Sitting at the Table

“Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.”

1 Cor. 10:21

“But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with Me on the table.”

Lk. 22:21

“That ye may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom”

Lk. 22:30

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Order of Contents

Articles  8
Latin
Book  1
History of
Quotes  2
On Holding Multiple Seatings at the Table due to Necessity
Is the Supper Valid without Sitting at a Table?  Yes
Objection: Sitting in Chairs is Different than How Christ & the Apostles Sat or
.       Laid Down

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Articles

1500’s

Ridley, Nicholas – Reasons Why the Lord’s Board should Rather be after the Form of a Table than of an Altar  1550  in Injunctions Given in the Visitation…  in Works of Nicholas Ridley, p. 321-4

Ridley (d. 1555) the English reformer and martyr under Bloody Mary argues against using an altar in worship (as in Romanism) and argues for the use of a table.

Knox, John – ‘Why the Sitting in the Action of the Lord’s Table is Preferred to Kneeling’  1552  in Peter Lorimer, Knox and the Church of England, pp. 271-4

Becon, Thomas – 16. ‘Christ did minister the sacrament…  sitting at the table.’  in A Comparison Between the Lord’s Supper and the Pope’s Mass  in Prayers & Other Pieces (Parker Society), pp. 364-365  d. 1567

Becon (c. 1511–1567) was an English reformer and chaplain to Edward VI.

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1600’s

Burroughs, Jeremiah – Gospel Worship, Sermon 13, Points 1 & 2, pp. 261-5

Burroughs was a Westminster divine.

Calderwood, David 

Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacramental Elements of Bread and Wine Proven Unlawful  1619  30 pp.  a chapter from his larger work: The Perth Assembly.

The unlawful Perth Assembly in 1618 imposed the King of England’s will in the worship of the Church of Scotland.  One of the five unBiblical practices prescribed was kneeling at communion.  This practice was done to give a special honor (an honor that scripture does not prescribe) to the elements of the Lord’s Supper and was little different than the Roman Catholic’s worshipping of the bread and wine as Christ’s physical body and blood.  In addition to this, it overturned the Biblical and Scottish practice of sitting at the Table for communion.  Thus Calderwood Biblically refutes kneeling at communion and defends sitting at the Table.

Of the Communicants’ Gesture in the Act of Receiving, Eating and Drinking, 1636, 138 pp.  a chapter from his A Re-Examination of the Five Articles Enacted at Perth anno 1618.  The Re-examination was a later, fuller refutation of the five articles of Perth.

This book was influential in the rise of the Second Reformation in Scotland in 1638, being printed two years before that event, when Biblical worship was re-instituted in the land.

Gillespie, George – Of the Use of a Table in the Lord’s Supper, from his Treatise of Miscellany Questions, ch. 18, 1649, 20 paragraphs, with a four paragraph Introduction by Bobby Phillips.  There is also a short appendix on Gillespie on the Common Cup.

This is the fullest, most Biblically detailed article defending the practice.  Gillespie, one of the commissioners to the Westminster Assembly, gives six arguments for sitting at a table in the Lord’s Supper.  See here for a summary of his arguments.

Rutherford, Samuel

The Administration of the Lord’s Supper, 1642, 6 paragraphs, being Chapter 20, Article 6 of his A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland  (1642)

Rutherford describes the Biblically rich way the Church of Scotland practiced the Lord’s Supper during his day, with a preparatory sermon the day before, the singing of psalms, sitting at a table, using a common cup, with Table addresses by the minister, etc.

Ch. 2, Question 1, ‘Whether Kneeling or Sitting be the Most Convenient and Lawful Gesture in the Act of Receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood?’  in The Divine Right of Church Government (1646), pp. 192-219

The Westminster Standards on the Administration of the Lord’s Supper 

Specifically with regard to a Common Cup and Sitting at the Table.

Dury, John – A Model of Church Government: or the Grounds of the Spiritual Frame & Government of the House of God. Showing what the Holy Scriptures have therein Delivered; what the best Reformed Churches do Practice; what the Tender Consciences may Rest in  (London, 1647)

Ch. 9, Certain Rules Concerning the Administration of the Lord’s Supper for the Decent Ordering of the Action, Offered to the Consideration of Those that Scruple at the Gesture of Sitting, pp. 36-55

Ch. 10, The Practise of the Best Reformed Churches in the Administration of the Lord’s Supper

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Latin

Voet, Gisbert – ch. 4, ‘Of the Utensils or the Instruments, and Also of Certain Adjuncts and Circumstances’  in  Ecclesiastical Politics, vol. 1, book 2, tract 2, section 4, pp. 789 ff.  See especially 4. Question.

Vitringa, Sr., Campegius – Vol. 8, pp. 415-422, ‘Of the Table of the Sacred Supper’  of The Doctrine of the Christian Religion, Summarily Described through Aphorisms  d. 1722

Vitringa, Sr. (1659-1722) was a professor in Franeker and a Hebraist.  “…Vitringa…  maintained a fairly centrist Reformed position…  Vitringa and De Moor serve as codifiers and bibliographers of the earlier tradition, the former from a federalist, the latter from a nonfederalist perspective.” – Dr. Richard Muller

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Book

Begg, James – A Treatise on the Use of The Communion Table, in Celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, 1824, this is only 4 of the 7 sections of the book, including the Introduction and the Conclusion

This is the fullest book on the topic.  Begg argues for the practice from the example of Christ and the apostles, that it is in conformity with the practice of the early church, that corruptions and innovations away from the practice came later, that sitting at the table has always been the authorized practice of the Scottish Church, and lastly answers arguments in favor of “the late innovation.”

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The History of Sitting at the Lord’s Table

Articles

Drysdale, Alexander H. – pp. 46-4765-69 & 173  of History of the Presbyterians of England  1889

Isbell, Sherman – The Administration of the Lord’s Supper  2006  20 pp.

This historical essay describes the Biblically principled practice of the reformation Scottish Church’s administration of the Lord’s Supper.  Special attention is given to their communion seasons which were often held outdoors in fields, ministering to thousands, and included preparatory preaching, sitting at tables, and using common cups. 

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Quotes

John Hooper  1550  English reformer

pp. 536-537 of Sermons upon Jonah  in Early Writings (Parker Society)

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John Knox  1552  while in England

p. 261-3 of ‘John Knox to the Congregation of Berwick’  in Peter Lorimer, John Knox and the Church of England  1875

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Roger Hutchison  1552  English reformer

pp. 232 & 253  in Three Sermons on the Lord’s Supper  in Works (Parker Society)

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The First Book of Discipline [of the Church of Scotland]  1560

The Second Head, Of Sacraments

The Table of the Lord is then most rightly ministered when it approaches most nigh to Christ’s own action.  But plain it is, that at that Supper Christ Jesus sat with his disciples, and therefore do we judge that sitting at a table is most convenient to that holy action

The Ninth Head, Concerning the Policy of the Church

“The reparation would be according to the possibility and number of the church.  Every church must have doors, closed windows of glass, thatch or slate able to withhold rain, a bell to convocate the people together, a pulpit, a basin for baptism, and tables for the ministration of the Lord’s Supper.”

David Calderwood

The Perth Assembly, 1619

p. 33-34

That has been the uniform and constant order of this Church [of Scotland], since the reformation [in 1560]: that the communicants should receive the sacramental elements of bread and wine, sitting at the table.  In the second head of the First Book of Discipline [of the Church of Scotland, 1560], are set down these words:  ‘The table of the Lord is then rightly ministered when it approaches most near to Christ’s own action, but it is plain that at that supper Christ Jesus sat with his disciples, and therefore we do judge that sitting at a table is most convenient to that holy action.’

In the general Assembly held in December 1562 it was ordained, That one uniform order be observed in the ministration of the sacraments, according to the order of Geneva [Switzerland, where John Calvin was]… 

But so it is, that sitting at the table in the act of receiving has been established by laws, custom, long prescription of time and confirmed by oaths and subscriptions as is evident by the former deduction.”  

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On Holding Multiple Seatings at the Table due to Necessity

George Gillespie

pp. 220-22  of ch. 18, ‘Of the Use of a Table in the Lord’s Supper. And of the Communi∣cants their Coming to & Receiving at the Table’  in A Treatise of Miscellany Questions

“Thirdly, it cannot be denied but that the first communicants who received from Christ [at the first Lord’s Supper] might with more ease and conveniency be placed at the table than can be now in many churches which have been accustomed to another way.  But we must not bring down our rule to our conveniences; rather, bring up our conveniencies to our rule.  It is no hard matter to alter pews and such like things in churches, where the present posture is inconsistent with following the pattern: and a less alteration will serve than is apprehended.

Fourthly, the flux and reflux (so to speak) of several successive tables, where there is a great number to communicate, and the repeating, or pronouncing, and applying to those several tables of receivers the words, ‘Take ye, eat ye,’ which Christ pronounced but once in one act of distribution, these things (I say) cannot be justly charged as deviations from the example of Christ when the same providence which limited Him to a fewer number, calls us to distribute to a great number:

Neither can they who so charge us ever make good what they alledge, unlesse they prove that although Christ had been distributing this sacrament to all the 500 disciples to whom He appeared after his resurrection (suppose I say, there had been so many communicants) yet He had given them all at once the elements and had said but once, ‘Take ye, eat ye,’ and that there had been no intermission at all, nor no partition into several successive companies.  If this can be proved, then they say much against the use of successive tables, otherwise not.

Fifthly, our dissenting brethren of the Independent way, who dislike our several and successive tables in one congregation, as a dividing of those who ought to communicate all together (for they would have none of the communicants receive the cup [which comes after the bread] before all of the congregation who communicate have received the bread), these brethren, I say, may satisfy themselves from their own principles:

For they hold that although a congregation increase so much as that they cannot, or be so persecuted that they may not, meet safely in one place for the Word and sacraments, and supposing the Church of Jerusalem before the dispersion, Acts 8:1, to have been so numerous and to have accressed to so many thousands as could not receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, nor ordinarily assemble into one place for the worship of God (that they received the Lord’s Supper in several companies and several houses is ordinarily collected from Acts 2:46, and breaking bread from house to house, which the Syriac expounds expressely of the Eucharist), Yet all this (say they) breaks not the Church, but they are still one particular church.

Now if several companies of the same church assembled and receaving the Lord’s Supper in several places be not a breaking or dividing of the congregation, nor a deviation from the example of Christ, much less can they with any reason, charge our communicating by several companies at successive tables, in the same meeting place or assembly to be a breaking of the congregation or a deviation from Christ’s example.  If one of their congregations may receive the sacrament in several houses, when (by reason of numerousness) they cannot all receive it together in one house, I cannot conceive why they may not much more allow us several successive tables in the assembly when the whole cannot communicate at one table…”

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Is a Lord’s Supper Valid without Sitting at the Table?  Yes

David Calderwood

A Defence of our Arguments Against Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacramental Elements of Bread & Wine Impugned by Mr. Michelsone  (Amsterdam, 1620), ‘Answer to his Ten Arguments for Kneeling’, p. 72 & 74-75

“Sitting we think not so necessary as that there could not be a sacrament without it, but to the due ministration of the sacrament we think a table-gesture necessary.

When as we only ground upon Christ and his apostles sitting, and other rites, the necessity of a table-gesture, not to the essence of a sacrament, but to the due ministration of that action…

Sitting we think ought not to be changed, no not into standing, without some weighty consideration of some urgent occasion, because it was the gesture of Christ, his apostles, and the apostolical kirks; it is the ordinary gesture of guests at feasts, and resembles best the familiar access of the soul to the spiritual table.”

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Objection: Sitting in Chairs is Different than How Christ & the Apostles Sat or Laid Down

Using a table in its normal way in the Supper, as is recognized in Scripture, is primary; the posture thereat is secondary and is relatively indifferent, as long as it is fitting to table fellowship.

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David Calderwood

Perth Assembly…  ([Leiden, 1619]), ‘Kneeling in the Act of Receiving’, ‘Kneeling Considered as it is a Breach of the Institution’, p. 38.  See the larger paragraph as a whole as well.

“Next, that Christ and his apostles used at supper the gesture used at ordinary suppers.  If we sit therefore according to the received gesture of the country wherein we are, we imitate aright, and it were apish imitation to sit otherwise.”

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Related Pages

The Administration of the Lord’s Supper

The Common Cup

Table Addresses