The Lord's Supper was instituted by Christ at Passover time, on which occasion He ate it with His apostles. Ought we, therefore, to construe this historical fact to be a divinely given law requiring that the Lord's Supper be celebrated thereafter only at Passover time?
The question posed by this inquiry was boldly met and definitely answered very early in the history of Seventh-day Adventists, and our stand on the matter since that time has been a sound one.
In response to urgent invitations James and Ellen White, accompanied by Joseph Bates and H. S. Gurney, in 1848, conducted a series of five weekend conferences in the States of Connecticut, New York, and Maine during the period from April 20 to October 22. The object of those meetings was to correct erroneous views held by some of the people present, to instruct and establish the believers in the present truth, and to unite them in holding and propagating the great doctrines of our faith.
The second conference of that series of five was held in David Arnold's barn at Volney, New York, during the weekend beginning Friday, August 18, 1848. In her early account of the occasion, Mrs. White says:
"There were about thirty-five present, all that could be collected in that part of the State. There were hardly two agreed. Each was strenuous for his views, declaring that they were according to the Bible. All were anxious for an opportunity to advance their sentiments, or to preach to us. They were told that we had not come so great a distance to hear them, but had come to teach them the truth. Bro. Arnold held that the 1000 years of Rev. xx were in the past; and that the 144,000 were those raised at CHRIST'S resurrection. And as we had the emblem of our dying LORD before us, and was [sic] about to commemorate his sufferings, Bro. A. arose and said he had no faith in what we were about to do; that the sacrament was a continuation of the Passover, to be observed but once a year."—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 97, 98.
In another report of that conference, Mrs. White says: "As we had before us the emblems of our dying Lord, and were about to commemorate His sufferings, this brother arose and said that he had no faith in what we were about to do; that the Lord's supper was a continuation of the Passover, and should be partaken of but once a year.
Was the Lord's Supper a continuation of the Passover? Should it be celebrated once a year like the Passover? Or is an irregular, occasional celebration all that is needed?
These questions arise from time to time, and they find an unqualified answer in this article. The author uses some valuable historical references, and his penultimate paragraph presents a powerful appeal for the application of the cleansing blood of Christ through the regular spiritual celebration of the Lord's Supper.
"These strange differences of opinion rolled a heavy weight upon me. I saw that many errors were being presented as truth. It seemed to me that God was dishonored. Great grief pressed upon my spirits, and I fainted under the burden. Some feared that I was dying. Brethren Bates, Chamberlain, Gurney, Edson, and my husband prayed for me. The Lord heard the prayers of His servants, and I revived.
"The light of heaven then rested upon me, and I was soon lost to earthly things. My accompanying angel presented before me some of the errors of those present, and also the truth in contrast with their errors. These discordant views, which they claimed were in harmony with the Scriptures, were only according to their opinion of Bible teaching; and I was bidden to tell them that they should yield their errors, and unite upon the truths of the third angel's message.
"Our meeting closed triumphantly. Truth gained the victory. Our brethren renounced their errors and united upon the third angel's message, and God greatly blessed them and added many to their numbers."—Life Sketches, p. 111. (See also Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 98, 99; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 86.)
It is particularly significant that of all the persons holding erroneous views, David Arnold is the only one singled out by name, and is the only one whose erroneous ideas are specifically revealed. One of his errors is definitely declared to be the notion "that the Lord's supper was a continuation of the Passover, and should be partaken of but once a year."
Those pioneer Seventh-day Adventist leaders conducted that celebration of the Lord's Supper on the Sabbath, August 19, 1848, which certainly was many weeks after Passover time. "The time of the Passover corresponded to the close of March or the beginning of April."—The Desire of Ages, p. 76. (See also Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 557.)
Those who were advocating error, and not the leadefs of the meeting, were the persons reproved by the visions. The leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, including Ellen G. White, since that time have consistently maintained that the observance of the Lord's Supper is not a continuation of the Passover of ancient times, and that partaking of the communion service is not to be restricted to Passover time and thus held but once a year.
In her diary for the Sabbath, January 1, 1859, Mrs. White records that she partook of the Lord's Supper with fellow members of the Sabbathkeeping church at Battle Creek, Michigan, on that date. Our headquarters were located in that city at that time. In a message dated January 7, 1893, which fell on the Sabbath, Mrs. White tells of partaking of the communion service with fellow believers at North Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, on that date. (See Evangelism, pp. 276, 277.) In both instances, the Lord's Supper was eaten in early January, which certainly was many weeks before Passover time.
Mrs. White tells also of partaking of the Lord's Supper with fellow believers at Cooranbong, N.S.W., Australia, on the Sabbath, August 10, 1895, which was long after Passover time. In many early issues of the Review and Herald, the official organ of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we find numerous reports of the observance of the Lord's Supper by our people through the years, with the precise dates given. They show that our people have consistently maintained in teaching and practice our belief that partaking of the Lord's Supper is not to be limited to Passover time.
David Arnold mistakenly supposed "that the Lord's supper was a continuation of the Passover." The observance of the Passover was to end forever as a result of the death of Christ. The Lord's Supper was "to take the place of the Passover," and thus was not to be a continuation of it. Note these clear-cut statements:
"In instituting the sacramental service to take the place of the Passover, Christ left for His church a memorial of His great sacrifice for man. . . . The one was to close forever; the other, which He had just established, was to take its place, and to continue through all time as the memorial of His death."—Evangelism, pp. 273, 274. (Italics supplied.)
"In the place of the national festival which the Jewish people had observed, He instituted a memorial service, the ordinance of feet washing and the sacramental supper, to be observed through all time by His followers in every country."—/bid., pp. 275, 276.
The celebration of the Passover was limited as to both time and place. It was to be held only once a year, and the time was in the spring of the year. After the establishment of the Jews as a nation under God by covenant relationship, the observance of the Passover was restricted to the place where the sanctuary was located, which usually was the headquarters of the nation.
Although it is true that the observance of the Lord's Supper commemorates the Lord's sufferings and death as our Saviour, an event to which the Passover previously had symbolically pointed for centuries, the holding of the communion service is not a continuation of the paschal feast and is restricted neither to time nor place. The Scriptures record no commandment or law whatsoever limiting the holding of the Lord's Supper to any specific time or place. "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (1 Cor. 11:26). Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, speaks particularly of the observance of the Lord's Supper at Corinth, and reproves those who were introducing erroneous notions regarding it.
In Acts 20:7-11 we find that "upon the first day of the week, when the disciples at Troas] came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow." After his preaching had been interrupted by the fall of Eutychus from the window, Paul resumed the service. "When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed."
Our view is that this was a farewell meeting held by Paul with the believers at Troas, during which he partook of the Lord's Supper with them. "They partook of the communion, and then Paul 'talked a long while, even till break of day.' "—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 391. "They partook of the communion, and then Paul continued his discourse till the dawn of day." —ELLEN G. WHITE, Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 197.
The chronology connected with that story is significant, for it has a bearing on the subject of our inquiry. In introducing the story of Paul's partaking of the Lord's Supper with the believers at Troas, Luke says:
"And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow" (Acts 20:6, 7). (Compare with this Ellen G. White's comment in The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 390, 391.)
The Passover lamb was customarily slain by the Jews on Nisan 14. It was eaten after sunset and, therefore, in the night (or forepart) of Nisan 15, which was the first day of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Paul and Luke were at Philippi throughout the festal period of the eight days of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. It took them five days to go by boat from Philippi to Troas. And they spent seven days at Troas before Paul held that farewell meeting and the communion service with the believers there. Thus they partook of the Lord's Supper at least nineteen days after Passover time. This is, therefore, definite Bible proof that the Christian church in apostolic times did not maintain that partaking of the Lord's Supper was a continuation of the observance of the Passover, and that the communion service was to be held only at Passover time.
At present, several small offshoots are advocating the idea formerly held by David Arnold, "that the Lord's supper was a continuation of the Passover, and should be partaken of but once a year." False claims are made that this doctrine is supported by the Spirit of Prophecy. Our denominational teaching, based on sound premises, is this:
"The salvation of men depends upon a continual application to their hearts of the cleansing blood of Christ. Therefore, the Lord's supper was not to be observed only occasionally or yearly, but more frequently than the annual passover."—Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 203; Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 228. (See also Early Writings, p. 116.)
The notion "that the Lord's supper was a continuation of the Passover, and should be partaken of but once a year" is a mistaken one. It is contrary to the teaching and practice of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and is not supported by either the Scriptures or the -writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.