The Lord’s Supper: Sunday, or Any Day?
This post seeks to view two different sides of a common debate over whether or not the Lord’s Supper can be taken on Sunday only, or rather at any time. I will probably add to it significantly in the coming months, but for now I present this very spartan framework.
Notice of bias: I think that there are some persuasive points that can be made in reference to the Lord’s supper being taken on the first day of the week, and those points are almost certain. To get the most support for the Sunday-only position, I have to rely on a great deal of reasonable inference. Going outside of the Bible to early writings, I am able to further support the position, but then the basis for my case is coming from men such as myself.
I hold no particular animosity toward those who take the supper more than once every Sunday, on Saturday night, etc. My understanding is that Sunday makes a good deal of sense, and it is my exclusive preference. The more human reasoning is involved in forming a conclusion on a topic, the more tolerant of others’ I will be, and the greater the possibility of my own human reasoning being faulty I will acknowledge.
Arguing Sunday Only
In support of the view that Sunday is the day for the Lord’s supper, many “church fathers” mentioned a supper being taken in remembrance of Christ on Sunday, since that’s when He rose. Their descriptions of assemblies are vastly different than ours, usually, so it seems a bit odd to go to them for support. As their writings are long and my PDFs of the relevant, scholarly work are currently in a different country, I won’t quote them all here, but they’d be helpful in saying that tradition indicates that the Lord’s Supper was a Sunday feature. (See notes like this.) Here are a couple of examples that mention Sunday being important as well as the Lord’s supper:
107AD IGNATIUS: let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days of the week.Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, chp 9. Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, pg. 62-63.
150AD JUSTIN: But Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, because it is the first day of the week and Jesus our saviour on the same day rose from the dead.First Apology of Justin, Chapter 68
Secular historical sources also seem to indicate that the Lord’s Supper was taken once every week. Pliny the Younger was governor of Pontus/Bithynia from 111-113 AD. He wrote to Roman Emperor Trajan of Christians he was dealing (torturing and killing) with saying,
“they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to (do) any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate.”
One can read the 1st letter (that we have) to the Corinthians, focusing on 1 Cor 10:14-17, and 1 Cor 11:17-34 and infer that the Lord’s supper was a weekly event that happened on Sunday, which was observed at that time in reference to Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.
Second, it can be argued that Acts 2 mentions “the” breaking of the bread, making it an “institution,” like “the” Fourth of July, which is very different than simply the fourth day of July. Correlating to that, it can be concluded that in Acts 20:6-7, the reason (via some grammatical rules) for Paul staying was specifically for “breaking bread,” which must then be the Lord’s Supper.
Lastly, 1 Cor 11:20 says, “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,” which actually indicates that assemblies were taking place for a purpose—to partake of the Lord’s Supper. And from Acts 20 and some other places, it can be reasoned that it was on Sunday.
How do you feel about this? Is it bulletproof? Research on your own to try and see how strongly it holds up—truth never fears examination! As for me, I do think that it can be safely concluded that early Christians did assemble to take the Lord’s supper and that they probably had this dinner on what they considered to be the first day of the week. If you want to get really wild, ask me about love feasts.
Arguing Any Day
When people used to ask me why my congregation took the Lord’s Supper weekly, I would say, “Because it’s commanded—look at Acts 20:7.” This is what I was taught. However, Acts 20:7 says,
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”
So the thought is that “break bread” must be done on the first day, because that’s why they gathered.
But the same terminology is used in Acts 2:42-47 which says,
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…continuing daily with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread.”
Apparently they were doing this breaking bread thing (and they did meet to do it) daily in some instances. The opening argument for taking the Lord’s supper on Sunday is, I think, pretty persuasive, but there’s a lot of human “reading between the lines” involved.
Jesus’ terminology was simply this, and puts something of a hole in my argument, so I have to admit it and let you make your own conclusion:
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” 1 Cor 11:26
Early Christians sometimes indicated that they took the Lord’s Supper rather often, though that’s rare to see. One example, however, is Ignatius of Antioch, who was sent to Rome to be executed around 110 AD He wrote before his death,
“Therefore, make every effort to come together frequently for gratitude and praise of God. For whenever you are together frequently, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and his destructive plan is ruined by your unity of faith. Come together in common through grace…with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality – that is, the antidote so that we would not die but live for ever in Jesus Christ. ASSEMBLE MORE FREQUENTLY. [emphasis mine]”
I left that detail out of the first argument on purpose. It shows that things might be messier than we’d like if we step outside of the Bible for our support. (And yes, stuff gets REALLY wild if you read more of these external sources.)
But in the quote above, we notice a lot of important details. First, John 6:54 holds true. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The Lord’s Supper was considered critical to Christians. Furthermore, frequently assembling was something that really gave Satan a black eye.
What does that mean? Instead of hanging out with our fellow saints once per week, and those captive to Satan every other time we “go out,” we should be doing out best to become a true family with those who are in Christ. Replace your friendship with the world with friendship with the saints, and become instead an ambassador and rescuer to those held captive by Satan.
If you want to argue that the Lord’s Supper can be taken anytime, the above is a good way to do it. What do you think? Feel free to leave your comments below.
My Personal Opinion
I am agnostic on the frequency, but from Biblical readings, I can’t in good faith argue that the Lord’s Supper can only be taken on Sunday. If I go outside of the Bible, I can argue that as a tradition looking to Christ, Sunday was the primary day for eating it, though there are references even then to other times. Still, Sunday makes sense to me, and it’s the only time that I observe it. I try to observe it every Sunday, since that also seems to be Biblical.
By the way, as a practical matter, I think that the way we eat the supper is not much like the early church’s. I also believe that it’s very important and should happen at least once every week, which early Christians also believed.
Let me know what you think below.
9 thoughts on “The Lord’s Supper: Sunday, or Any Day?”
I also wonder what was taught concerning the day of the week prior to the King James bible ? The Great Bible and the Bishops bible were the official versions of the Church of England prior to the KJV. Acts 20:7 reads as follows: Great Bible:And vpon one of the Saboth dayes, whan the disciples came together for to breake breed Paul preached vnto them (ready to departe on the morowe) & continued the preaching vnto mydnyght. Bishops Bible:And vpon one of the Sabboth dayes, when the disciples came together for to breake bread, Paul reasoned with the, redy to depart on the morowe, and continued the worde vnto mydnyght. If I remember correctly the phrase opon one of the Sabbath days” is referring to the sabbaths counted from the end of Passover until Pentecost. (The 49+1 days)
Undecided, but Sunday for sure
I have friends who believe Passover exclusively.
I believe any carbohydrate that reminds me of Jesus is a blessing and any liquid that reminds me of His shed blood for me is beneficial.
When one considers the minutiae of detail in Leviticus and compares it to Jesus’ conversation with a woman at Jacob’s Well, it’s easy to conclude that it really is neither here nor there but rather a heart issue of Spirit/Truth.
It was implemented on Wednesday evening and I’m pretty sure nobody is condemning that – yet all other examples are binding. -JM
This is a good study. My observation has much trouble comparing the actions that we have grown up with to the dialog in the text. I mean, where did we determine that a meal was not as much part of the process as the bread and cup? Where in the text of writings was the concept applied without a meal?
Thank you for taking the time to write this. I am abroad right now and don’t have all of my notes, but in the future I’m going to transcribe what it seems the early Lord’s supper was like, and how it morphed over time. I think that we probably miss a good deal by not having it as an actual meal, whether light or heavy. There is great bonding to be had over a meal.
“…or that it was just a symbolic meal…”
I think that if I were a Jew (then or now), and knew nothing of Jesus/Christianity, and read the first four books of the New Testament, I would conclude that Jesus intended that his memorial meal be once a year, as part of the annual Passover holy day, with new Jesus-oriented meanings given to the traditional Jewish meanings of some of the traditional elements of the meal.
If I then read the rest of the New Testament, I’m not positive I would be swayed from that conclusion, but if I were, I would probably conclude it was a daily memorial meal rather than a weekly one, and that it tripled as a fellowship meal and as a “feed the needy” meal.
In both of these cases, I would conclude the memorial to be part of a full-blown evening supper/meal.
It would take the uninspired post-New Testament writings to really sway me to the conclusion that it was a weekly meal, or that it should be observed in the morning instead of the evening, it that it was just a symbolic meal of just a small taste of the bread and cup.
Kent, as I mentioned elsewhere, I am always delighted to read your perspective on things, especially as you help me consider how the early church probably would have viewed things. My own perceptual filters are very 2020! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this comment.