Every Sunday Communion: The Means

It is probably no secret to those who know me that I wish we had communion more often at the congregation I serve.  We currently only have have it once a month.  It is fine fodder for jabs at every gathering I go to compromised mostly of those who label themselves confessional.

imageSo what have I done about it?  Well for eight years now, I have preached and taught about the awesome gift that is the supper.  I have explained the historical practice of weekly communion.  I have sought to show how we got from there to here.   I have directed law at the despising of the meal and have proclaimed how the Supper is the gospel itself. 

And the result thus far?  Monthly communion. 

Enter the proponents of weekly communion.  They always suggest one of two ways.

  • Weekly communion by pastoral fiat.  “You have the authority of the Office,” they say.  “Use it.  Announce that beginning next Sunday, the Supper will be offered each week.”  Or the more passive approach is to get trick the elders onto your side, and then institute it with their backing.

It seems to me that this is the baptism by firehouse equivalent.  It is good. So you force it upon people regardless of any desire for it.  It seems ironic to me that the people would suggest this way are often the same ones who are most generally concerned with those at the table having a perfect understanding of the nature and promise of this meal (a proper concern by the way).  And yet at the same time, they do not care seemingly that their people do not understand why they should want it more.  They just care that they have it more.  I am not sure that giving a good thing to those who do not desire it is the proper way.  It seems if anything, the biblical principle might be to take it away rather than give it more.

  • By manipulation.  What does that mean?  Well tell me if this sounds familiar.  A church has communion twice a month.  The pastor suggests, “Could we have it on every fifth Sunday as well?”  “How about every festival?”  And then soon, the pastor is scouring through every every ecclesiastical calendar to find a festival for near every Sunday.  Perhaps they suggest it could be offered throughout the Easter season, and then after those two months, just keep placing the elements on the altar each week.  Soon, by hook and crook, every Sunday communion is the practice.

imageThis is by far the most used method.  In fact, every pastor I know who has changed practice from less than weekly communion to weekly follows one version or another of this plan (unless they followed the fiat way).  But I think this way is far from proceeding with integrity.  Oh sure it wins the accolades of other weekly communion proponents, but it is downright dishonest with the people entrusted to one’s care.  If you do not say what you are doing and why honestly, your people will rightly distrust your other actions.  Later when you want to institute a practice tied to Roman Catholicism in the minds of some in your congregation, don’t be surprised when it is rejected because your people fear that you will take them all the way to Rome.  After all, you said communion was going to just be added on fifth Sundays.

I will continue to walk the long and sometime frustrating road to change in this practice.   I will preach and teach about the awesome gift that is the supper. I will explain again the historical practice of weekly communion. I will seek to show how we got from there to here. I will direct law at the despising of the meal and proclaim how the Supper is the gospel itself.

Will it work?  That is not ultimately mine to force or even to know.  I must simply place my confidence is in the Spirit’s work through His Word. Only then can one truly have communion received often with joy by God’s people.  Yes, this too is His work, not mine.

 

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18 Responses to “Every Sunday Communion: The Means”

  1. Tom Eggebrecht Says:

    Good for you, Phil. You are taking a well-thought-out, pastoral and evangelical approach. I commend you.

  2. Pr. Johann Caauwe Says:

    Perhaps you could comment on how you would handle the situation where some of the people whom you have been patiently instructing come to the conclusion that they would desire the Sacrament more frequently and would like to see the congregation’s practice change. But it’s not a majority of the congregation and it’s not your elders. But does the existence of desire for more frequent reception prompt the pastor to take a more active role in seeking a change of practice?

    Also, is it possible for a pastor to be honest about his purpose for adding the fifth Sunday and festivals—to be honest with his people as far as his aims and goals? I guess I’m wondering if there is a way to honestly take the approach of gradually increasing frequency according what his people are willing to accept. I don’t know that the gradual approach necessitates deception regarding the end goal.

    Perhaps there are more than two ways to advocate and move toward weekly communion in a congregation.

  3. JonB Says:

    Ouch. Perhaps it is the proper sting of the law. In many ways, I feel like I fall into both camps; I have given advice towards and used both approaches to move towards a more regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But do I do that without also teaching? I hope that cannot be said about my labors. Have I taught enough that the congregation demands it? No, and I don’t know if it always works that way.

    As much as Lutherans struggle to deal with it, experience can be an important teacher. I did not treasure weekly communion until I experienced it at my fieldwork congregation. I knew, at least intellectually, that the Supper was not the only means of forgiveness. There is the absolution also. But the absolution and the Supper are two different things, and I had to experience it first before I could appreciate it. Perhaps this is one place where we can have experience help us teach a greater appreciation for God’s gifts. But that would mean being dishonest and manipulative, at least how you have framed it with your post.

    The Lord’s Supper is not the only place where experience can be a useful teacher. Regular devotions, prayer, faithfully giving in support of the work of the church, trusting the Lord to daily provide; these are all areas where we can learn by experience. We can preach and teach about it. We can even model it. But it is difficult to go into the homes of our members and help them experience these blessings. But the Lord’s Supper is one thing we can set before them. Perhaps when they see that we weren’t misleading them in regards to the Lord’s Supper that they will listen more readily on the other topics as well. But first, to receive the Lord’s blessings often and regularly…

  4. Jaime Says:

    What is the reasoning for *only* having it once a month?

  5. Philip Hoppe Says:

    Pr. Johann Caauwe: That is indeed a terrible thing. I am there as well. There is probably some sense in which the stronger brother has to yield to the weaker brother here since one does not lose salvation if they do not receive the Supper at a specified frequency. But I think you are right that the pastor has to just be honest. He need to say to the congregation, “We have some members who desire the meal more. I too think this is well from Christian teaching and historic practice. Perhaps we could try it for six months.” Or “let’s try fifth Sundays because it will be good for you to be with Jesus more in this way” Something along those lines. What do you think?

    Jon: For any guilt I brought, let me assure you that your sins are forgiven. I am not sure I would say that it is simply experience that works, but the activity of the Spirit in Word and Sacrament working. I am sure that it what you mean also. The point is having something good given to you makes you understand that it is good indeed. I too learned this of the Supper at my field work church. Again, maybe we just need to say that honestly and suggest six months of the practice. Perhaps the desire would be worked in the receiving, right?

    Jaime: How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: CHANGE?!?!?!??! They generally appeal to tradition in the congregation (in their lifetimes) and also believe that having it too often would make it less special.

  6. AndrewK Says:

    Good post. I’m interested in how you’d know when, if ever, to make a switch… to start a new practice. Would it be a majority of confirmands asking for the Supper weekly? Or others coming to you during the week, knocking on the parsonage door calling, “Give us the Sacrament!”? You say, “The point is having something good given to you makes you understand that it is good indeed.” I’d agree. It’s sort of like private confession and absolution in that way. It’s one thing to be taught about it; it’s another to actually go through it yourself, confessing your sin out loud, and then being absolved by the words and touch of Jesus. Once you go through it–and as you grow in it–you’d never let anyone take it away from you.

    I think part of the larger issue is our unwillingness to receive anything from God except on our own terms. The same pastor who would try to institute weekly communion ‘by fiat’, as you say, would likely also have a hard time listening to his own cc or dp give counsel (more daringly: direction) about what to do in his congregation, and would cry ‘autonomy!’. Or what if our synod worked in such a way that a congregation did not vote to call a pastor, but simply received one given by their district president–as from the Lord? Unthinkable. “Do this,” Jesus said of the Supper. Will we receive the words of Jesus from someone who is placed in a position of authority over us? This is part of a much larger issue, and it’s for pastors as much as for the congregations they serve.

  7. Andrew Winkelman Says:

    Phil – The congregation that my dad has served for over 20 years moved to weekly communion quite a while ago, maybe ten years or more. He didn’t trick them or use his authority to force it on them. The congregation recognized the benefit of the Lord’s Supper and it was a congregational decision to move that direction.

    I only bring this up because you mentioned that every pastor you know who has made the change has used other methods. I wanted to let you know that I’ve seen it done the way you suggest it should be done, and hopefully encourage you.

  8. Mark Lovett Says:

    Phil, good post. I’d be accused of both fiat and coercion. But I would also be called loving and faithful. I’d be called Roman and egalitarian. But I’d also be called Lutheran and submissive. What are the opinions of men?
    Your post is good because you have hit the nail on the head: the problem lies with you. What are you going to do? What will you teach? What will you instruct? What will you do? Whatever you do, do as unto the Lord whom you serve and who has entrusted you both with His Word and His people (2 Tim. 2:2; Acts 20:28). Seek peace with God and pursue it, and let men be men.

    For what it’s worth, I, for one, hope you continue as you are. Not that I think there’s no other way, but so that I have free and easy bait at the gatherings that you and I attend together. It would be a shame if I had to find something else to rip on you about. 🙂

  9. Christopher Gillespie Says:

    I’m with you Phil, except I walked into a situation where Elders and interim pastor approved the change to weekly from 1,3,5th but the altar guild balked at the additional work (30% of services are non-communion.) While I agree that patient teaching is necessary, I also believe that you learn by doing. So, my compromised approach is that we always have Lord’s Supper on and during festivals. Feasts and festivals go together. During the non-festival season we go back to the old schedule.

    We’ll see how it goes. Piety takes time.

  10. Erich Heidenreich DDS Says:

    I highly recommend the book “The Blessings of Weekly Communion.”

  11. Erich Heidenreich DDS Says:

    One problem I have is with the concept that those who do not want weekly communion can keep those who hunger and thirst from having it weekly. Those of us who desire to be nourished by the body and blood of our Lord on a weekly basis should not be kept from it. You might want to consider instituting a mid-week service at which you prepare the elements yourself for those who desire it. Our congregation is large enough that we have two Sunday services at 8 and 10:30. The 8:00 service has the Sacrament twice monthly, and the 10:30 service every Sunday. We also have a midweek service that alternates weekly between an abbreviated divine service and vespers. Our 8:00 service this year was also a completely different service preaching on the Catechism. I attended both Sunday services and always attend the Wednesday services as well. Some weeks I have been nourished three times with the Sacrament. I only make this point to encourage you that it is possible to offer the Sacrament at least weekly with multiple services without forcing it upon those who do not thirst and hunger for it. Even if only a handful of people show up for a midweek service, I do not see how any Pastor could be anything but overjoyed that there are some who hunger and thirst for the Sacrament at least weekly.

  12. Pastor Jim Wagner Says:

    Hang in there, Pr. Phil! It does not have to be by fiat or manipulation. When I came to this congregation nearly 25 years ago we had twice monthly communion. I made it clear in many ways that I favored weekly communion and preached and taught the same. At one annual meeting we took at straw poll on the practice and it came out about 51/49 in favor. I told them that was not enough to make the change. A couple of years went by and almost out of the blue one of the church council members said, “I think it is time to make the change.” They voted yes and we have been communing weekly for twenty years or more. I don’t think anyone (or very few) would ever want to go back.

    At the other congregation in my parish, I followed the same procedure but the practice did not change for about twenty years. Then, after the death of one very influencial layman who had been opposed, the change was made almost unanimously, and we have continued these last four years.

    It is hard to wait on a “consensus,” but I think it is worth it. If and when the change comes, you’ll feel good about it.

    BTW, if I had to choose between monthly and twice monthly, I think I would choose monthly. Twice monthly doesn’t seem to have any relation to the santification of time, while monthly is related to the month in much the same way that weekly is retated to the week. Am I making sense? Probably not.

  13. Chris Says:

    Phil,

    Thou art a priest forever after the Order of Melchizedek, says the Psalmist (109:4). It’s time you rid yourself of your “democratic” sensibilities and do what is entrusted to you when you were first ordained. Instituting weekly communion is not acting as a dictator–it’s your responsibility!

    I love it how Lutherans appeal to tradition only when it concerns their local congregation. If they had the sense of really what tradition encompasses then they would know that the practice of weekly communion, if not daily communion, goes back to the apostles and every early apologist (see Justin Martyr).

    Theologically, you should attack this from the standpoint that the Eucharist is for the healing of both soul and body. Do these people actually think and believe that they DON’T Need the Lord’s Body and Blood, the source of life, each and every day? If they actually do believe this then they are really in need of correction. Also, if they don’t want to come up for communion every week, they’re just as free not to.

    Honestly, this whole controversy seems to boil down to time. Most Lutherans couldn’t get through an Orthodox Orthros/Divine Liturgy (3 hours nearly) so why would they want to sit through an hour and a half Eucharist each and every week? I really think that this whole thing boils down to laziness and that is not something you should enable.

  14. michael brockman Says:

    So, is a pastor an emergency room doctor or just a nutritionist? Yes. At times both. Don’t get mad at those confessional type pastors. Listen. Learn. There is no trick involved in moving the Supper to fifth and every festival, and then to every Sunday. O to God that services were EVERY DAY AND THE SUPPER EVERY DAY! That is my goal! Has been since I read the Confessions and Church Fathers….after seminary. I taught that too!
    I clearly told my members that if they didn’t like the LS, stay in the pew. No one is forcing you to come to the altar. They could come twice a year if they wanted! I would keep preaching and teaching the same thing. One member accused me of “hounding.” I replied, “I’m teaching. I’m doing my job.”
    And, don’t be offended when you move to a more frequent Supper that not only will some Lutherans HATE you, they will also leave your church, not even for another LCMS option. You are to be faithful to the Lord’s Word………SOLA.

  15. Philip Hoppe Says:

    Michael – First I did not mean to demean those who call themselves confessional. As you know, some of my good friends and trusted mentors claim that label. I tend to anti-label in most of life. In this aspect also. As I hope you know, I stand with and confess with those that claim that label on nearly all issues.

    If you are up front in why you are doing what you are doing, there is no problem with adding those other services. But I have had many suggest this be done is a less than upfront way. And I stand firm that such action is not worthy of the office we hold.

    I am not sure I can agree that the Supper needs be every day. But If you have specific things you think suggest this was an early pervasive church practice, I would welcome reading them.

    I am not afraid to have a cross to bear. I have already felt its weight. But surely I have barely suffered anything compared to the saints of old and the saints who are being persecuted today. Faithfulness will always bring both crosses (from the world) and rejoicing (from the people of God). I seek to be faithful to God alone. But if you are suggesting that only those having the supper daily are being faithful to him, I would have to disagree.

    So, am I still preaching Saturday? 🙂 I hope so. See you then.

  16. Scott Schilbe Says:

    Hi Phil,
    Interesting post. I rarely make replies to blogs, but I’m on vacation so I have extra time. You are a lot more paitent than I am. And you are a lot better teacher than I. I agree, there is a time for teaching. But I guess–in my thinking–there’s also a time for action. At some point, I think that some move to more frequent Divine Services should be made. Some of my friends increase their congregations communions by “fiat,” without a Voters’ Assembly vote. I see their point in doing so. It would be hard to think of Walther or Luther or any of the orthodox 16th Century Lutherans going to a Voters’ Assembly, asking for a vote about communion frequencies.

    Also, realize that all you want to do is to offer the sacrament more regularly. You would not be compelling people to actually commune if you offered it more regularly. You still need to teach them why they should come to the sacrament more regularly, but by offering it doesn’t mean that they will necessarily come.

    Personally, I would be in the “manipulation” camp. Although, we don’t have weekly communion (and I have no agenda to institute it), we do have it 2nd, 4th, and 5th Sundays plus every festival (which probably ends up be 60 or 70% of the Sundays). We also have it every Sunday in Advent. A few years back, I was so mad at a few people giving me grief about not singing Christmas hymns in Advent that I said that I’d pick one Christmas hymn to be sung during the distrubtion if we had communion every Advent Sunday. The Elders approved it. A month later, I asked the Elders to rescind that motion because I had felt bad for using the Sacrament as a manipulation tool in this regard. So the Elders rescinded their motion, but then made another motion to have it anyways every Sunday during Advent. I gave a better reason: to emphasize the continual advent of Jesus during the Advent season.

    Random thoughts from a mind on vacation (and with the kids out of the house with Nana and Grandpa)

  17. Ginger Says:

    So, as much as I ‘groan’ at communion every service (though I do realize it’s importance, but I am human), I believe your biggest problem in your church (hee hee…our church), is CHANGE. NO ONE wants to accept change in a lot of places, but seems to me ESPECIALLY in our church (though I do not mean to offend anyone).
    Pastor, you are NOT the only Pastor that deals with congregations NOT wanting change….I believe that is probably a cross nearly every Pastor bears, but probably more in this traditional LCMS church out in the country…full of people that belong to this church just as much because they were raised in this church, as anything else (or because they’re married to one that was raised in this church). Again, not to offend, because if we did not have the members we have….we would not have this church.
    I encourage you to CONTINUE to preach and teach to us the words of our Heavenly Father, to continue to demand that we as Christians strive to be more Christ like in ALL we do, not just in attending church on Sunday and partaking of the Lord’s Supper once a month.
    I believe, in my personal opinion and without delving into what ARE the most important practices our church should follow, that a bigger problem is those of us standing up to partake of the Lord’s Supper…..where are our hearts? Not only when we step up to partake, but the rest of the day, the rest of the week? I truly believe that as humans, Christ loving humans, as we stumble through this life we live full of sin, we need to strive more to be the one God wants us to be…to become. It troubles me, and yes I struggle with the judgementalness of it all, that there are so many that don’t want to participate in the things that will make our hearts gladder, our hearts more loving, our lives more Christ-like….and not only live more for Him, but truly desire to be a Loving, strong Foundation, Christ centered church to our Women’s group, our Men, our Youth group, our Sunday School/Bible Study, our Missions, our Tithing, and more…including support of our Pastor in thought, prayer, and less stubborness and pride….things that our church needs to be the place where our needs are met in love through support and prayer and any other means necessary.
    I fail, constantly, but those of us that KNOW we’re failing ARE trying to do what we can and just as you struggle with the lack of desire to receive the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis….there SEEMS to be a lack of desire to participate in general and until we all participate MORE in any way God leads us….we will continue to be where we are as a church.
    God can do miraculous things, anything is possible with Him….but if we sit back on our butts we’ll not see results!
    (okay, I step down off of my soap box….someone else’s turn!)
    Lovingly, G

  18. Padre Dave Poedel, STS Says:

    What about those congregants who wish to receive the Eucharist weekly? What about your ability to provide Pastoral Care to those who, in their and your judgement, will benefit from more frequent reception of the Eucharist?

    I have rarely been challenged by my practice of the Eucharist at every service (including most weddings and funerals), and it is true that I introduced it as part of the Call process in both of the parishes I have served as Pastor, but I use the two questions above as my rationale for OFFERING the Eucharist at each service. No one is required to receive the Eucharist, but why would those who prefer less frequent reception want to deprive those who desire/need the grace of the Sacrament more often? This is where Christian charity comes in; love of neighbor.

    Those who initially preferred less frequent reception (and who had complete freedom not to receive any given service) usually end up as weekly recipients.

    I also catechize regularly in sermons and Bible Classes regarding the Means of Grace; I regularly remind our members and guests that we are a Church of Word AND Sacrament, and that weekly plus festivals was the norm during the Reformation. Less frequent reception was a reaction of not wanting to appear too “Catholic”, which is futile because we ARE Evangelical Catholics in all of the best sense.

    So, please lovingly consider what I have used for over 20 years of parish ministry with great blessings. Our by-line as a congregation is “the place where grace abounds” and there is no better instrument for grace to abound than the very Means that Christ instituted.

    In the love of Christ,

    Padre Dave Poedel, STS

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