Some Thoughts and Questions on the Lord’s Supper, Ordination, and the Sacraments of the Church

A few days ago, I posted the following thought on Facebook: “You know what I miss about Sojourn when I’m away? Communion every week. I’d love to know why churches only do it once a month or even quarterly (!!!) — there has to be SOME rationale, right? Thoughts? Did I just sleep through that part of my church history classes?”

Twenty-five comments later (I only wish my blog posts could get so much traction!), the thing that stuck out the most to me wasn’t the reason for the infrequency of communion in some churches. It was a totally different — yet not completely unrelated — theological point. A friend from college mentioned Methodist circuit riders, who were often lay ministers and who, therefore, weren’t allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper, leading to the practice of monthly or quarterly communion. Another friend mentioned that his church couldn’t share the Meal on the rare occasions that their ordained teaching elder is out of town.

My immediate question was why? Why does a meal ordained by Jesus himself also need an ordained pastor/elder to make it legitimate? And then that question made me chuckle a bit as I reflected on the fact that, though some churches who partake only quarterly began doing so at least in part to avoid a Romanist ritualism, almost nothing, in my mind, is more Roman than requiring the presence of an ordained minister to “perform” the sacraments.

Now, for heaven’s sake don’t hear me accusing my dear Methodist or Presbyterian brethren of quasi-Popery! It just got me wondering. My own church doesn’t allow, for example, community groups to celebrate the Lord’s supper in their small weeknight gatherings. Many, many faithful, gospel-teaching churches would, I’m sure, have similar proscriptions. My question is: why? Do we have any indication that, in the apostolic church, someone “official” was required to be present at Christian gatherings to administer the sacraments? Isn’t the very name — the authority and command — of Jesus what makes them valid in the first place?

These questions aren’t merely rhetorical; I would genuinely love to hear the thoughts of those who are committed to these sorts of positions. Why should a group of covenanted believers be prevented from baptizing a new convert or celebrating the Lord’s supper as part of a celebratory meal without the presence of an ordained minister? Why does ordination matter, anyway? What purpose does it serve, and what justification does it have historically?

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7 thoughts on “Some Thoughts and Questions on the Lord’s Supper, Ordination, and the Sacraments of the Church

  1. Seems to me there are two questions here: (1) Do the sacraments “do” anything? Is communion just a meal, and baptism just a bath? (2) Does ordination “do” anything? Are ministers anything more than Christians with a salary?

    • I see what you’re getting at, but I think it’s more than that, in my mind. To question 1, I feel comfortable replying that they do “do” something, yes. I’m no Zwinglian. But as far as whether ordination “does” something, that I’m less clear on, biblically. And I don’t believe elders must be paid (although some should be, to free them to dedicate more time to the care of the church) so I don’t think the “Christians with a salary” category is necessarily relevant.

      My question is: is there any biblical precedent for requiring an elder chosen by the congregation and/or ordained by a denomination to “administer” sacraments? You should know I’m not anti-hierarchy by any stretch, but the Lord’s Supper in particular doesn’t seem to be an “administered” meal at all in the Scriptures, but rather a shared one. I don’t see that the authority of a human elder is a necessary adjunct to the authority of Christ and I don’t see what would be missing or out of order if a group of Christians shared the Lord’s Supper together without an elder present.

      • It can certainly be argued that Lord’s Supper is instituted as a meal administered by Christ. There are also historical arguments in favour of administration by an ordained “minister of the word and sacraments” and practical arguments based on (1) avoiding chaos and (2) linking the sacraments to associated teaching. The second of those practical arguments is strengthened when self-examination is taken seriously (1 Corinthians 11:28).

        The Sydney Anglicans argue against administration by an ordained minister (see http://mpjensen.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/holding-back-on-lay-administration.html ) although, as someone from a continental reformed background, I’m not at all convinced.

  2. Great thoughts Laura. I could go on for a while about this, but I only have about 15 minutes. No way I could hit on all the things you brought up in that time.

    Ordination is a tricky thing. I think that the more biblical way to think about “ordination” is to think of those who have been recognized by the community as the elders. Elders are “ordained” at Sojourn by a time of recognition and affirmation in a member meeting. So, for the sake of brevity I’m going to limit my thoughts to the question, “Should a group of believers be able to administer the Lord’s supper without the presence of a recognized elder (presbuteros)?”

    A few things to consider: church discipline cases, the connection of the proclamation of the gospel to the administration of the sacraments, and church membership. There are probably more, but that’s what I’m coming up with right now.

    In church discipline it is the role of the elders to make sure the meal is withheld from those who are being disciplined. I also believe that the gospel should always be proclaimed whenever communion is administered, and the majority of a church’s gospel proclamation should be from a pastor. And lastly, I think that the group of people you regularly take communion with should be your church, and ideally church is lead by a pastor.

    I think elders should typically be present during communion, but it is not required. From what I see in Scripture, the church has the freedom to exercise communion whenever they gather together and the gospel is proclaimed. I can almost guarantee there have been a few times when the 7PM communion was without an elder presence 🙂

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Fletcher. Church discipline did cross my mind. Re: gospel proclamation, what about in a meal setting? I’m envisioning a group of believers gathered for a meal (maybe even Passover) where there’s more of a social atmosphere but which ends with the Lord’s Supper. Is proclamation necessary there?

  3. My two cents worth Laura. While Jesus established the sacraments of Baptism (Matt 28:19) and Communion (Luke 22:19) we have to rely on reconstructing how the church would/should’ve run baptism and communion. If we reconstruct what the church might have looked like or should have looked like, we can see that it includes leaders or elders who are “set apart” for that job. Paul describes himself in this may at the beginning of Romans. Undoubtably he’s a capital A apostle first and first-most and set apart by God for that purpose but for the rest of us it’s a clue to how leadership in the church works. The Apostle Paul is then the one who corrects the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper implying that the meal designated for remembering/proclaiming the gospel was something to be overseen by leaders. So on the one hand I wouldn’t want to disconnect Communion from church leadership I wouldn’t want to elevate it to a significance greater than the reconstruction allows for.

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