Kneeling at communion?

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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Can and should we kneel at communion?

It seems that the Puritans wrote many things against the practice of kneeling at communion. Did they derive this from any biblical principle or out of mere reaction against Popish or Anglican ceremony?

John Cotton in, The Way of the Churches of Christ in New England (London, 1645), says that kneeling is, “an adoration devised by man but also a violation by man of the institution of Christ, diminishing part of the counsel of God and of the honour and comfort of the Church held forth in it.”

They seemed pretty heated about their opposition to kneeling, and advocated sitting because that is the way they supposed Christ administered the Lord’s Supper. But didn’t they know that Christ and the disciples seemed to recline at this meal (John being the one at Jesus’ breast)? Did the disciples sit up to receive the last supper, or should we suppose that they took this just as the other dishes, in customary reclining pattern?

If we are trying to imitate Christ and the disciples as much as possible in our own Lord’s Supper practices, and if we are opposed to other postures of receiving the Supper, it appears that the Puritan argument against kneeling would need to be followed up further with an argument for reclining.
Thoughts?

P.s. A secondary line of argument for sitting might be that we will sit with Christ to reign with him and judge men and the fallen angels. However, this is not what the Lord’s Supper symbolizes mainly, and so references to us sitting with Christ seem irrelevant to our discussion on the Lord’s Supper.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I doubt that it was possible to separate kneeling for communion from adoration of the host. Perhaps I'm going out too far on a limb here, but it seems to me that the point isn't to imitate exactly what happened. Reclining was, perhaps, the normal posture for a meal at the time; sitting is the normal posture for a meal now. To avoid superstition, the common posture and common elements are used.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
So the practice was to remove, for that time in which Romanism was strong, the temptation of Popish superstition? So, now we shouldn't see any such injunctions in the US because the danger is not as relevant, whereas we might still desire to limit kneeling among former Roman Catholics?
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
So the practice was to remove, for that time in which Romanism was strong, the temptation of Popish superstition? So, now we shouldn't see any such injunctions in the US because the danger is not as relevant, whereas we might still desire to limit kneeling among former Roman Catholics?

I wouldn't assume that there is not a temptation for American Protestants and evangelicals to idolize the bread if they are bowing down before it. As Calvin put it, the human heart is an idol factory. There are some things that we sinners are inclined to without being taught.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
For the Puritan argument that it is simply idolatrous, see George Gillespie's English Popish Ceremonies part 3 chapter four, "That the Ceremonies are Idols Among the Formalists themselves; and that Kneeling in the Lord's Supper before the Bread and the Wine, in the in the Act of Receiving them, is Formally Idolatry."
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
So the practice was to remove, for that time in which Romanism was strong, the temptation of Popish superstition? So, now we shouldn't see any such injunctions in the US because the danger is not as relevant, whereas we might still desire to limit kneeling among former Roman Catholics?

No; even if we're not tempted to adore the host, kneeling suggests a superstitious view of what is going on, because it's not a typical posture. Now in a place where kneeling is the normal posture for eating, that would probably be fine.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
During the reign of King Edward, and by the insistence of the Reformer John Knox, this explanation regarding kneeling before the communion elements, the "black rubric" was added to the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer in the order of the Lord's Supper:

"Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue; ) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians; ) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one."
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
For many American believers, unaccustomed as we are to kings and the like, kneeling is seen as a posture of prayer without much realization that this derives from it being a posture of bowing before a superior. Ditto for bowing heads. So if a typical American protestant were to bow his head while taking the bread and cup, I wouldn't read into such an action that he may be tempted to worship the elements. In the same way, I wouldn't read worship of the elements into it if he knelt, either. Today, we just aren't wired to think that way.

So if some believers wish to kneel, or if a pastor administering the supper invites communicants to kneel, not as worship of the elements but in a prayful posture of humbly receiving from our God what he gives us, I wouldn't raise a fuss. Nor would I complain about sometimes coming forward and standing around the table, so long as the meal isn't turned into a celebration of what we do. A normal mealtime posture (seated, for us) seems the most appropriate typical posture and the preferred one, since the imagery of communion is of a meal. But I really don't see the typical protestant kneeler as being in danger of worshipping the elements.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
PIE-THREE-ACK:

So, supposin' that the normal posture of dining hadn't changed from leaning against one another in the Roman manner to sitting upright in a chair, you would be okay with taking the Supper in the Roman manner of reclining?
 

dudley

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I agree with Chris

For the Puritan argument that it is simply idolatrous, see George Gillespie's English Popish Ceremonies part 3 chapter four, "That the Ceremonies are Idols Among the Formalists themselves; and that Kneeling in the Lord's Supper before the Bread and the Wine, in the in the Act of Receiving them, is Formally Idolatry."

As a Protestant and a Presbyterian I agree with Chris in that “ Kneeling in the Lord's Supper before the Bread and the Wine, in the Act of Receiving them, is Formally Idolatry."

I will also note that most Roman Catholics and RC churches no longer kneel at communion. The reforms of Vatican II removed the mode of kneeling and the new reception mode was standing or sitting. It, kneeling, unfortunately however is being reintroduced on EWTN and some very ultra conservative RC congregations which is contrary to the reforms instituted by Vatican II.

However the current pope and people like Mother Angelica of EWTN have and are trying to return the Roman church to a pre Vatican II mentality which as I have said before is one of the reasons I initially left the Roman catholic church 4 years ago and became a Protestant.

As a Presbyterian I again reiterate that I agree with Chris and others on here that kneeling is an improper mode and still insinuates a form of idolatry and it contradicts the true nature of the sacrament of the Lords Supper.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I am not sure how a mere posture can prove idolatry. It sounds like Puritan reactionary-ness to me.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
I am not sure how a mere posture can prove idolatry. It sounds like Puritan reactionary-ness to me.

Agreed. Like I said, if kneeling is idolatry then simply bowing one's head might be also. What matters is what you mean by kneeling or bowing your head.

At the same time, I do want to be aware that there are many Catholics and ex-Catholics among us in this world. They visit our services and watch what we do. And if in fact some Catholics have been taught to kneel as an act of worshipping the elements, we might want to steer clear of any practice that might suggest the same. We would do so for practical pastoral and witnessing reasons, not because kneeling is inherently evil. But I would not take my concern so far that I criticize other protestants who kneel, say, as a posture that denotes humbly receiving from God.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
So, supposin' that the normal posture of dining hadn't changed from leaning against one another in the Roman manner to sitting upright in a chair, you would be okay with taking the Supper in the Roman manner of reclining?

If that were how my society generally took their meals, sure. I imagine it would take some training to get used to eating while leaning on one elbow - that's always seemed wildly uncomfortable to me.

But I would not take my concern so far that I criticize other protestants who kneel, say, as a posture that denotes humbly receiving from God.

I believe it becomes formally idolatry precisely because the posture is being treated as significant. We don't have warrant to add anything significant (an element) to God's worship. That's why if kneeling were the ordinary societal posture for eating, it would be fine: when it's expressive (not common to human actions and societies) it crosses that line.

I am not sure how a mere posture can prove idolatry. It sounds like Puritan reactionary-ness to me.

That sounds like a failure to appreciate the argument to me.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Here is a excerpt from Thomas Becon's Catechism (episcopal Puritan, c.1564) which explains the typical early Reformed thinking on the matter of kneeling at the Lord's Supper:


Father. Thy reasons are good, and not to be discommended. But what sayest thou concerning the gestures to be used at the Lord's table? Shall we receive those holy mysteries kneeling, standing, or sitting? Son. Albeit I know and confess that gestures of themselves be indifferent; yet I would wish all such gestures to be avoided as have outwardly any appearance of evil, according to this saying of St Paul: "Abstain from all evil appearance." And first of all, forasmuch as kneeling hath been long used in the church of Christ at the receiving of the sacrament, through the doctrine of the papists, although of itself it be indifferent to be or not to be used, yet would I wish that it were taken away by the authority of the higher powers.

Father. Why so? Son. For it hath an outward appearance of evil. When the papists, through their pestilent persuasions, had made of the sacramental bread and wine a god, and had taught and commanded the people to take and worship it as God, then gave they in commandment straightways that all people should with all reverence kneel unto it, worship, and honour it. And by this means this gesture of kneeling crept in, and is yet used in the church of the papists, to declare that they worship the sacrament as their Lord God and Saviour. But I would wish with all my heart, that either this kneeling at the receiving of the sacrament were taken away, or else that the people were taught that that outward reverence was not given to the sacrament and outward sign, but to Christ, which is represented by that sacrament or sign1. But the most certain and sure way is utterly to cease from kneeling, that there may outwardly appear no kind of evil, according to this commandment of St Paul, "Abstain from all evil appearance:" lest the enemies, by the continuance of kneeling, should be confirmed in their error, and the weaklings offended and plucked back from the truth of the gospel. Kneeling with the knowledge of godly honour is due to none but to God alone. Therefore, when Satan commanded our Saviour Christ to kneel down before him and worship him, he answered, "It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord [only]."

Standing, which is used in the most part of the reformed churches in these our days, I can right well allow it, if it be appointed by common order to be used at the receiving of the holy communion. And this gesture of standing was also used at the commandment of God of the old Jews, when they did eat the paschal lamb, which was also a sacrament and figure of Christ to come, as our sacrament is a sign and figure of Christ come and gone. Neither did that gesture want of his mystery. For the standing of the Jews at the eating of the Lord's Passover signified, that they had a further journey to go in matters of religion, and that there was a more clear light of the gospel to shine than had hitherto appeared unto them.​

Also, contra Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI has now officially stated that the faithful should kneel while receiving the Eucharist.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
But I would not take my concern so far that I criticize other protestants who kneel, say, as a posture that denotes humbly receiving from God.

I believe it becomes formally idolatry precisely because the posture is being treated as significant. We don't have warrant to add anything significant (an element) to God's worship. That's why if kneeling were the ordinary societal posture for eating, it would be fine: when it's expressive (not common to human actions and societies) it crosses that line.

Interesting answer. See if I get this right: You're saying that if, by kneeling, the worshiper is trying to make the bread and cup more meaningful, this is adding our own elements to the sacrament Christ gave us. If that's what you're saying, I'd agree your argument has some merit (though it sounds different from your original reason). We shouldn't be trying to add to the sacrament to make it better. It's not allowed, and it can only cheapen our understanding of what is prescribed.

But... it seems that by this reasoning we also should not play music while taking the elements if said music is there to add to our appreciation of the supper. We should not serve the elements out of silver-plated dishes. And we should avoid reading Scripture passages that "put us in the mood." Yet these practices are common in many of our churches. Would you say they're wrong?

I'm intrigued by this line of thinking and can certainly see how adding our own elements quickly becomes a serious problem. But I'm not convinced yet that kneeling would always be wrong provided the focus remains on the bread and cup (though I would still say seated is best for a number of reasons).
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Actually I think my two ways of stating the matter lead to an identical result. We don't kneel to avoid superstition - kneeling is not a common posture among us, so adopting it automatically invests it with a special significance. Assigning significance to something God hasn't done, is superstition. While we have apostolic example for kneeling in public prayer (though not precisely at a worship service), we do not have that same example for kneeling to eat.

Reading the Scriptures is an element of worship: when and where it takes place within the worship service is a matter for discretion. But it is not something alien being introduced. I think the discussion of playing music and the whole question of being in the mood/aiming for a certain aesthetic/emotional/dramatic experience during worship must be reserved for another occasion.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
So what if it was in a church where kneeling happened often and wasn't thought of as having any more special significance than, say, standing to sing? Then it would be okay?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
It's difficult to envision such a thing: and if it's only the custom within the church, then that is insufficient. Kneeling is not an ordinary posture for almost anything, at least not in places where chairs are common. But if the societal custom were to kneel at low tables to eat, kneeling for the Lord's table would seem to be acceptable - precisely because kneeling was the everyday posture.
 

Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
The historic Reformed position was not simply contra kneeling, but pro sitting (at tables).

If we ought to receive the Lord's Supper at tables, as a fellowship (communion) meal, that helps to determine the posture of the communicants. Kneeling not only smacks of Romish idolatry, it is contrary to the basic nature of the sacrament itself, as a communion between believers -- it individualizes what is in its own nature not an individualistic thing.

George Gillespie, "A Treatise of Miscellany Questions," Chapter 18: The Presbyterian's armoury - Google Books

James Peirce, "A Vindication of the Dissenters," Part 3, Chapter 10: A vindication of the dissenters: in ... - Google Books

James Begg, "The Use of the Communion Table in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper": http://www.fpcr.org/pdf/jamesbegg.pdf
 

Hawaiian Puritan

Puritan Board Freshman
I was raised as an Anglican in a "high church" (i.e., towards the Catholic end of the spectrum). I remember that we would kneel during the consecration, then when we would receive communion from the priest at the communion rail, and then would remain kneeling when we returned to our pews until all of the elements had been consumed and the chalice and paten had been cleaned and returned to their original condition and covered. Then we could sit.

The elements were also elevated during the consecration in what I understand was the "adoration."

Whether we supposedly believed in transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or something else, I don't know, but certainly my understanding as a kid were the elements were the Saviour once they were consecrated, and that's why we had to remain kneeling.

So yes, I would say what happened there would definitely be considered idolatry by the Puritans.
 

Idelette

Puritan Board Graduate
The historic Reformed position was not simply contra kneeling, but pro sitting (at tables).

If we ought to receive the Lord's Supper at tables, as a fellowship (communion) meal, that helps to determine the posture of the communicants. Kneeling not only smacks of Romish idolatry, it is contrary to the basic nature of the sacrament itself, as a communion between believers -- it individualizes what is in its own nature not an individualistic thing.

George Gillespie, "A Treatise of Miscellany Questions," Chapter 18: The Presbyterian's armoury - Google Books

James Peirce, "A Vindication of the Dissenters," Part 3, Chapter 10: A vindication of the dissenters: in ... - Google Books

James Begg, "The Use of the Communion Table in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper": http://www.fpcr.org/pdf/jamesbegg.pdf

Sean, is exactly correct! The emphasis was placed on sitting at a table and partaking in the Lord's Supper as a communion meal! This is the picture we have in Scripture and that is why the historical reformed position places emphasis on it!
 

jawyman

Puritan Board Junior
I am going to go out on a limb here. I usually don't post on threads such as this one, but I feel inclined. I have not given this much thought, but a as former Lutheran who not only knelt, but went up to the elements on an altar, I would say now it was a carry-over of papist superstition and tradition. Christ is physically with the elements, so as an act of worship we would kneel to receive Christ much like say; the one leper out of the ten Christ healed in Luke 17:16, "...and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks." My convoluted point is, now that I see the world through the lenses of the Reformed faith, I consider the act of kneeling for communion to be an idolatrous act. Is Christ truly present in the elements; no. It is my personal belief that going up to the altar and kneeling before the elements is idolatry. This is just my opinion.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
While I would generally be appalled at the adoration of the elements of communion, I'm wondering if prayer should be part of the discussion here?

Prayer is, for me and many, an integral part of participation on the Lord's table. We see in scripture many references to kneeling in prayer, lifting hands, falling flat on the face, etc, but I don't think sitting is ever mentioned as a position for prayer.

While I would certainly defer to anyone who would raise Christian liberty on this issue, I'd also suggest there is a cultural reason too. It has long been considered rude in the west for an inferior to remain seated when a superior approaches. Is this not the case as we commune with Christ?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The historic Reformed position was not simply contra kneeling, but pro sitting (at tables).

If we ought to receive the Lord's Supper at tables, as a fellowship (communion) meal, that helps to determine the posture of the communicants. Kneeling not only smacks of Romish idolatry, it is contrary to the basic nature of the sacrament itself, as a communion between believers -- it individualizes what is in its own nature not an individualistic thing.

George Gillespie, "A Treatise of Miscellany Questions," Chapter 18: The Presbyterian's armoury - Google Books

James Peirce, "A Vindication of the Dissenters," Part 3, Chapter 10: A vindication of the dissenters: in ... - Google Books

James Begg, "The Use of the Communion Table in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper": http://www.fpcr.org/pdf/jamesbegg.pdf

Sean, is exactly correct! The emphasis was placed on sitting at a table and partaking in the Lord's Supper as a communion meal! This is the picture we have in Scripture and that is why the historical reformed position places emphasis on it!

So Jesus and the disciples sat in chairs?
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
I would have to agree with Chris on this one. It's simply idolatry. We are to bow the knee to God alone not to bread or anything else. I believe the Catholics bowed the knee because they believed the bread was the actual body of Christ and we do not believe such things. Reclining to receive the Supper wouldn't be wrong since it's not a gesture of worship.... just really inconvenient since we have pews or chairs in which we sit. We don't have to do everything exactly as Christ did it for His disciples otherwise we loose sight of the reason for the Supper. Before you know it, we'll be wanting to give the Supper to groups of twelve and "women not allowed" if we do it exactly the way they did it.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The bowing of the knee is associated with praying.


It is assumed that we will be praying during the administration of the Lord's Supper. Therefore, the meaning of the posture might closely denote humble prayer rather than adoration of the elements.

---------- Post added at 07:06 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:03 PM ----------

I would have to agree with Chris on this one. It's simply idolatry. We are to bow the knee to God alone not to bread or anything else. I believe the Catholics bowed the knee because they believed the bread was the actual body of Christ and we do not believe such things. Reclining to receive the Supper wouldn't be wrong since it's not a gesture of worship.... just really inconvenient since we have pews or chairs in which we sit. We don't have to do everything exactly as Christ did it for His disciples otherwise we loose sight of the reason for the Supper. Before you know it, we'll be wanting to give the Supper to groups of twelve and "women not allowed" if we do it exactly the way they did it.

Sarah, I think you nailed the main reason for me why kneeling is not preferred...because it is inconvenient rather than a clear proof of idolatry.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Sarah, I think you nailed the main reason for me why kneeling is not preferred...because it is inconvenient rather than a clear proof of idolatry.

I think you might have missed Sarah's point.

I would have to agree with Chris on this one. It's simply idolatry. We are to bow the knee to God alone not to bread or anything else. I believe the Catholics bowed the knee because they believed the bread was the actual body of Christ and we do not believe such things.

It was reclining that she considered inconvenient.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
The bowing of the knee is associated with praying.


It is assumed that we will be praying during the administration of the Lord's Supper. Therefore, the meaning of the posture might closely denote humble prayer rather than adoration of the elements.

Yup. I still think this is why most Protestants I know might kneel.

Ruben's concerns are valid and his arguments are strong. They are among several reasons I would probably never suggest kneeling were I in a role to do so. But because many people like to pray kneeling, I don't think I would jump in and stop them, either.
 
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