Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians assume communion to be normative for that congregation.
(1 Cor 10:16-17) Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
(1 Cor 11:20-34) When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.
The 1 Cor 11 passage plainly indicates that the church was combining the Lord’s Supper with a common meal. However, it’s arguable that Paul condemned this practice in v. 22. Then again, v. 33 speaks of coming together “to eat,” using a word that Paul routinely uses for eating a meal of any kind.
More importantly, Jude 12 was written long after 1 Corinthians, and speaks of love feasts with approval –
(Jude 1:12) These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm–shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead.
Compare 2 Pet 2:13, which speaks of Christians participating in “feasts.” Obviously, the church was still celebrating the love feast long after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, and so we must take Paul’s instructions to eat at home as a temporary measure to prevent further harm until Paul could deal with the situation personally (v. 34).
In 1 Cor 16:2, Paul writes,
(1 Cor 16:2) On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
This certainly consistent with the notion that the church met weekly on Sundays, but falls far short of a command to do so. Moreover, we can hardly conclude from 1 Corinthians that the church met on Sundays and only Sundays to take communion. For all we know, they may have taken communion as often as they met.
Paul teaches that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic of our unity in c. 10. The lesson is inherent in the practice of eating together in the culture of the day — especially in churches that met in homes. Common meals evidenced a fellowship, community, acceptance, and even protection. This is one reason the Pharisees so objected to Jesus eating with “sinners.” To eat with sinners was to form a communal bond with them.
Thus, the Lord’s Supper had the practical effect in that culture of forcing those at the table to consider one another as honored guests and equals. The modern crumb-and-sip-sitting-in-a-pew practice completely misses this central ingredient of the meal.
Some preliminary conclusions
There are some critically important observations we need to make regarding what we read in the New Testament–
* There is no command to assemble weekly, much less on a Sunday. However, there is solid evidence that the church sometimes met daily, although it seems unlikely to have been the universal practice.
* There is evidence that the early church met weekly on a Sunday but also that they didn’t met only on Sundays.
* There’s no evidence that they only took communion on Sundays.
* The early church appears to have combined a love feast with the communion. 1 Cor 11 tells us that this was not essential, but it’s clear that this was the typical pattern. Other than to prevent abuses, every communion we find seems to have been part of a meal, beginning with the Last Supper.
* Luke makes a point to give a Eucharistic significance to meals that were not part of a formal assembly, even meals that included non-believers. In Acts 27, for example, Paul breaks bread with unbelievers as part of giving a word of encouragement and thanking God in advance for his protection.
* The love-feast/communion not only symbolized unity, it created unity. And there’s a big difference.
Now, all that being said, it’s a clear fact of history that at some point after Pentecost, the church shifted from daily assemblies to weekly assemblies on a Sunday. That happened. And the scriptures reflect this shift, but never is it taught as a required pattern.
Nonetheless, the Christian church has met at least weekly going back to Pentecost. And I know of no effort to change that. Rather, the issue that people fight over today is whether a church can take communion on Saturday night or conduct their weekly assembly on Saturday night rather than Sunday.
Some want to argue the question in terms of the Jewish versus the Roman calendar (does the “first day” start Saturday night and exclude Sunday night, as the Jews practiced, or does it go from midnight to midnight, as the Romans thought?) I don’t think that’s even an interesting argument, because I haven’t found a command to take communion on Sunday.