John T. Lewis (1876-1967), a 1906 graduate of the Nashville Bible School and largely responsible for church planting in Birmingham, Alabama, in the first half of the 20th century, penned an interesting tract in 1952 entitled “The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day.” It reflects on the correlation of the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day (Sunday).
His tract offers a specific insight into the beginnings of Sunday night offerings of the Lord’s Supper. The tradition throughout the 19th century within Stone-Campbell churches was to gather around the table and share the Supper in the mornings (sometimes in the mid-afternoon). It was not–with any frequency–an evening event. But this changed in the early 20th century. Here is Lewis’ perspective on the change (p. 11).
That practice began in Nashville, Tennessee, during World War I. One of the congregationas there, I do not recall now which one it was, began carrying the Lord’s supper over till the night services for the benefit of those who had to work on Lord’s day. Lots of brethren objected to it. Brother C. M. Pullias was living in Birmingham at that time and I know he was opposed to it then. However, the practice has become almost a universal custom among the churches of Christ today, and many think that the congregations that do not have the Lord’s supper on Sunday night are made up of cranks. We have never tried to have the Lord’s supper at night where I preach. If a member cannot meet with the brethren on ‘the Lord’s day,’ I do not think he needs to worry about ‘the Lord’s supper,’ because I do not believe you can have one without the other.
We might surmise from this suggestion that, as far as Lewis knew, offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening was an early 20th century innovation situated in the context of World War I. It might have started as a way of accomodating those who worked in shifts as factories and plants worked around the clock for the sake of war production. Since shift work prevented some from attending on Sunday morning, it was also offered on Sunday evening. This may be the origin of the near universal practice–in my experience–of Sunday evening offering of the Supper that was unknown in the 19th century. It became part of the culture and liturgical practice of the Churches of Christ and it was an innovation to accomodate workers.
Lewis believed the Sunday morning assembly–the Lord’s Day assembly–was for the purpose breaking bread. In Acts 20:7, the preaching was “incidental or a secondary matter–that is the way it should always be when we ‘come to gether to break’ bread” (p. 11). “But,” he writes, “our ‘gathering together’ on Sunday night is to hear preaching and the Lord’s supper becomes a secondary matter, and in many places it is taken in a bakc or side room, after the meeing has been dismissed” (p. 12).
Lewis thought this inappropriate at two levels. First, it severed the link between Lord’s Day and Lord’s Supper since the morning assembly is the gathering designed for the observance of the Lord’s Supper. He also held a conviction, just as James A. Harding did, that the Lord’s Day is from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday. Thus, an evening Supper on Sunday night is not the Lord’s Day. Second, he thought the practice of a “side room” partaking of the Supper lowered the significance of the Supper and people now viewed the Supper “like the Cathoics” in the sense “they have attended mass and it [didn’t] make any difference what they [did] the rest of the day” (preface ).
Lord’s Supper controversies have been with us for a long time…and will continue to be. Alas.