George Gillespie, in his Treatise of Miscellany Questions, ch. 18, entitled “On the use of a Table in the Lord’s Supper,” defends the practice of sitting at a table during the Lord’s Supper in six arguments: three Scriptural, two theological, and one historical. Here is a summary and paraphrase of his arguments:
First, Gillespie makes the Scriptural argument that it appears that Christ and his apostles celebrated the Supper at a table, and that this is not merely circumstantial or incidental to that first Communion. Gillespie cites two passages to prove that the Supper was held at a table:
“But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.”
(Luke 22:21, ESV)
“Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.”
(John 13:26-28, ESV)
Then, Gillespie answers the argument that the use of a table was incidental. He says that for it to be considered incidental, we would have to find some restriction of the Law or of Providence that forced Jesus to hold the Supper at the table. But, says Gillespie, because the Law of Moses did not restrict their posture after the Passover meal, and Jesus could just as easily have had his apostles stand up or sit away from the table to institute the Supper, we cannot consider the fact that they sat around the table to be incidental.
Second, Gillespie makes the theological argument that sitting at a table for the Lord’s Supper is appropriate because it is a type of the Marriage Supper of Lamb (Lk. 14:15,16; Rev. 19:9) and a sign and seal of the place of honor that believers enjoy at the heavenly table. He argues that in all cultures universally, and in the Scriptures especially (e.g. 2 Sam. 9:7-11), eating at one’s table is a symbol of honor, dignity, and friendship. As such, it would be an insult to deny a guest to Christ’s feast access to the table at which that feast is (symbolically) held.
Third, Gillespie makes the Scriptural argument that the reference to “the Lord’s Table” in 1 Cor. 10:21 implies the use of a table in the sacrament:
“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”
(1 Cor. 10:17-21, ESV)
He then responds to the claim that table in this passage is metaphorical, or that it refers especially to the food eaten, not to a literal table. He objects that even when we use table as a figure of speech for the food eaten, we always in the use of that metaphor presuppose that a literal table is present.
Fourth, Gillespie makes the theological argument that the use of a Table facilitates one of the main things signified by the sacrament: union with one another. He writes,
“When Communicants come not to the Table, but abide in their Pewes, some here some there, this is indeed a dividing of the congregation in varias partes partium que particulas. Neither can they be said to divide the cup amongst themselves [reference to Lk. 22:17], (which by the institution they ought to do in testimony of their communion) when they are not within reach yea oftentimes not within sight of one another.”
He then diverts into a refutation of those who claim that the cup referred to in Lk. 22:17 is not the same as the cup used to institute the Lord’s Supper in verse 20, which need not concern us.
Fifth, Gillespie makes a Scriptural argument against a prevailing practice in that time, namely that the minister came to the communicants’ pews and delivered the sacramental elements individually. Under that practice, Christ’s words, “Take, eat” (Mt. 26:26), which are plural in the Greek, were made singular in 17th-century English: “Take thou, eat thou” because the communicants were receiving the elements individually rather than as a group. Gillespie therefore argues that this practice is contrary to the sense in which Christ spoke at the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Sixth, Gillespie makes the historical argument that it appears that the early church followed the practice of taking the Lord’s Supper seated around a table. He notes a place where John Chrysostom comments on 1 Cor. 11. Chrysostom interprets Paul to be saying that the rich members of the Corinthian church were eating separately from the poor members. Chrysostom then objects that
“…that spiritual and holy Table is common to all, both rich and poor. There is the same honor, the same access and approach for all. And until all do partake of this spiritual and holy Table, the things which are set upon the Table are not taken away, but all the Priests stand expecting even him who is poorest, or smallest of all.”
From which it is apparent that Chyrsostom is implying that the practice of his day is for rich and poor to eat and drink around the same table, i.e. the Communion Table.
Thus concludes Gillespie’s arguments. The Lord’s Supper was first celebrated at a table, it is fitting for it to be celebrated at a table because it is a sign of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and the early church seems to have celebrated the Lord’s Supper in this way.
And it is for reasons such as these that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland declared that sitting around the table was not a matter of indifference. To not do so was both a violation of the command of Christ and a dishonor to the communicant, who is in effect being told that he has no place at the Marriage Table in glory.
Read Gillespie’s full, “On the use of a Table in the Lord’s Supper”
Gratefully excerpted and edited from here
The Administration of the Lord’ Supper