Who can administer the sacraments?

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by tellville, Dec 20, 2007.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. tellville

    tellville Puritan Board Junior

    Question: What is the biblical argument for the position that only those who are ordained should administer the sacraments/ordinances?

    Can Elders perform the sacraments? Unordained pastors?

    Are there any other exceptions?
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    1 Cor. 4:1-2 "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful."

    The substance of these verses pertains to the office that has been laid on the shoulders of men like Paul, Peter, the other apostles, and lesser ministers like Apollos. They are "stewards," they have been entrusted with care of "God's mysteries." A person can be a Christian, and be very immature, correct? Ministers a) meet certain qualifications, many of which are marks of maturity, and b) have been examined for life and doctrine. The administration of sacrament is tied so closely to ministry of the Word as to be inseparable. So those who have been acknowledged as the church's teachers, who hold the "keys" of entrance to the kingdom (as stewards do) and appointed to that office (not merely a job teaching Sunday school class or leading a Bible study) are entrusted with the "visible Word" of strengthening, which require the accompanying Word of institution and explanation.

    One may observe a gap here in this argument regarding ruling elders--as ordained men, can they exercise sacramental function? We presbyterians say no, otherwise just make them ministers, if there is no distinction in office or what they may perform. And, of course, some baptist ecclesiology says just that: there is no difference. But along with that is all the flattening out generally of Congregational polity.

    Presbyterians tend to see the government/discipline of the church through its ministry as essential. Not that a church cannot exist without presbyterian polity specifically (which we say is for the bene esse--the well-being--of the church); but that discipline in some form, and through its ministry, as indispensable for the church, an ineradicable "mark" without which the church ceases to exist as the church.

    So, we build "complete" churches. If a group of Christians gets together, they are not visibly within the church until the church has come to them, and in some way enfolded them. In our circles we do not envision 'lone-ranger" churches, unaccountable to anyone. It is, therefore, the mark of unity and community when the ministers of Word and Sacrament are finally present among a group of confessors to bring to them those ordinances--along with the authoritative preaching--that has been missing from their separated existence.
  3. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    While I think I understand the teaching elder / ruling elder distinction, I don't quite see the minister of sacraments / ruling elder distinction. Is it because the administration of the sacraments is linked to the preaching of the word?

    What about distribution of the Supper? At our church the ruling elders typically help distribute the elements if there are enough of them present at the particular service. If not, then it seems that they let any communing member help. Are only elders allowed to distribute? If others are allowed, should elders be preferred? Should men be preferred?
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    In short, I think the answer is "yes." Both services (Word & Sacrament) are functions or acts done in the person (place) of Christ, officially. It is ministerial and a principal function of the minister, who, while he sits as one of the governors of the church, is primarily a representative of Christ in his priestly mediation. We should understand that Rome has misunderstood this function abysmally in their "priesthood", but that does not negate the rectified or restored understanding of the minister's role. He is the declarer of the Good-news message: Peace with God to those who believe through the blood of Christ.

    The RULING elder, on the other hand, is not principally a minister of the gospel of Christ, but an agent of the Lord Christ's Kingship. They are the nursing fathers of the church, but they do their job fundamentally as his loving disciplinarians, marrying fidelity to the law with mercy and understanding.

    Serving the Meal is an act of discipline, and should be done by the elders; or under their colse, direct supervision. I think in exceptional cases approved men may help with the serving, under the watchful eyes of the elders. However, I should think it quite inappropriate to assign the task of serving to women who would serve the Meal to able-bodied men sitting in the pew. Perhaps to a congregation peopled entirely by women...?
  5. raekwon

    raekwon Puritan Board Junior

    I see this question eventually distilling down to the "two offices or three offices" question . . . and perhaps eventually even down to a question of what exactly is meant by the "priesthood of all believers" (which are both discussions which have probably been had here at the PB ad nauseum, but what the heck).

    I know that historically, we Presbyterians have held that only ministers (ie: Teaching Elders) may preside over the Sacraments' administration (one place I can think of offhand in the Standards is WCF 27-4), but I just don't see the Biblical justification for bifurcating the office of Elder into "ruling" and "teaching" classes if those two classes have different privileges and different qualifications for office (thus creating another office). I've read arguments and essays for the three-office position and just have not found a way to square those things with what God's Word says about the office, either implicitly or explicitly. This is not to deny the fact that some elders are more gifted in ruling than they are teaching, but all elders are to be rulers and teachers.

    (I recognize that there are many who are much smarter, more godly, and more experienced than I who are convinced of the three-office distinction. At the same time, there are many who are much smarter, more godly, and more experienced than I who happen to agree with me, so . . .)

    Anyway, for this reason, I believe that the WCF is wrong and that all lawfully ordained elders of the local church are "the stewards of the mysteries of God", and should be given the privilege of administering the Sacraments.

    (And no, my position isn't because of my upcoming ordination as a Ruling Elder. :lol: Seriously.)
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2007
  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    What about missionaries? Do they act as out-of-the-church elders and ministers who can administer the Word and Sacraments? And what do they need to do before they are able to baptize and serve the Supper? And do they need to tie in a church plant to a larger group before said church plant is actually a "real church"?
  7. tellville

    tellville Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you all for your replies! I'm still not sure how 1 Cor 4:1-2 shows that only those who are ordained can administer the sacraments? And Pergamum makes a good point about missionaries.

    Is a lay person prohibited by scripture from administering and performing the sacraments? Why?
  8. raekwon

    raekwon Puritan Board Junior

    Even if the 1 Cor passage doesn't explicitly (or implicitly) state that only elders/pastors are to administer the Sacraments, wisdom seems to dictate that they would ordinarily be the ones with charge over them. The Sacraments are the church's Sacraments, after all, and the elders are those charged with oversight of the church.

    I wouldn't say that there's strictly a scriptural case against a lay-person doing so, but again . . . we're to use wisdom. Should just any old Joe Pew-sitter go around, serving Communion and baptizing willy-nilly? Of course not. At the same time, though, are we going to say that such a Supper or such a baptism is invalid? Not necessarily. Like WCF 27-3 summarizes, the efficacy of a sacrament is not dependent upon the piety or intention of the one presiding, but upon God's Spirit and Word. I'd say that in the (rare) occasion of a lay-person administering the Sacraments, it should only be done under the watchful eye and knowledge of the elders. For instance, I once witnessed a baptism -- in church -- where a young man was baptized by his (layman) father-in-law, who was instrumental in his coming to Christ. Out of the ordinary, sure . . . but valid, I think.
  9. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Where does the Bible say it is a 'privilege' to administer the Sacrements? A duty yes, a privilege no. This is something that you will probably understand more once you are an elder (are you now?) It is certainly not a privilege to be a slave. Unless your have some wierd perspective that being treated like a door mat is a 'privilege'. :D Just give the eldership thing a few months and you will see what I mean. ;)
  10. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Where does the Bible teach that a lay person should administer the Sacrements? Where does the weight of Biblical evidence fall? On the side of the minister, or the side of the laity? Is there ever a Biblical example of the Lord ordaining laity to perform ceremonies of any kind?

    Again, I think this argument stems from a misunderstanding of what it means to be a 'minister'. The word basically means 'slave'. Its funny that people resent the minister for being the only one who adminsters the Sacrements, but no one complains when the minister is the one who has to discipline someone in the church.
  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    To attempt an answer to the tellville questions:
    1) Is everyone properly denominated a Steward? Is there anyone (anymore, without apostles) who is a Steward? I guess, if one thinks: "I've proven myself faithful, I think I can do anything in the church I please," then we have a bunch of self-appointed Stewards running around. Let's figure out who has been entrusted with the "keys," and go from there.

    2) The matter of missionaries had been addressed in other threads. I've already pointed out there that in my denomination, we send and equip our missionaries in view of our theology of the church. Those men are commissioned with the "whole power" of the presbytery, so that in the absence of the rest of the members they may act as the arm of the church in order to establish it. Those men are not "out-of-the-church" actors, having been ordained to their office, and sent by the church. In virtue of their ordinary office they are authorized as ministers of Word and Sacrament. Now, if we're talking about the para-church doing church work...

    In order for the new church to baptize and serve the LS to themselves, they need to have ordained men. As for the church "tied in," at least in the OPC, we are not interested in folding the churches we try to help establish into our own, to make an international mega-denomination. We work to establish a church, with its own ministers and elders; our part is to establish them through making disciples, organization, and the ordination of their own officers. Like Paul, we frankly would rather not "baptize" but "preach the gospel." Baptize the first generation of leaders. Then let their own church officers baptize.

    A "one church" denomination is a baby church. What they need are "the marks of a church" to be "real". And that includes discipline. And for that, you need officers--men who "watch for your souls, as those who must give an account."

    3) "Is a lay person prohibited by scripture from administering and performing the sacraments?" Yes, if you are a Presbyterian. We don't believe the Bible authorizes a piecemeal approach to church. In conjunction with the Regulative Principle, if God gave a certain church activity to the ministry, then he didn't give it to others.

    If you think that you can do a baptism, then according to our theology of the church, you also think you can preach the gospel and get your living from it, administer discipline, and generally shepherd the flock. Oh, and don't forget the part about giving account for those under your care. If, on the other hand, toto ecclesia isn't your understanding of how Scripture governs the church, but that it is all atomized, bits and pieces of "church" that we humans just scrape together into something that "works" for us, then I guess nobody's right, and nobody is wrong--except for those who say that they are doing it right, and everybody else is wrong: they are wrong because they are exclusives.
  12. raekwon

    raekwon Puritan Board Junior

    Oh, I'm not ignorant that being an elder will likely be the most difficult and trying duty I'll ever do. :) Still, on the few occasions that I've already had to even assist in administering the Lord's Supper, I counted it an honor to give people the Body and Blood of our Lord.

    But yes... "duty" would probably be a better word than "privilege".
  13. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Is the point about missionaries really that good?

    Shouldn't all missions work be church-planting? And if so, won't an ordained minister be part of the effort, in which case someone would be available to administer the sacraments?
  14. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I thought that ministers were responsible for representing Christ to the congregation during the worship service. Are we not to sit and pay attention as if God were speaking to us? I often hear preachers pray before sermons that "Christ" would speak.

    And in that case, it makes sense that the ministers would also administer the sacraments. As Christ's representatives, the ministers offer him to us in the Word and Sacrament.

    But the real reason is because of the spelling! Obviously only ministers may administer the sacraments! :lol:
  15. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Well, that solves it then, doesn't it?
  16. Robert Truelove

    Robert Truelove Puritan Board Sophomore

    Well for the record...

    In the Covenant Presbyterian Church (denomination), we hold to a strict two office view so all elders can administer the sacraments. All elders are seen as 'ministers', 'teaching elders' etc., with some being more gifting in some areas than others and vice-versa. For practicalities sake, we desire at least one elder to be under the full-time support of the church.

    This view requires we take ordination of all elders very seriously therefore all elder candidates must complete a lengthy written exam, a 3-4 hour oral exam before our Credentials Committee and a 15-30 minute pastoral exam before the entire presbytery.

    The RPCGA, while being a 3 office church, also allows ruling elders to administer the sacraments (though if I remember correctly, this is a delegated authority of Teaching Elder to Ruling Elder).
  17. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Contra Mundum: Thanks for the info....
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page