“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.”
“That ye may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom”
Order of Contents
Multiple Seatings due to Necessity 1
Supper: Valid without Sitting at a Table 2
Objection: Sitting in Chairs is Different than How the Apostles Sat or Laid Down 1
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, pp. 321-24
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 & the Church of England, pp. 271-74
Becon, Thomas – 16. ‘Christ did Minister the Sacrament… Sitting at the Table’ in A Comparison Between the Lord’s Supper & the Pope’s Mass in Prayers & Other Pieces (d. 1567; Parker Society), pp. 364-65
Becon (c. 1511–1567) was an English reformer and chaplain to Edward VI.
Burroughs, Jeremiah – Sermon 13, Points 1 & 2, pp. 261-65 in Gospel Worship (London, 1648)
Burroughs was a Westminster divine.
‘Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacramental Elements of Bread & Wine Proven Unlawful’ in The Perth Assembly ([Leiden: Pilgrim Press] 1619), pp. 33-62
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 & Drinking’ in A Re-Examination of the Five Articles Enacted at Perth anno 1618 (1636), pp. 1-138 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 – ch. 18, ‘Of the Use of a Table in the Lord’s Supper’ in Treatise of Miscellany Questions (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.
‘The Administration of the Lord’s Supper’ 6 paragraphs being Ch. 20, Article 6 in 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 & Lawful Gesture in the Act of Receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s Body & Blood?’ in The Divine Right of Church Government (1646), pp. 192-201
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’, pp. 55-56
Voet, Gisbert – ch. 4, ‘Of the Utensils or the Instruments, & Also of Certain Adjuncts & 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. 415-22, ‘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
Begg, James – A Treatise on the Use of The Communion Table, in Celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (1824) Intro & ToC
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 he answers arguments in favor of “the late innovation.”
Table of Contents
1. The use of the Communion Table, in celebrating the Sacrament of our Lord’s Supper, is in conformity with the example of Christ, and the Apostles, and the nature and design of that holy ordinance.
2. The use… is in conformity with practice of Christians, in the first and purest ages of the Christian Church.
3. A view of the corrupt Innovations, respecting the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the Communion Table, in the past ages of the Christian Church.
4. The use… is in conformity with the laws, authorized practice of the Established Church of Scotland, since the Reformation.
5. Answers to the arguments in favor of the late Innovation.
The History of Sitting at the Lord’s Table
Drysdale, Alexander H. – pp. 46-47, 65-69 & 173 of History of the Presbyterians of England (1889)
Isbell, Sherman – ‘The Administration of the Lord’s Supper’ in The Master’s Trumpet (Dec., 2006), pp. 18-44
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.
John Hooper 1550 English reformer
pp. 536-37 of Sermons upon Jonah in Early Writings (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1843)
John Knox 1552 while in England
pp. 261-63 of ‘John Knox to the Congregation of Berwick’ in Peter Lorimer, John Knox & the Church of England (London, H.S. King & Co., 1875)
Roger Hutchison 1552 English reformer
pp. 232 & 253 in Three Sermons on the Lord’s Supper in Works (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1842)
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.”
The Perth Assembly (1619), pp. 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.”
A Dissuasive from the Errors of the Time, wherein the Tenets of the Principal Sects, especially of the Independents, are Drawn Together in One Map… (London, 1645), ch. 6, ‘An Enumeration of the Common Tenets of the Independents’, pp. 122-23 The first part of the quote deals with taking the table too far.
“That their conformity with the Brownists [separatists] may be full, the New-English [New England congregationalists] do count sitting at a table, not only to be necessary, but to be a part of our imitation of Christ, and a rite significant of diverse heavenly privileges and comforts;
but as the Brownists at Amsterdam this day have no table at all, as they send the elements from the pulpit (the place where the minister preaches and celebrates the sacrament) by the hand of the deacon to all the congregation, where in their meeting-house they sit up and down in their several places: So the Independents at London do vehemently contend for the needlessness of any to come to the Table, whatever be the practice of all the rest of the Reformed Churches: But they will have the holy seals carried from the place where the minister preaches to the people in their pews, or wherever else they have their ordinary places for hearing of the Word; although most easily in their small congregations without any disturbance all might be brought to the Table.”
Wilhelmus a Brakel
The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2, pp. 566-67
“The gestures or the external manner of administration of this sacrament must be such as most closely resembles the first Lord’s Supper administered by Christ, as well as the administration of the Lord’s Supper by the apostles and the apostolic churches as recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
Then the Lord’s Supper was administered while seated at a table. Since it is a meal, it is therefore proper that it be administered in such a manner as one would serve either common or special meals. To come, one by one, to that which one calls an altar, to there receive the bread out of the hand of the celebrant—who time and again takes it from the altar and gives it to the communicant—to there receive it while kneeling, and to let it be put into his mouth, is superstitious and gives occasion for superstition.
To use the sacrament standing and while passing the table is not as edifying. It also does not agree as fully with the first administration as does sitting at the table—be it that the minister gives the bread and the cup to each person one by one, or be it that he breaks the bread and puts it upon dishes which he passes on to those guests who are partaking, subsequently giving the cup to be passed on from hand to hand.”
Theodore Vandergroe (d. 1784)
The Christian’s Only Comfort in Life & Death: An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. Bartel Elshout (RHB), Lord’s Day 28
“Third, these believing communicants must be seated at a table with their minister—just as Christ and His apostles were seated at a table.”
On Holding Multiple Seatings at the Table due to Necessity
pp. 220-22 of ch. 18, ‘Of the Use of a Table in the Lord’s Supper & 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…”
Is a Lord’s Supper Valid without Sitting at the Table? Yes
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’, pp. 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.”
A Treatise of Miscellany Questions... (Edinburgh, 1649), ch. 18, ‘Of the Use of a Table in the Lord’s Supper…’, p. 224
“When the old prophet did invite the young prophet to eat bread and drink water with him, common civility made a table necessary in this single entertainment (1 Kings 13:20), ‘And it came to pass as they sat at the table…’ If it were a disrespect to invite friends to eat and drink with us, and yet when they come, not to place them at a table (where a table may be had), I know no reason why it ought not also to be conceived a wronging of Christ’s guests when they are not placed at his Table.”
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.
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.”
The Administration of the Lord’s Supper