Under authorization and supervision of the inspired apostles, the first century church celebrated communion on the first day of the week. The Lord instituted the Supper in anticipation of His death (Matthew 26:26-29), but the early church, in unswerving concert with the apostle’s doctrine, observed the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week. The reason for doing so becomes clear in view of the historical events of the death of Christ and His resurrection. At the time of His death, the body of flesh was torn open and the blood of Jesus was poured out. His body was then placed in the tomb and sealed shut; but in keeping with the prophecy of His resurrection, Jesus rose from the grave three days after His entombment, appearing alive to His disciples on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9).
In eating the Lord’s Supper (commemorating His death) on Sunday (honoring His resurrection) the church preserves the vital link between His death and resurrection upon which Christianity is founded (I Corinthians 15:12-19). To disregard either the first day of the week assembly or the Communion Supper is to tread under foot the inseparable connection between the death of Christ and His glorious resurrection. Furthermore, it is simply impossible to honor the authority of the apostle’s doctrine delivered to the church while abandoning the established pattern of the early church in observing the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week. Both the New Testament (the sole authority) and historical documentation concerning the primitive church reveals that Christians met regularly on the first day of the week for the expressed purpose of eating the Lord’s Supper, and as far as the record reveals, it was only on Sunday that the Supper was ever observed.
From a historical perspective, consider the testimony of Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.):
“On the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or in the country gather together in one place. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president teaches and urges us to imitate these good things. Then we all rise together and pray. When our prayer is ended, bread, wine and water are brought, and the president offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen” (Kaye, 1880).
When it is recalled that Christ was resurrected on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9); that he appeared alive to His devout followers on the first day of successive weeks (Luke 24:13-36; John 20:19-26); that the first gospel sermon was preached by the apostles (Acts 2) on the day of Pentecost (always on the first day of the week; Leviticus 23:15, 16); it then becomes incredibly clear why the church assembled on the first day of the week to celebrate the Communion Supper. From the establishment of the church on Pentecost, Christians began observing the communion with regularity.
Luke records that “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). As the phrase “continually devoting” translates from a Greek imperfect tense, Luke specifies a sustained practice. Scholars are near unanimous that “the breaking of bread” signifies the Lord’s Supper. The word “breaking” translates the Greek klasei, which is used only by Luke, and only in combination with the “breaking of bread.” Typical of all scholars, Vincent says “it is used to designate the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” In obvious contrast to the simple term “breaking bread” used in Acts 2:46 which denotes the common meals the Christians were sharing, every specific action mentioned in Acts 2:42 is found in the Greek with a definite article preceding; viz., “and they were continuing steadfast in the teaching of the apostles and in the fellowship, in the breaking of the loaf and in the prayers” (Marshall, 1993). The article appearing in the Greek indicates the special observance of those items associated with Christian worship. The Lord’s Supper is included in the list.
The evidence from the Scriptures continues when, many years later, Paul is departing from Philippi just after “the days of unleavened bread” (Acts 20:6), hurriedly proceeding to Jerusalem in the attempt to arrive before Pentecost, less than two months away (cf. 20:16). Despite a journey of several hundred miles remaining, Paul “tarried” seven days in the port city of Troas. The reason is immediately forthcoming in the text as Luke records, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” (Acts 20:7). This emphatically states the essential purpose of Christians gathering on the first day of the week, and that purpose is the breaking of bread in remembrance of Christ through devotion to the apostle’s doctrine.
Although some English versions say “when the disciples came together to break bread” (KJV, NKJV), the oldest and most reliable Greek texts do not contain the noun matheton (disciples), rather, the first person, plural pronoun hemon (we) is used in this verse. This is significant to the reading for it includes Luke (the author) as present company with Paul. More central to the topic at hand is the phrase “were gathered together.” The original language is a perfect tense, passive voice form, signifying “to bring together” (Thayer, 1958). The passive voice shows the assembly was by an extraneous directive, meaning even the apostle Paul was submissively obeying the authority of another – the inference being the church assembled by heavenly decree on the first day of the week to break bread. The assembly is thus not an arbitrary decision of the church itself, but the church is passive, simply obeying the divine injunction of her Lord.
The primary purpose of meeting on the first day of the week is “to break bread.” There exists no authority to alter the specific day, or to divorce the assembly of the church on Sunday from the observance of the Supper. If the Lord’s Table is not to be celebrated on the first day of the week, where is the authority for even meeting for worship every Sunday? That the early church did meet every Sunday is further evidenced by the instructions Paul would issue c. 55 A.D. concerning the commencement of personal giving into the treasury of the church “on the first day of every week” (I Corinthians 16:2, NASB).
The Greek kata (every), while not translated into the King James Version, is present in the original, and Thayer agrees with the NASB above, stating the phrase is properly translated “on the first day of every week” (1958, p. 328). The implication is certainly apparent: the New Testament church was assembling every first day of the week to eat the Lord’s Supper. If the church today is to belong to Christ, we must not fail to replicate the divine pattern displayed on the pages of the Scriptures inspired by the holy Creator of mankind.
With reference to the Supper itself, several items are essential for the dignity of the communion feast. The emblems consist of bread and fruit of the vine (Mark 14:22-25). Substitution of either or both of these elements is to disobey divine precedent and authority. This is why the apostle Paul - approximately 25 years after the establishment of the church – rebuked the Corinthian church for their blatant disrespect and perversion of the sacred Supper, condemning their introduction of common fellowship meals into the worship service which circumvented the true purpose of the assembly in honoring the death of Christ (I Corinthians 11:17-22). Paul issued the necessary corrections by restating the instructions given by Christ concerning the proper observance of the memorial Supper through eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine (11:23-25).
Having firmly re-established the required elements, Paul proceeds to emphasize the purpose of the Supper and the necessity of the individual worshipper’s careful discernment of the body and blood of Jesus Christ (11:26-29). To approach the table flippantly and without due reverence is an act of self-condemnation, consigning the irreverent worshipper to the position of the actual crucifier of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each worshipper is responsible for his or her own individual participation and commemoration of the solemn feast, and there is no participation by proxy (11:28; cf. Matthew 26:27).
Based upon the teachings of the New Testament, the death of Christ is remembered each Lord’s Day, i.e., the first day of the week. We are not, therefore, at liberty to ignore the worship of the church, nor to forsake the continual, careful observance of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week. Through this humble devotion of service, the Lord’s death is vividly proclaimed each week until He comes again
(I Corinthians 11:26).
The weekly celebration of communion was central to the worship of the New Testament church, and if such is not true where you worship, we plead with you to return to the apostolic pattern of worship. All who desire to worship in spirit and in truth should forsake the traditions of men and become part of the body of believers you read about in the New Testament, adhering steadfastly to “the pattern of sound words” delivered by the apostles of Jesus Christ.
Kaye, John (1880), The First Apology of Justin Martyr (London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh).
Marshall, Alfred (1993), The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Thayer, J. H. (1958), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T.
Vincent, Marvin Richardson (2001), Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament (Oak Harbor, WA:
Logos Research Systems).