Administrating the Sacraments

In an effort to do things “decently and in order” as the Scripture commands (I Corinthians 14:40), we need to look at how we do what we do in the church. Paul addressed many things in relation to how the local church is to be structured, how it is to be led and how ministry and worship is to be conducted. These instructions are helpful to us but what is the proper and orderly way for Baptism and Communion to be conducted?

There is a lot written about ‘who can be baptized’ but there is very little about ‘who can baptize’. Yet there are those who will say that any believer can baptize another who repents of their sins and declares Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Then there are those who hold the position that only ordained Elders/Pastors should administer the ordinances and sacraments of the church. There are fine people and brilliant thinkers on both sides of this issue.

The main point for those that are in favor of any Christian baptizing a new believer typically hold to the concept of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ mainly because of the lack of explicit language. They will argue that there is nothing clear or direct in Scripture concerning who can baptize and with this lack of clarity, it would seem to be open to any Christian to baptize a new believer.

I would contend, however, that the very nature of the ordinances/sacraments shows us the necessity for them to be done ‘decently and in order’ within the context of the local church. In other words, baptism and communion are not random acts that can be conducted outside the confines of the local church. They are local church acts!

Now, in order for us to understand more fully, we need to understand the differences between an ordinance and a sacrament. It is important to be familiar with two views: Sacerdotalism and Memorialism.

Sacerdotalism is the Roman Catholic viewpoint which says that the sacraments have the power to convey the very blessings that they signify. In other words, the sacraments have the power to confer the grace which they signify. This is the very thing that the Reformers stood against.

Memorialism is the view that the sacraments have no real power at all and are only enacted to memorialize what Christ did on the cross. It is merely an exercise in obedience. This is the view held by the most evangelical churches including many Baptists. This was a position developed to refute the Catholic view.

Our position is a more Reformed view and stands with the Westminster Confession of faith which says:

There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

The confession teaches that only ordained ministers can provide the sacraments, of which there are only two: baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Our position stands apart from the Sacerdotal or Memorial viewpoints. As the Confession says, there is a sacramental union (or spiritual relationship) between the sign and the thing signified. In other words, there is something that God does within the act of the sacraments. There is a conveyance from God of grace - not for the removal of sin or for salvation as these are conveyed by God’s saving grace that enables us to then place our faith in Christ - but for living grace (life in the Spirit). So when a sacrament is properly administrated, God Himself effectuates and conveys which is more than merely signifying something. Yet, at the same time, it is also remembering. So it is not either/or but both/and. In other words, the sacraments are also ordinances in that they also signify. Two things occur in baptism and communion: Remembrance and Reaffirmation.

The importance of these sacraments requires that they are administrated properly which means that only those who are ordained should administrate an ordinance. Only those recognized as spiritual authority (Elders and Pastors) should administrate the sacraments. These leaders have been given responsibility to make sure that participants are Biblically qualified to participate. The failure to give spiritual oversight to such important matters and improperly administrate is considered blasphemous.

Here are some reasons why the sacraments/ordinances should be administrated by those who are called and ordained to church leadership.

1) The Bible clearly shows us that those who performed baptism in the New Testament Scriptures were set apart by Christ to serve specifically in the church. Examples of this are Peter, Paul and Phillip. Even as we consider the Great Commission and the command to baptize, we see that specifically the commission was given to the apostles. It is implicit in the Great Commission that churches would be birthed and leaders would be called, commissioned and ordained to fulfill the Great Commission over the centuries to come as well as to administrate the duties of the local church as outlined eventually by the Apostle Paul. There is no indication in Scripture that just any Christian could privately or otherwise administrate the sacraments.

2) Theologically, we must understand that Christ is the head of the church and rules the church through representative leadership. As the Chief Shepherd, He has assigned under shepherds and placed them in specific offices to govern His church. This is done through the Elders who serve to oversee, lead, guide and pastor. The sacraments/ordinances involve spiritual oversight, spiritual leadership and the administration of grace which incumbent upon those in the offices established by Christ and His Word.

3) There are those that will argue that the ‘priesthood of all believers’ allows for the administration of the sacraments by any Christian. However, this is to take that concept out of context. The’ priesthood of believers’ is about access to God through Christ and affirms the holy nature of God’s people (I Peter 2:9). It does not justify the administration of sacraments. In the Old Testament (Exodus 19:6), Israel was called a kingdom of priests but were not allowed to perform the duties that the Levites were called to perform. There was a whole tribe set apart to carry out specific duties ordained by God that only they could do.

4) There are practical reasons for the sacraments to be administered by those ordained into church leadership. Due to the importance of the sacraments (Baptism and Communion), there must be a process of evaluation and accountability. The sacraments are church acts that require an understanding for what they do within the context of the church and under the guidance of the church leaders. Baptism is the doorway into the house of God (the church) and Communion is the family meal inside the house at the dinner table. Elders and pastors have been ordained to be door keepers to the house as well as servers of the meal. This is a huge responsibility which requires calling, preparation and humility.

These are just some of the reasons that give credence to the administration of the sacraments being in the hands of ordained Elders and Pastors.

Now, the application can vary. For example, under the direction of an Elder or Pastor, I think it would be appropriate for a spiritually mature faithful father who is a baptized member in good standing of the church to be involved in the baptism of his children under the direction and in conjunction with an ordained church leader. This provides both jurisdictions (family and church) to be represented without violating biblical principle.

So, in conclusion, we aim to treat the commands of Christ and the instructions of Paul for the church (inspired by the Holy Spirit) as important and holy. We want to do all things ‘decently and in order’. We believe that obedience brings blessing and discipline develops patterns that produce health and prosperity.

May God continue to build His church and in the process may He enlighten us as to what pleases His heart. And may we avoid making the church in our own image by disregarding the ‘due order’ He communicates to us in His Word.