The Tresspass of the Tray Pass by Al Maxey

In today’s blog, I’m sharing the most recent “Reflections by Al Maxey”.   Al is a long time web friend and brother in Christ who is the minister and an elder at Cuba Avenue Church of Christ in Alamogordo, New Mexico.  He and I have discussed many opinions and topics over the years.  In his latest reflections, he looks at women serving on the Lord’s Table in worship. This is something that has been denied to women in the Churches of Christ for the last century. Historically speaking, we have overlooked the fact that in the early years of the restoration movement, women did far more than we will admit, including preaching and serving the Lord’s Supper. One book I have in my library which was published in 1903, just three years of so before the Churches of Christ were officially recognized by the US government, talks about how to serve communion in small start up churches and specifically includes women as giving communion talks and preaching sermons.  I hope you enjoy reading Al has on this subject and I hope that if you believe that a woman cannot give a communion talk or serve communion by passing trays front to back, this article will cause you to re-evaluate your position.

by Al Maxey
Issue #646 ——- January 29, 2015
Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet
broke a chain or freed a human soul.
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

The Trespass of the Tray Pass
Is Serving Communion Gender Exclusive?

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), the 28th President of the United States, couldn’t have been more correct when he astutely observed: “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” The world about us is filled with people who resist change; so also is the church. Some have become so comfortable with their customs, so taken with their traditions, that they are truly convicted that their denominational preferences and practices are nothing other than divine precepts. Their way is God’s way, and questioning or challenging their convictions is a sure-fire way to experience the full outpouring of their wrath. The German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) rightly declared, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” The English author Samuel Butler (1835-1902) agreed, saying, “It is in the uncompromisingness with which dogma is held, and not in the dogma or want of dogma, that the danger lies.” Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), also a German philosopher, and one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment, was of the view that “the birth of reality” could not occur without being preceded by “the death of dogma.”
Too many saints have become set in their ways, which inevitably results in a calcification of conviction that renders change virtually impossible. To even hint at change in the presence of such persons will unleash their fury, for rigid religiosity is greatly threatened by those who seek to promote change, even if said changes are reasonable and responsible and in no way contrary to God’s inspired revelation of His will for our lives. Over the course of almost 40 years of ministry I have had a good many individuals come into my office red in the face with fury because of some change, or proposed change, to “the way we’ve always done it.” Invariably, they will emphatically declare, “I can’t prove you wrong from the Bible” (which, frankly, is partly why they are so upset), “but I don’t like it!!” Our likes and dislikes are not really the issue when it comes to saintly service, however; rather, it is His likes or dislikes. Most of what Christians fight over are little more than personal or party preferences, perceptions and practices (most of which, quite honestly, are never even addressed in Scripture). We deduce much, and then demand more! Where the Bible is silent, we have much to say! And it is over these assumptions, deductions and inferences (many of which are far from “necessary”), which we in time tend to elevate to the status of LAW, and about which we can’t seem to hold our tongues, that we condemn and castigate all others who dare to differ with us. Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) nailed it when he stated, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and who won’t change the subject.” George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) observed, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Brethren, I dare to believe we can do better than this! We do not need to live our lives frozen in our self-made religious ruts. It is time to break free. To do this, we need to place on the table our every conviction and practice, and then carefully examine it in light of God’s Word and Will to determine if said conviction or practice is human tradition or divine Truth. If the former, then let’s treat it as such, rather than regarding it as a “salvation issue.” There is nothing wrong with Christians embracing various and varying religious traditions. What is wrong is when these preferences are elevated to precepts, and when disciples then seek to bind them upon all others as conditions of fellowship and salvation. Our Christian experience is not a mindless goose-stepping to the dictates of dogma, or a bowing to the “patternistic preferences and practices” of previous generations and cultures, but rather a personal walk of faith, hand-in-hand with our Lord, in quiet confidence that He loves and accepts us because of who we are, rather than because of what we may or may not do patternistically in a Sunday morning “worship service” (a phrase never found in the NT, by the way).
The beauty of Christianity is that it is not frozen in any one time or place. The children of God can easily express their faith and love within any culture or society, at any time, in any location, and in a wide variety of ways. We don’t have to look like one another; we only have to look like Him. He has set us free from the limitations of LAW, and He has released us to simply LOVE. The how (method) is not as important as the why (motivation) = we love because He first loved us. When His children obsess over rules and regulations and rituals, they have entirely missed the point. Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion, He came to reestablish a relationship. Thus, the Christian experience is not about what we do for Him inside a church building, but rather what He has done for us inside our hearts and minds, which we then reflect daily as we lovingly serve Him and others. His Spirit is transforming us into His image (i.e., into the likeness of His Son Jesus, who declared, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father”). Jesus is what God looks and acts like “with skin on,” thus we are called to imitate Him, allowing the indwelling Spirit to transform our attitudes and actions according to our Great Pattern (Jesus). This we do in our bodies, not in our buildings; this we do in our “service of worship” (Rom. 12:1) every hour of every day, rather than in a “worship service” an hour a week. Once we understand the distinction we will cease our striving with one another. Until then, we shall continue condemning our spiritual siblings for failing to perceive as perfectly as we do the “pattern” of “true worship” that must be “practiced perfectly” within a building on Sunday morning. God help us!! And may God forgive us for our fratricidal factional fanaticism over such foolishness!

One such area of fanatical foolishness involves man’s effort to legislate and regulate who may or may not “serve at the Lord’s Table.” As I was growing up within the group known as “Churches of Christ,” it was impressed upon us time and time again that ONLY men and baptized boys could “wait on the Table.” Even then, one had to abide by a rather strict “dress code” (suit and tie, preferably), and I have seen men who were scheduled to serve told at the last minute that they would not be allowed to do so because they weren’t “properly attired to stand at the Lord’s Table.” I have seen men “taken aside” after the “worship service” and chewed out royally for passing the tray with the wine (i.e., unfermented Welch’s grape juice served in thimbles) before passing the tray with the bread (crackers). In Hawaii, when I was preaching there (1992 to 1998), I remember the time someone put white grape juice in the little cups rather than red grape juice (the person later said that the former was on sale, thus they were simply trying to be good stewards of “the Lord’s money”). There was a meeting hastily called to deal with this “trespass of the laws governing the Lord’s Supper.” I have dealt with a good many such illustrations in my book “One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution, and Extremism.” One of the big issues facing many congregations today within my faith-heritage (that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as “Churches of Christ”), and there are probably other denominations struggling with it as well, is: May women serve at the Lord’s Table? Phrased another way: May women stand in the presence of the congregation and pass the Communion trays to those assembled? This might almost seem silly to some reading this, but let me assure you that it is HUGE among “us” in the “one true church.” The lines are being drawn in the sand throughout “our brotherhood,” and the fussing, fighting and fragmenting is becoming increasingly intense. What a woman may or may not do inside our buildings during that “sacred hour” on Sunday morning, and to some extent at other times and occasions as well, is one of the primary points of contention these days between brethren.
More and more congregations within the group “Church of Christ” are now realizing, after much study of God’s Word, that we have for far too long suppressed the service of our sisters-in-Christ, and these congregations are making changes to correct this, taking steps to become far more “gender inclusive” (i.e., including their women in areas of service that were previously prohibited). Thus, women are saying prayers before the assembled saints, they are leading singing, they are becoming preaching interns (I applaud Patrick Mead in Tennessee for showing courage in this area), they are teaching classes in which men are present, they are leading small groups, and they are serving at the Lord’s Table, just to name a few. In my view, this is way overdue!! Yet, we must be realists and acknowledge the fact that no tradition goes quietly and no change, even though needed, comes easily. Any transition from “the way we have always done it” to something different will always be stressful, and even somewhat painful. Growth, both physical and spiritual, will generally be accompanied by “growing pains.” The more we are able to distinguish between tradition and Truth, however, the less painful these transitions become. Truth is eternal and does not change; traditions, on the other hand, must be subject to change, otherwise those who cling to them as though they were Truth itself will over time become less and less relevant to the society and culture in which they live. Again, the beauty of our Christian faith is that it can be expressed in any culture, whether past, present or future, whether primitive or modern; the expression of our faith is not frozen in the practices of any one culture. Yet, when we elevate tradition to the status of Truth, when we make our practices LAW, we impose limitations upon our faith and its expression that were never intended by our Lord. This, I firmly believe, we have done with our observance of the Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist).

In this issue of my weekly Reflections I would like to take a close look at just one of the many traditions that has come to be associated with the memorial event known to many as the Lord’s Supper: the tradition that “serving at the Table” is a male only privilege and responsibility. Women may partake of the elements (the bread and wine), they may even prepare them, and they most certainly may clean up afterward, but they must never, ever “stand at the table” and then walk up and down the aisles, passing these elements to others. For them to do so would be “usurping the authority” of the men. Brethren, there is so much wrong with this thinking that it is hard to know where to begin in exposing it as foolish and fallacious. Perhaps the place to start is to point out what many seem to be unaware of: the New Testament writings say absolutely nothing about how this event is to be administered, or who may do so. In fact, there is nothing about tables, trays, pews, buildings, or about who is to take these trays from these tables and pass them to the pews in these buildings. NONE of this is ever mentioned. And there is a reason for that. The early disciples did not have church buildings; they did not sit in pews facing forward to pulpits and tables with trays; they did not have individuals passing trays up and down aisles. Instead, they met as family in homes (or in the temple courts, or even at times in synagogues), and as family they sat at the table where food was present, and at some point in the course of the meal (whether it be a common meal, or a meal of fellowship — which later came to be known as the love feast, or the agape feast) they would take some of the bread present and some of the wine in remembrance of the truth that they were a spiritual family, united as one, and that their Lord and Savior was the one who brought this about through His sacrifice on their behalf. If anyone served at this family gathering around this family table, it was most likely the women. Yet, there was no standing formally behind some table stacked with trays. It was all very simple, very informal, very meaningful: brothers and sisters at the table together sharing in a moment of remembrance. Over the past 2000 years man has taken something simple and beautiful and transformed it into a religious ritual that has become regulated by traditions elevated to LAW, the particulars of which we have fought and fragmented over for centuries (as I document in my book mentioned above). It is, frankly, shameful.

Thankfully, more and more disciples of Jesus Christ are waking up to what we have done with this memorial, and they are boldly advocating responsible change in how we perceive and practice the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps one of the most noticeable changes is allowing women to serve during this event by passing the trays to those assembled. I won’t take the time in this present study to examine this practice in other denominations, but want to restrict my thoughts to our own faith-heritage (Churches of Christ). In preparation for this study, I sent out a Special Request for Input to my readers (which number in the tens of thousands), and the response was tremendous. I received many hundreds of responses from all over the world. What I found encouraging was the fact that out of these many hundreds of responses, there were only about five that viewed this change negatively!! Those who felt the presence of women at the Lord’s Table was acceptable was 99% of those who responded. I also learned that this is being practiced in Churches of Christ far more than I realized. Let me share with you some of these responses. I’ll arrange them in various categories that will deal with the various aspects of this practice that need to be addressed.

Those Who Object
As I noted above, there were five people who strongly objected to allowing women to pass the trays to their brothers and sisters in a Sunday morning “worship service.” One person wrote, “The biggest problem I have seen is that the more women move forward to take on such roles, the more men allow them to do so, then shrinking back in their own service. I believe we can see quite clearly the consequences of women taking over many positions in our society that once belonged to men. We are moving toward a unisex society, and I am not sure that is God’s design. As Paul said: all things may be lawful, but not all things are profitable.” Another person wrote, “There is an epidemic of gender and role confusion in society today that is leaking into the church. We have to take a stand against it and encourage men to take the leadership roles and ‘own’ them.” There is no question that some people (whether in the church, or in society at large) are more than willing to retreat from their responsibilities and let someone else assume them. This can be said of both men and women with regard to any number of issues. Yes, there may well be sinful motives behind women passing the trays (on the part of both men and women), but that does not address the act itself. Is a woman serving at the Table, and passing trays, a sinful act in and of itself? If the hearts of those serving (both men and women) are right in the sight of God, if there are no sinful motives behind this act, is the act itself sinful? This was not addressed. It’s the “slippery slope” defense: the act itself may not be wrong, BUT what would this lead to in the future? This is the “fear factor” that some are experiencing.
The late John Waddey, in an article titled “Should Women Be Used In Serving Communion To The Assembly?,” said, “If elders can get the ladies into this public role, they will then push for additional opportunities for them. … We describe such an action as stepping onto the slippery slope.” He stated, “Their highest authority for these changes is the theology of the Feminist Movement.” Waddey then concluded his article by calling us all to “seek and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein” (Jer. 6:16). The “old paths,” of course, would be forbidding women any form of participation in the Sunday “worship service.” One individual wrote, “If you let them pass Communion trays, the next thing you know they’ll want to be elders and preachers!” A minister in Tennessee says, “The handling of trays is not really the issue. The question is one of leadership in the church. God ordained men to be the leaders, and that which chips away at this is what is dangerous at best and sinful at worst.” Yet, one must ask here: in what way is the passing of trays “leadership”? In what way are these servers (whether men or women) leading? There is no leadership or authority bestowed on these servers. A noted author wrote, “Even under the most cautious interpretations of 1 Cor. 14:34-36 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15, the prohibitions are against women speaking, teaching, and exercising authority. Passing out Communion trays violates none of these.” One brother summed it up this way: “Jewish society was patriarchal. Men call the shots; men are in charge. In the church, men make the decisions. My position is for biblical patriarchy.”

Leadership and Authority
A brother in Florida wrote, “I guess we have to determine if those serving the emblems are in a position of authority when doing so, and if a woman serving the emblems in some way usurps the authority of the men in the congregation.” This is an insightful question. Is the person passing a tray thereby a “leader with authority” in the church? Is the 12-year-old boy at the Table a leader in the church by virtue of his position behind the Table? It seems to me this is a feeble attempt to find something/anything to justify one’s position on women at the Table. The reality is: there is nothing in the act of passing trays that involves either leadership or authority. A minister wrote, “The fact that we have somehow turned this into a question of ‘leadership’ or ‘authority’ seems terribly misguided to me. They are serving. We have to realize that this particular issue has absolutely nothing to do with leadership/authority, and everything to do with service.” A friend in Louisiana said, “For more than 50 years I have read the NT and can’t find any reason women should not be serving Communion. There is no logical way serving crackers and grape juice to brothers and sisters in Christ usurps authority, or in some way is leading men. That is a stretch, if you stop and think about it. The longer we facilitate error in the form of closely held traditions is how long we enable others to be less than what God would have them be.”

The Lord has called us all to be servants, and we are to develop a heart for service. Jesus is the one who has “all authority, both in heaven and on earth,” and He authorizes His followers (both men and women) to serve. Passing trays is an act of service; it is not an act of leadership, but servantship. A brother who served as a leader with Eastern European Missions wrote, “I know of no passage in Scripture that directly addresses this, except for those that are taken to require male spiritual leadership — though I fail to see what passing Communion trays silently has to do with spiritual leadership.” An author/lecturer in Kentucky, whom I have met a number of times at the Tulsa Workshop, wrote, “A woman serving Communion is serving, it is NOT leading. Good grief. We are so steeped in tradition that we can’t even think straight.” Another reader wrote, “I attend White’s Ferry Road church in West Monroe, Louisiana (yes, where all the Robertsons from Duck Dynasty attend). We have just started a Bible class titled ‘The Woman’s Role,’ where we are examining these issues. Personally, I think women serving at the Lord’s Table is just that: serving. How someone could be against that boggles my mind.” Yet another reader stated, “I think the whole debate over the ‘serving’ of Communion and passing of trays is ludicrous. There is no ‘ruling over’ or ‘leadership’ in passing a tray down the aisle.” A reader wrote, “A woman aiding in the Lord’s Supper in any way, to me, would be a sign of service unto others, not a sign of ‘authority’ over anyone.” Sadly, we have allowed our tradition of males passing trays to assume the mantle of LAW. Thus, a violation of this manmade tradition is viewed as a violation of God’s Will. Those who declare only men may pass trays are now obligated to demonstrate from the Scriptures where it declares women are excluded from this act of service. If they can’t, then they must acknowledge that their view is tradition, not Truth. It is a fact, even though they can’t seem to admit it, that there is no place in the Bible that even mentions our present day practice of passing trays, much less who may do so! Yet, we allow our tradition to rule and exclude. As one reader put it: “If we could only get our traditional phobias out of the way, it would be obvious that these are positions of service, not positions of authority or leadership.”

Laughing through the Tears
When we make ludicrous laws they will inevitably lead to ludicrous behavior. If our “male only at the Table” regulation is embraced as divine command (as it is in many congregations), one will encounter some strange attitudes and actions in the enforcing of this “law.” Let me share with you a few that were sent to me. These are true accounts, and are so ridiculous that our first reaction may be to laugh. However, upon reflection, our laughter may be followed by tears of sorrow and frustration for such lunacy. The thinking behind such ludicrous legislation seems to center around whether a woman is seated or standing; in a pew or behind the Table and then in the aisle. If she is seated and passes the tray to the person next to her, that is okay; if she stands and passes the tray to the person next to her, and that person is a man, she has usurped his authority over her, she has assumed leadership in the church, and she is sinning. Seriously?! And people teach this with a straight face? Notice the following accounts I received:
• “One Sunday, when the middle of the row on a particular pew was vacant, a woman on the end took the tray, stood and walked to the person down the pew and passed it off to him. When we (the servers) got to the back of the auditorium, one of the servers said, ‘We need to serve both sides of that row, because we can’t have a woman serving the Lord’s Supper’.”
• “When I was preaching for a small congregation in Ontario in the late 70’s, several members put forward the idea that we let the women pass the elements. I objected. However, when challenged, I could not come up with a Scriptural reason why that would be wrong. However, being the smart preacher that I was, I told them that we might lose our support from a church in Detroit. That did it. The women backed off. Yeehaw!”
• “Women have been ‘passing the trays’ for years in our churches — they just do it from a seated position in the pews. The running joke at our congregation is that women can pass the trays east & west, just not north & south.”
• “Some go to great extremes to keep women from serving the Communion. Many years ago, as part of our remembrance in the Lord’s Supper, I asked each person to serve the one next to them as each element was to be partaken. Each person was to partake and then take the tray and turn to the person next to them and serve them. During this, there was one woman that I am aware of who refused to take the tray and serve the man next to her, so her husband had to reach across her and serve the man sitting beside her. This is a real extreme case, I realize, but had I not instructed each one to serve the one next to them, I’m sure this woman would have passed the tray down the row with no second thought.”
• “I worship at a pretty traditional congregation. Our preacher addressed this topic in a conversation with a few friends. He said that a nice looking lady might be attractively dressed and when she bent over to pass the tray someone might be distracted. I did not verbalize my first thought: that the contribution might go up if we had several women doing that! Also, I heard the other day that some people would not take Communion if a woman sitting next to them in the pew passed the tray to them. I am 72 years old and started going to the Church of Christ the first week I got out of the delivery room. I had never heard of that one!”
• “I remember one Sunday in the late 90’s. The building had long center pews in the middle of the auditorium. On this Sunday two couples sat at each end, with the sisters on the inside. When the Supper was passed, one sister got up and walked over to the other along the pew and gave her the Supper. I saw it as a moment of service. An elder there was extremely upset that this had happened, however, and said she was ‘usurping authority.'”
• A woman author and lecturer wrote, “Al, here’s the answer: As long as her butt cheeks are touching the flat portion of the pew, a woman may assist in the serving of Communion without fear of making God angry. It’s when she is standing that she is hell bound, unless, of course, she is sitting too far from the next recipient and must rise to pass the emblems. In which case the Lord will surely have mercy on her soul for doing a man’s job. Hey, here’s a thought: why doesn’t a man specifically take the emblems to EACH member to ensure the salvation of the feminine souls in such delicate situations?”
• “I was told by a preacher, ‘If a woman passed me the tray from the aisle, I would let it fall on the floor.’ I asked him, ‘But, doesn’t your wife hand you the tray when it comes from her direction down the pew?’ He replied, unabashedly I might add, “Yes, but a MAN touched the tray first!’ I love this man, who has now gone on to be with the Lord, but I thought this was quite legalistic and would not serve to advance the kingdom of God in any way.”
• A dear brother, who has his D.Min. degree, wrote, “In the last congregation where I served as an evangelist, a woman could pass trays east/west (side to side) but not north/south (front to back, back to front, down the aisle). It was frowned upon if a woman ‘stood and walked east or west’ with the tray to serve a person on the other end of the row. They needed to slide down the pew to pass it, or, better yet, they should just return it to the male server. The women prepared the trays and delivered them to the assembly area and then collected them after the service, yet they were not allowed to do anything in the assembly between the first amen and the last amen except sit down and shut up. Have we become the Pharisees of our age, making law where there is no instruction or mandate? Drawing lines of fellowship where Christ died for unity?”
• “I recall that one time the tray of bread had reached the end of the aisle and the server assigned to that row was still waiting for the tray to be passed near the front of the auditorium. A woman was sitting at the end of the previous aisle, holding the tray and waiting for the server to come get it. Finally, rather than keep waiting, she stood up and started across the aisle to pass it to the next row of people. She barely got two steps into the aisle before three ushers came running over to her to take the tray out of her hands. In their zeal to get to her, they upset the tray and some of the emblems fell to the floor. I wish I could say that their zeal was prompted by a gentlemanly spirit, but, alas, it was prompted by their fear that the Lord might strike someone dead for allowing a woman to pass the tray of bread. While there was a humorous element to this incident, it was also quite sad!”

The Priesthood of All Believers
A minister in California wrote: “My comment on this issue is actually a question: Why in the world is this even an issue? The Bible says zero about ‘serving Communion,’ let alone who is ‘allowed’ to do it. There is simply NO biblical teaching on this matter. Those who make up rules to govern this event are just ‘speaking where the Bible is silent’.” Where the Bible has spoken, however, it characterizes the members of the Body of Christ as priests in service to the Lord, and that includes both male and female. It is the priesthood of ALL believers, not just the males. Thus, we ALL “serve at the altar” within the new “temple.” In Revelation 1:6 we are informed that “He has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” “He has made us a kingdom, priests to serve our God” (Rev. 5:10). Peter writes, “You, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). We are ALL priests in this kingdom of our Lord, and we ALL serve. Long ago there was racial and national exclusion (no Gentiles), and also gender exclusion (no women). Jesus, however, has come to tear down those walls of exclusion, making us all ONE in Him. This was even shown to be coming by the OT prophet Joel: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). Gender inclusive, not gender exclusive. The apostle Peter told the crowds on the day of Pentecost that this prophesy had now come to pass. “You are ALL sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. … There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28).

We are now living under “a better covenant,” one which has unshackled us and set us free. Worldly distinctions no longer apply in our spiritual walk with the Lord, nor do they apply in our service to Him and to others. The priesthood of this new covenant is not restricted to any particular tribe or any particular gender. ALL who are in Him serve in His kingdom as priests. Yet I fear too many have rebuilt the walls of exclusion that Jesus shed His blood to bring down. We have told a good portion of His people that they are not “fit to serve” as a priest at His table in His kingdom. Christianity is all about family loving and serving one another, and inviting others to come be a part of this One Family through faith. Even in the early church, the Communion was part of a meal enjoyed in fellowship with one’s physical and spiritual family, where some of the bread and wine at the table were consumed in memory of the one who made this new life possible. There was no table with trays at the front of an auditorium in a large building; there were no men in suits standing behind it, then passing the trays to pews of people all staring silently forward. There was family at the table; it was informal; there was no “issue” about who stood where or who passed what. Those “issues” are the result of institutionalizing the Family of God, turning simple memorials into highly regulated sacraments. We are literally fussing and fighting over practices and procedures unknown to the early disciples of Christ.

A minister in New Jersey had this to say, “I seriously doubt local congregations in the first century observed the meal as a ‘sip and crumb’ as we do today, nor did they serve from a central ‘table’ to ‘members’ in an auditorium or sanctuary. In fact, if they observed a meal in a home it was probably the women who did the preparation and the serving. To me this is just another squabble over traditions that have developed over centuries. … This is just another example of Christianity being ‘church focused,’ and churches being ‘Sunday focused,’ and Sunday being focused on who does what inside a building during a one hour program. When our lives are filled with service 24/7, we will cease worrying about who can stand or sit or pass trays from left to right, but not from pew to pew. I have to wonder if God is laughing at our silliness, or crying over our sinfulness! And He gave His Son’s blood for this?!” I like what the following reader wrote, “I really believe this has only become an ‘issue’ because of the traditional setup of a church building with pews lined up in it and a stage up front for the ‘paid performers.’ If we were still meeting in homes, as the early church did, this question would not even come up. In my house at dinner when I ask for the rolls to be passed my way, who passes the rolls? Whoever is sitting closest to the rolls, regardless of gender or age.”

A very well-known leader within Churches of Christ, whose name you would recognize immediately, nailed it when he said, “Al, isn’t it ironic that our heritage says we ‘speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent,’ and yet we draw lines, split churches, and disfellowship brethren over who may pass trays (something about which the Bible is completely silent)? Even the casual student of the Bible knows that we do not have a single procedural example or command for how to ‘serve’ the Lord’s Supper. The first called out members of the Body of Christ met in homes. Do we really believe that the women who prepared the bread and wine for the supper didn’t serve it? Do we really believe they took a seat and turned the serving over to the men? If we do, where is the clear biblical passage that so states? This is nothing but a Pharisaical tradition. Thanks, Al, for bringing this issue up for discussion. Truth has nothing to fear, but, sadly, some seem to fear the truth.” Brethren, it is time we were honest with ourselves. The reality is: much of what we do in a “worship service” is nothing more than traditions formulated over the years by mere men. Many of these traditions are good, and I’m not even advocating that they be terminated. I only ask that we acknowledge them for what they are, and cease trying to elevate them to something they were never intended to be. Women passing trays, serving at the Table during the Lord’s Supper, may indeed be a violation of tradition in certain denominations, but it is NOT a violation of Truth, nor is it contrary to the will of our Father. Those who believe it is a violation of Truth and a setting aside of God’s will are now obligated to provide the proof in the form of the NT passage that clearly validates their claim. As we wait for that proof to be provided (and it never will be, for no such passage exists), let us cease our strife over these petty partisan particulars of manmade traditions, and let us begin learning anew to love one another in the Family of God. To our sisters in the faith, our fellow priests in the kingdom, our fellow servants and servers … Welcome to the Table in the home of our Father. You’ve been missed!