A Challenge to the First Table

Some have protested the Baptist inclusion of “The Table of the Lord” under the “Three Tables” served by deacons. For example, an 1879 Presbyterian synod report entitled “The Diaconate” seems to take issue with this Baptist practice. It reads in part:

It is by some contended that the office of deacon includes the service of three tables: the table of the poor, the table of the minister, and the table of the Lord. We confess our inability to perceive why the Lord’s table should be embraced in this classification, except that the mere name, table-service, is made generic, including under it the specific service of every sort of table. There is really no analogy between the Lord’s Table and the other tables, which would lead to its being reduced to unity with them as falling to the care of the deacon.

The report goes on to argue that there is no basis for saying that the distribution of the elements, of the bread and the juice, must solely and only be done by the deacons, that it is most likely that in, say, the description of the Lord’s Supper offered us in 1 Corinthians 11:17–22, the people simply passed the bread and cup among themselves and did not have deacons handing them the elements, and that, on the whole, these Presbyterian believers could not “perceive that either Scripture, or the analogy of the deacon’s office, or the consentience practice of the true Church, would lead us to conclude that it is a distinctive duty of the deacon to distribute the elements at the administration of the Lord’s Supper.” It then immediately adds, “neither do we see any just reason why he may not assist the minister in the manual circulation of them . . . ” Their concern, in other words, appears to have been the idea that deacons and deacons alone by virtue of their office have the authority to distribute the elements. What is more, they seemed to see this idea as existing in germ form in the Catholic view of the diaconate as a necessary step to priesthood and, thus, to the distribution of the elements in the Catholic Mass.[1]

A Baptist Response

To these arguments the Baptist who believes in deacon service at “The Table of the Lord” offers no substantive objection. We agree that scripture does not offer any kind of unambiguous teaching that deacons and deacons alone serve the elements. To say that is to say more than can be said in good conscience! We do say that deacon service at the Lord’s table has deep historical attestation, is not in violation of scripture, and seems to work well with the traditional structure of Baptist congregational life as having two offices: that of pastor and that of deacon.

What is more, it is potentially further bolstered by the third table, “The Table of the Pastor.” On this point I would like to push against this Presbyterian protestation by saying that deacon service at “The Table of the Lord” is indeed more than merely functional and mechanical. In a deacon body rightly ordered, the pastor and deacons are routinely praying over the membership, seeking to address issues and concerns among the membership, and are working together to serve the membership in the ups and downs of daily life.

The pastor and deacons are invested in the lives of the membership, or should be. This investment will spill over into the observance of the Lord’s Supper. The deacon who helps distribute the elements will not be seen as a mere bystander by the recipients. His physical presence at the table should coincide with his consistent presence in the lives of those he serves. For this reason, the recipient of the Supper not only will not see the servants of the table as mere conveyors of elements, he or she will see the deacon as one who has a hand in calling him or her consistently to the foot of the cross therein memorialized. This is a strong spiritual argument for deacon service at “The Table of the Lord.” It is a powerful continuation of a service in the lives of the members of the church that should already be happening as deacons engage them with love and concern week to week. The deacon’s presence therefore strengthens the bonds of community, accountability, concern, and perhaps even of conviction in the life of the recipient.


1 Author Unknown, “The Diaconate,” 155–60.

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