Does the New Testament prescribe how we should sit at the Lord’s Supper?
Several hymns infer that in meeting to remember the Lord we sit in a circle, or on four sides with the emblems located in the middle. Douglas Russell’s hymn begins, ‘Gathered, Lord, around thy table’; another starts, ‘With Jesus in our midst, We gather round the board’. I doubt if anyone would disagree with the sentiments expressed by the hymn-writers, particularly as we often refer to the Lord’s own words, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’, Matt. 18. 20.
However, the Lord Jesus is not prescribing a particular seating pattern, nor is He specifically referring to the Lord’s Supper, for at that point He had not revealed anything to the disciples relative to the breaking of bread. In addition, we do not base our practices on what we find written in hymns, but solely on what is revealed within the word of God.
There could be several laudable reasons why there might be a preference to sit in such a way that the emblems are located in the middle, but we must always differentiate between what is a preference and what is a scriptural principle. In examining the various sections of the New Testament that supply details relating to the procedure and purpose for the Lord’s Supper none of them stipulates the manner in which we should sit, and, therefore, each company of God’s people should arrange things to suit their needs.
In many places, the only people present at the Lord’s Supper are those who are in fellowship, but what happens if there are unbelievers present, or, for whatever reason, there are Christians in the meeting who will not be taking part? Should we insist that these sit somewhere separate from those who will receive the emblems? There are five specific sections in the New Testament that supply directions relative to the Lord’s Supper – Matthew chapter 26, Mark chapter 14, Luke chapter 22, Acts chapter 20 and 1 Corinthians chapter 11 – and in none of these is there any instruction given as to what should be done concerning those who are present but not participating.
It may be wiser, and it certainly would be easier in respect of passing the emblems around, if those who are taking part sit together, but is this something that should be insisted on? In addition to the five passages just mentioned, in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 we read, ‘If you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?’ v. 16 NKJV. Does this verse supply the answer to our question, i.e., that there should be a place that is separate from those who are taking part, and that is described in the verse as the ‘place of the uninformed'?
I do not believe that this verse is the answer to that question for two reasons. Firstly, Paul is not giving teaching relative to the Lord’s Supper in chapter 14; he set out all he wanted to teach regarding that meeting in chapter 11. Secondly, the ‘place of the uninformed’ is not a physical location, but is a metaphor describing the condition of the person who does not know what is being said if someone speaks in tongues and no one interprets.
Rather than insisting on something that I do not feel can be justified from scripture, what should our attitude be towards anyone present who is not in fellowship, including the children of those who are believers? We ought to be delighted that unbelievers are present. If this is their first time at the meeting, we should not make them feel unwanted but extend to them the common courtesy of a welcome, and explain to them what we are doing and why we do it. In a polite, yet clear, manner we should inform them that, whilst we are delighted to see them, they will not be able to participate in the meeting, and that we would be most happy to answer any questions they may have at the close of the service.