John T. Lewis on Sunday PM Lord’s Supper

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.



13 Responses to “John T. Lewis on Sunday PM Lord’s Supper”

  1.   Richard Roland Says:

    All else being equal, controversy, or at least unfriendly controversy, is not a good thing. But when the early church reacted to the various Christological heresies, it was controversy.

    Some of the reasons for the controversy over Sunday night Lord’s supper may have been legalism and instinctive reaction against change. But at least some of the criticism sounds valid to my ears. Liturgical practice teaches

  2.   Richard Roland Says:

    powerfully, for good or ill. It behooves us to consider that when making decisions about our liturgy. That a conversation took place over this particular choice was not necessarily a bad thing.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    Lord’s Supper controversies have been with us for a long time…and will continue to be. Alas

    alas,my brother…
    and so it goes…
    blessings to you and yours

  4.   brian Says:

    personally, it bothers me when we serve it to 1 or 2 members on Sunday evening and the rest of us just sit there.
    One time, when there was only one guy taking it, I went and sat by him and took it with him.

    I would be fine to take it more often than Sunday, but probably wouldn’t find any like-minded in my congregation to observe it with

    •   rich constant Says:

      Brian:
      what a kind effort in the unity of the spirit.

      “One time, when there was only one guy taking it, I went and sat by him and took it with him”

  5.   Lyn Says:

    I once read that evening services began with the invention of gas lights. Farmers worked during daylight, and church leaders took advantage of the novelty of gas lights to draw people to town. I agree all should take communion together, not one or two alone. And I agree that the Lord’s day begins at sundown the night before.

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Usually the story is that gas lights were used by Spurgeon for the first time. However, evening services have a long history even before gas lights. Evening services for preaching were very common in the 19th century.

  6.   David Says:

    Wow. 2 posts in 3 days. :-) I hope these means we will “hear” from you a bit more often from here on.

    I would love to figure out how we can separate tradition and gospel and not argue or split over every little nuance.

  7.   Jerry Starling Says:

    I remember an informal debate between John T Lewis and Gus Nichols on the matter of Sunday evening offering of the Lord’s Supper. This was when I was a student at the old Alabama Christian College (now Faulkner University) in 1957 or ’58 during “Lecture Week.” I do not recall the details of the discussion except that brother Lewis was opposed to the practice while brother Nichols accepted it.

    My own observation is that the practice has led to more abuse than to greater appreciation of the Lord’s memory. I wish that when a church offers it in the evening, all would partake along with the few who were “providentially hindered” from being present in the morning assembly.

    Jerry Starling

    •   rich constant Says:

      not trying to be off topic just as always. a side note i found interesting…
      on restoration movement and the hope that is found for change…

      http://www.freedominchrist.net/Sermons/Worship/Sermons–Worship–Oddities%20in%20Pattern%20Theology–Jan%204–2000.htm#_ftn15

      Thrust Statement: God’s Pattern for worship is Jesus.

      Scripture Reading: Hebrews 8:5

      This author remembers very vividly this concept of the upper room being discussed when he was about fifteen years old (1949). During his early days, while attending Montgomery Bible College, now called Faulkner University, this upper room pattern was a subject talked about frequently by students and faculty. Even though the teachers associated with Montgomery Bible College did not agree, as far as I remember, with this hypothesis, nevertheless, that opinion demonstrated that it was a concern of many devout Christians. They did not want to be guilty of false worship. The Upper Room Pattern brethren wanted to worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). These misguided brethren wanted to do all things “according to the pattern”

  8.   bo weaver Says:

    John Mark – I would be interested in hearing more about the Sat night – Sun night “day” instead of the calendar day. There are plenty of places here in Memphis and I’m sure other places too that have Saturday evening worship. I believe it’s probably out of convenience, but I never considered that it might be “ok” legalistically. Thoughts?

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      It is basically the idea that the early church followed the Jewish calendar. Consequently, the “first day of the week” began at sundown on Saturday evening and concluded at sunset on Sunday evening. Several leaders believed this (e.g., James A. Harding) though Sunday morning was the almost universal practice.

  9.   Christine Parker Says:

    I have long said we are really good at taking the commune right out of the communion. Sunday night is usually when we do it best!

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