Having been affiliated with Protestant church denomations for most of my life, I have always seen the Lord’s Table practiced on roughly a monthly basis. The Baptist church at which I presently worship follows this pattern, with the occasional move to accomodate holiday weekends, etc. This seems the defacto standard for frequency, or at least I assumed it was. I started to wonder why…
A few years ago I became friends with members from several Brethren Assemblies. I learned that what I had assumed was some sort of ‘standard’ for the practice of Communion across the Protestant churches was not that at all. The Brethren, for example, observe the Lord’s Table every week (or almost every week). When I enquired about that frequency, one of my Brethren brothers explained that since the Lord gave us this ordinance and told us to observe it when we gathered in His name, until he returned, they interpreted that as frequently and at most Assemblies. He further shared that for him this was a precious and intimate communion with our Lord, that he looked forward to the privilege of observing it frequently in both obedience and closeness to our Lord and Master, and to drawing close to Him in heart and mind eagerly (that is not verbatim, but it conveys the just of his comments I think). I wholeheartedly agree and I like the idea very much. To practice that rememberance and unity before each service, with our brothers and sisters in the faith, follows the Scriptural intent in my opinion and also has many congregational benefits.
So, this begs the question why the all of the Baptist denomination (at least that I know of) practice it only monthly, at most, and some others (reports from Protestant friends) extend that to only 4 times or even less a year. What is going on here?
Is the Lord’s Table somehow not as important or significant for these? Is it not felt to be needed regularly? From the official importance given it in these denominations, in word and on paper, that would not appear to be the case. Yet we have this lack of frequency for this significant and unifying ordinance. Perplexing!
In chatting with others about this issue, another church member suggested that it was a matter of cost, both in time and materials? I find that hard to believe, but I have no proof otherwise.
Interestly, not one other church member that I have asked (outside of my Brethren friends) could offer a local or docrtinal authoritative explanation. I have not surveyed Pastors on this issue, but with the variation in practice described above I expect that it is deemed a ‘local’ decision. This does not, however, address the issue of relative importance in published doctrine vs practice. Perhaps some insight from the Pastoral side will provide new insight for an update article.
A quick survey of post-Reformation practice seems to indicate that for some time after the Reformation the church followed the guidance of Luther and practiced the Lord’s Table weekly. However, the frequency was considered a congregational freedom. Baptist literature seems to leave the timing optional, at weekly, monthly or even yearly, with monthly being the present norm. Again, however, in the earlier days of the Puritans the practice was more frequent, usually weekly, and they considered this significant. Some denominations (Lutherans, for example) still have substantive debate on this issue. Other Protestant demoninations seem to vary widely, with monthly an average, but in present times there is talk of a trend back to greater frequency. Overall, there would appear to be no doctrinal norm to cite.
Having observed the Brethren practice, it seems to me to be both wonderful and in keeping with the spirit of what our Lord has said. Why would one not want to draw close to the Lord in this manner weekly? Certainly there are exceptions but how could other priorities be more important on a consistent basis? Surely there is a scheduling that would accomodate it a reasonable percentage of the time. I would very much like to see my church follow suit, and anecdotal data would indicate that other congregations might have the same sentiment.
What do other believers think?
Something else to consider at some point -> The Format used for the Lord’s Table