communion as it was originally intended, how Jesus practiced it, and as the Bible describes it.
Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.
Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.
4 replies on “Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Communion at Church”
Wow! This is really deep “Food” for thought!
I personally think the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist should be either once a year and in a setting with a meal, as described for the annual celebration of the Passover, or else weekly in a solemn simple observance, as opposed to denominational traditions such as the first Sunday of each month or only quarterly. There seems to be greater scriptural basis for either once a year or weekly, than for the first Sunday or once every three months. The “church in the home” movement observes communion each Sunday, while Messianic Jewish congregations and many of the Mennonites, as well as the so-called Jehovah’s Witness organization, do so only once of year. For some reason the first Sunday of October each year in many denominational and some undenominational churches is celebrated as “Worldwide Communion Sunday” (why the first Sunday of October?). Sadly the issues around both water baptism and communion have become some of the most divisive aspects of the various expressions of Christianity when one explores and discovers the differences that exist and prevail among professing believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, May God have mercy on us all.
Robert, I’m in favor of communion being an annual celebration in our home with family and close friends around a shared meal.
This is a practice my family has followed for several years. (As a result, any Communion practice in a church setting dims in comparison.)