*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 6th of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A happy Monday; thanks for all the questions- the fun ones and the spicy ones- a few are staring at me in bold in my file… today we are going to Stephen in Jonesboro, KY, who asked about the history of taking Communion. He had a few questions, but the pertinent question boils down to “historically, how often has the church had communion? Weekly? Monthly?”
Ok- first things first- what do we know about Jonesboro? Stephen asked if I knew about the Jonesboro Church War in the 1930s. And I did not. And that story is bonkers, and I’m going to look it up for a future show.
Jonesboro, in Northeast Arkansas, has had notable residents from the voice of Squidward on SpongeBob to John Grisham. Ok- so, how often has the church, historically, celebrated Communion?
First- questions about Communion make me nervous. There are very passionate voices on the subject from across the church. My advice is to have these conversations with the people with whom you commune. Now… how often did the church do it historically? Answer: a lot of different ways. I’ll let you look at Acts 2 and decide whether or not the “breaking of bread” is the same as communion in that passage.
The early church- as we see in the earliest liturgies celebrated weekly. It is not uncommon to visit church services divided into two services in one: the service of the word and the service of the Lord’s Supper.
But there wasn’t a consensus as early as St. Augustine, who wrote:
Some receive the Body and Blood of the Lord every day; others on certain days; in some places, there is no day on which the Sacrifice is not offered; in others on Saturday and Sunday only; in others on Sunday alone."
But by the Middle Ages, it was uncommon to take the Lord’s Supper- often, priests would consume the sacrament- or at least the wine- for the people not to spill. It seems that superstition may have won the day, keeping people away from Communion such that the Council of Trent in the 16th century told Catholics that they had to commune at least once a year.
The Lutheran church used the Roman Catholic Mass as a template for worship. It thus kept the traditional “service of the Word” and “service of the Sacrament,” which stressed the communal aspect of Communion and encouraged frequent communion.
The later Reformation traditions, perhaps not wanting to look “too Catholic,” didn’t use the standard rubric but innovated as they saw fit. Most eliminated the weekly observance of Communion. John Calvin, interestingly, bemoaned the fact that the church didn’t celebrate weekly.
With the Orthodox churches and Catholic Church, we have central authorities- in some reformation churches, we have a common rubric for worship- thus, we can see the frequency pretty quickly.
But the modern American church is, well… its own beast. Lifeway conducted a study in 2012 of Baptist churches in America and saw that 57% of the churches surveyed celebrated quarterly. About 1% of these Baptist churches celebrate communion weekly.
As I said in the beginning, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are, unfortunately, contentious issues in the church because they have been so central to the church but often debated. You can probably find some historical justification for any practice (and remember, sometimes historical justification isn’t the silver bullet you might think it is).
I hope that helps, even if it only helps show you a good bit of diversity in practice.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- it’s the season of Pentecost, which means it's time for the book of Joel.
And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of June 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the Squidward to my Patrick; he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man, speaking of Arkansas, who is fascinated with Razorbacks and feral hogs in general… I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.