I have sometimes smiled (inwardly!) when the suggestion of chairs being in a “circle” is made. Most of the time, the chairs are set up in a rectangular or square pattern for the Breaking of Bread, as this is both an easier and more orderly procedure to accomplish rather than trying to set chairs in a circular fashion.
Clearly, this is not a “geometric truth” found in Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible that clearly states, “In such a way you are to set up the chairs or benches.” In fact, apart from the few tangible items needed in a New Testament assembly, the stress for testimony is on the spiritual and is marked by simplicity. Because this is not just a “tradition,” there must be a reason for the arrangement of the chairs. The answer lies in the spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper and the unique focus of the meeting. As believers gather together on the Lord’s Day to remember Him as He has requested us to do, there are at least three main truths that are in view and that are reflected even by the position of the chairs.
The Person in Focus
Firstly, we are “gathered together unto Him.” Matthew 18:20 denotes the truth of our “gathering together in His Name,” but 2 Thessalonians 2:1 and Hebrews 10:25 along with other Scriptures give the ultimate focus by using the word “episunagoge” – “gathering together unto [Him].” The Lord Jesus is the reason for the gathering and the focal point of our worship and praise. The first time the word “episunagoge” is used as a verb is in Matthew 23:37 where the Lord lamentably exclaims, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often would I have gathered thy children together [unto Myself] even as a hen gathereth [together] her chickens [unto herself] under her wings and ye would not!” The word picture is an apt illustration of the Lord’s drawing desire and of the believer’s glad response. Christ is the object and center of our gathering.
The Position of our Lord
A second and perhaps main reason for the configuration of chairs at the Breaking of Bread is linked to an expression that is found prominently in the New Testament: “en meso” or “in the midst.” As brother Norman Crawford points out (Gathering Unto His Name – p 172), it is “the thought of a center with a circle drawn or gathered around it.” It is the exact expression that describes the position of our Lord on many occasions in regards to those around Him. As a lad of twelve, He was found in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors” (Luke 2:46). John the Baptist used the same phrase to describe the Worthy One Who had come from heaven: “There standeth One among you (en meso), Whom ye know not” (John 1:26); while the same Gospel takes us to the crosses at Calvary and tells us that Jesus was “in the midst” (19:18). Interestingly, the first appearance of the resurrected Christ places Him “in the midst” (20:19) of His fearful disciples while John transports us to the vision of heavenly glory and Jesus “in the midst of the Throne” (Rev 5:6; 7:17). His rightful place is always “in the midst” and so it is fitting that even as we come together to remember Him, we are able both spiritually and practically to have Him “in the midst.”
The Preeminence of Christ
A final thought and consideration involves the preeminence of Christ. We are living in a “man-centered” world where individuals vie for the top position. Prominence, visibility, leadership, and authority are all vital commodities in worldly standards, but in a Spirit-guided gathering, our desire is that “in all things, He might have the preeminence” (Col 1:18). Ministry meetings or gospel services involve a presentation of truth by a speaker and due attention is given him. However, at the Lord’s Supper, we are occupied with our Lord alone – and so it is noteworthy that the chairs arranged around the emblems of the bread and the cup minimize the importance of the participants and maximize the importance of the Lord and His sufferings. As Mr. Crawford so aptly points out, “In a circle, there is no place of prominence except the center. Even unusually gifted brethren who are present are put in a place of equality with others in the circle” (Gathering Unto His Name, p 173). As the hymn writer states,
“Gathered to Thy Name Lord Jesus,
Losing sight of all but Thee . . .”
Thus, the arranging of chairs at the Lord’s Supper is a simple but blessed presentation of the spiritual truth that we seek to remember the Lord Himself, both now and forever “in the midst.”