Occasionally in my church we take the Lord’s Supper by having the congregation walk forward to take the elements from the elders. I was challenged by someone claiming that this method is unbiblical. He claimed the only proper way to take the Lord’s Supper is from a seated position and cited several passages to prove this.
My position would be that both sitting and coming forward to be served the Lord’s Supper are biblical images for receiving God’s grace and that both practices are good practices. I certainly agree that being seated before Jesus at his table and being served by him (through his servants) is a beautiful biblical image. I just think it is not the only way to take the Supper.
First I think we should examine the passages that talk about when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Cor 11, Paul does not mention what bodily posture Christians should assume in taking the Supper at all and in the first 3 Gospels, Jesus does not give instruction (commands or otherwise) as to what bodily posture we are to assume. It would therefore seem to me that God intended to leave this as a matter of Christian liberty.
The first 3 Gospels are united in their description of the position the disciples were in when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper: they were reclining on couches, not sitting on chairs. This is culturally how Jews of the first century celebrated the Passover. It would seem to me that if there were only one way to receive the Lord’s Supper biblically, it would be to lie down on the pews. But I do not take the Evangelist’s descriptions to be perscriptive though, and thus I feel we are free both to sit and to come forward.
Some have cited the feeding of the 4000 and 5000 as evidence we should be seated to take the Lord’s Supper. Our English translation read that Jesus told the crowds to be seated. First, these passages are not about the Lord’s Supper and thus we may ask why God would have given us the proper means of taking the Supper in these passages instead of in the passages where he instituted the Supper. But secondly, if we were to follow the commands in these passages physically in regards to the Lord’s Supper, we would not sit to take the Supper. The Greek verb in every case means to recline or to lie down. They were not sitting as we sit to eat. Again, to obey Jesus’ command literally, we would have to lie down. But again, I do not feel that is what Jesus was trying to teach in those passages.
Others cite passages such as Matt 8:11, Luke 12:37, 13:29, 14:10 where Jesus refers to his people being present at God’s banquet table at the 2nd coming of Christ. Once again, none of these passages refer to the Lord’s Supper and thus we could question what application they have for that blessed sacrament. But again, the verb in each of these passages means to recline, not to sit. If they were trying to teach about body posture in receiving the Lord’s Supper, they would teach us to recline, not sit.
A passage that does talk about sitting and that is cited by those promoting the “sitting only” position is Eph 2:6. But here we are taught that believers are seated with Christ in heaven. It is not speaking about the Lord’s Supper or feeding on God’s grace. Instead it is speaking of our roles as kings reigning with Christ. It is hard to see how this image teaches us how to take the Supper.
Also, Hebrews 10:11-12 is cited to prove we should sit to take the Supper. But this passage does not speak of believers sitting at all but of Jesus sitting. It is an image of his taking the heavenly throne to teach us his work as a priestly sacrifice is done. He sits because his work is over. His atonement is complete. I don’t see how this passage teaches believers what bodily posture to assume in taking the Supper. If anything, it could only refer to the posture of the pastor who gives the Supper in Jesus name, but I don’t think that is what God wants us to learn from this passage.
Finally some have said the fact that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet proves we must take the Lord’s Supper seated. But John 13 does not say what position the disciples were in when Jesus washed their feet and when Jesus takes his seat again after washing their feet, it says he reclined. It is reasonable to assume this the position the disciples where in when he washed their feet. Thus is passage does not teach us we must sit to take the Supper.
Now let me cite Bible passages that teach us we ought to come to God to be fed by him, and thus that validate this means of receiving his grace in the Supper: Isaiah 55:1-3, John 6:35-37, 7:37-39, Revelation 22:17. I am not saying these passages are talking about the Lord’s Supper nor that they tell us that coming to the Supper is the only way to take it. I am simply saying that coming to God to be fed by him is a biblical image and because God does not tell us how to take the Supper, it is one of the biblical images that we may use in taking the Supper. I would add that in the Isaiah, Revelation and John 7 passages the verbs are commands. If the feeding of the 5000 commands to “recline” apply to the Supper, so do these commands to “come.”
I could add to this list many biblical passage such as Matthew 11:28-30 where we are commanded to come to God, but where there is no feeding image. Also, I could add the many passages in the Gospels where people sought Jesus out for salvation and he blessed them because they came to him in faith. Coming forward to take the Supper replicates the actions of these seekers who were blessed by God because they came to Jesus.
Other possible passages that show the validity of coming forward to Jesus are John 12:32 where Jesus says he will draw all men to himself. Coming forward represents us being drawn to Jesus by his cross. Also see Micah 4:2, Zec 8:22, Isaiah 11:10 which picture the nations coming to the Jerusalem, the Temple or the Messiah. We are the nations coming to God, fulfilling these prophesies, when we come forward to take the Supper.
Sitting with God is a biblical image of the kingdom, but I don’t think it is the only one. For instance what about these passages that speak of the people of God standing? Nehemiah 8:5 & 7 say the people of God stand to hear and be instructed by God’s Word and Revelation 7:9 says the great multitude stands before Jesus to worship him. I could add many passages about the priests standing in worship before God in the temple (such as 2 Chronicles 35:5). Since Jesus has made us all priests, these passages apply to us all. Standing before God in worship to take the Supper or standing before him to receive grace from this visible word is just as much an image of the kingdom as is reclining or sitting.
Some have attacked coming forward to take the Supper as an image of works righteousness, that we are saving ourselves rather than letting God come to us to save us. But coming to Jesus is not a picture of our working our way to heaven. It is a picture of our faith that is a gift from God. The only way we can come to him is that he draw us. Nevertheless, we are called to believe and coming forward is an image of that faith