According to Rev. Cammenga’s informative article on communion (SB, Nov. 15, 1997), John Calvin suggested having communion once every week. In our churches we have it once every three or four months. That’s no small difference. Do you know what Calvin’s reasons were for wanting communion so often? He was a lover of God and a dedicated student of His Word, so I am interested in what he had to say and would respect it.
Randy Vaalburg, Byron Center, MI
Calvin’s desire for frequent—even weekly—administrations of the Lord’s Supper is easily documented.
Now, to get rid of this great pile of (Romish, RC) ceremonies, the Supper could have been administered most becomingly if it were set before the church very often, and at least once a week (Institutes IV, xvii. p. 43).
Calvin goes on in the same passage to object to the practice being advocated by some that the sacrament be administered only once a year or infrequently. Instead he calls for a return to what he considers the apostolic model so that “… no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper, and almsgiving” (Institutes IV, xvii, p. 44).
The reason for Calvin’s desire for frequent administrations of the Lord’s Supper is simply his high view of the sacrament. Although rejecting the Romish position that the sacraments confer grace, Calvin was equally vehement in repudiating the position that the sacraments are empty signs. On the contrary, the sacraments, and now specifically the Lord’s Supper, are means of grace. Because of Christ’s purpose in the Lord’s Supper and the benefits of the Supper for the believer, the sacrament ought to be administered frequently.
…it (the Lord’s Supper, RC) was ordained to be frequently used among all Christians in order that they might frequently return in memory to Christ’s Passion, by such remembrance to sustain and strengthen their faith, and urge themselves to sing thanksgiving to God and to proclaim his goodness… (Institutes IV, xvii, p. 44).
In a “Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper” Calvin writes:
However, if we duly consider the end which our Lord has in view, we shall perceive that the use should be more frequent than many make it: for the more infirmity presses, the more necessary is it frequently to have recourse to what may and will serve to confirm our faith, and advance us in purity of life; and, therefore, the practice of all well ordered churches should be to celebrate the Supper frequently, so far as the capacity of the people will admit (Calvin’s Tracts, Vol. II, p. 179).
Although in favor of frequent administrations of the sacrament, Calvin recognized that there was no express command in Scripture regarding frequency. The frequency of administration must be determined by the eldership, taking into consideration the importance of the sacrament as well as “… the capacity of the people….” Even Calvin was ready to concede a monthly, and even a quarterly administration of the Lord’s Supper lest frequency of administration lead to thoughtless participation. Thus Calvin could put his imprimatur on the rule established for the church of Geneva in the “Ecclesiastical Ordinances” of 1541.
Since the supper was instituted by our Lord for our frequent use, and since also it was so observed in the ancient Church until the devil overturned everything, setting up the mass in its place, to celebrate it so seldom is a fault requiring correction. For the present, however, we have decided and ordered that it should be administered four times a year, namely, at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, and on the first Sunday of September in the autumn (The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin, p. 44).
Thanks for your question—a good one. And thanks also for reading the rubric.
—Rev. Ron Cammenga
An Editorial in the Christmas Cards
Your article, “The Birth of Jesus: Particular Grace” (Standard Bearer, Dec. 15, 1997), is a much needed, clear, and important message for all who name the name of Christ.
I hope, God willing, next Christmas, to include a copy of it in my Christmas cards. I have discovered, since myself hearing the true gospel of God’s particular grace for the first time, that it is unknown to most of my Arminian friends, as it was to me. And to those who say they did “know” it, I’ve seen an attitude that says it “doesn’t matter” enough to press it. This is grievous.
Christmas and all its hoopla can be used as an opportunity to present the gospel of God’s particular grace to ears that might be in a listening mode, by God’s grace.
Please keep on shining the light of God’s grace on every aspect of our Lord’s life. We need to hear the gospel all the time.
Pat Buysse, Gettysburg, PA
On Whose Side is Billy Graham?
In the December 15 issue of the Standard Bearer is an interesting article on the “Different Paths of Salvation.” The contents remind of an old saying, “If the fox preaches passion, farmer, look after your geese.”
I suggest to read Revelation 12:17. The text speaks of a woman, commandments of God, testimonies of Christ, and a remnant. The woman represents the church of the Old and New Testament. The law and testimonies happen to be the only way of salvation through Christ our Lord. Now, Mr. Graham has discovered a second way of salvation, namely, “there are people that have never seen the Bible, never heard of Jesus, but believe in God.” By implication, they are part of the remnant.
How grateful we ought to be for all these globe-trotting missionaries. Perhaps, it may leave us wondering on which side is Mr. Graham.
Bart VanderWal, Ripon, CA