The Lord’s Table – Format

What of the various presentation formats in common (and not so common) use in our congregations? Does the difference matter?

There seems to be two predominant formats. I will call them the formal and the relaxed (intimate).

The most common format seems to be the fairly formal configuration with silver serving trays for the elements – bread and little cups of a facsimile of wine (usually grape juice). This format is used primarily by the mainline churches, partly because it scales well to large congregations in terms of the time it take to execute. It is also generally more cohesive from a congregational viewpoint, since the elements are served and then taken in unison, with accompanying leadership from the platform. It also appeals to our traditional side emotionally. Nothing wrong with that in my view (since my views on the need which some see to always vary things are quite contrary).

The relaxed format involves the use of  actual loaves of bread, which are placed in strategic locations. Those partaking of the elements come to tear off their own portion. The wine (sometimes real wine), already in cups, is similarly placed and individuals approach and serve themselves as the Spirit calls. Because the actual taking of the elements is done individually, this format can be both more spiritually intimate but also not quite as corporately moving (in terms of simultaneous consumption).

There is also a combination format . The loaves of bread and the cups are placed strategically, partakers come up to take the elements individually, but they wait to consume them in unison, as lead from the platform. This approach is not as common.

From a hygiene point of view, the formal format is much easier to control, since access to the elements is much more controlled through the serving format. Preparation can be up to sanitary standards. Today this will likely become a very significant factor, as viral agents spread though common contact -  though at the time these formats developed this was not even on the horizon.

Having experienced both the formal and relaxed formats, and ignoring the logistics of very large congregations, I would have to deem the relaxed format to be more desirable in terms of communion with out Lord. However, there is definitely something to be said for partaking in unison that the formal format brings. It can noticeably bring the people of God closer together. In saying this, however, I have to state that I have heard people express the opposite.

In a medium sized congregation, and ignoring present viral agent concerns, I think that the more uncommon combined format might offer the best of both worlds. That is all, of course, personal opinion. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

In the final analysis, there is not biblically correct format. None is  ‘correct’ or superior. If it is assumed that a congregation of moderate size is desirable, then it is my feeling that the combined or relaxed formats are potentially more effective. I say potentially since the mood of the people and the cohesiveness of the assembly can change the whole picture.

I also would add that I think this is a lesser issue than frequency. As time goes on I am more of the feeling that the Brethren and some others have this right. The Lord gave us this ordinance to remember and draw close to Him. He did not proscribe that is should be only occasional. Why not do it more frequently and rejoice in the benefits?