Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who Has the Authority?

Who can administer the ordinances of the church? And in what context can they be administered? Is this reserved for clergy? And where do these clergy get the authority to validate these sacraments? What does the Scripture say? Nowhere in Scripture are we given any statement as to who is qualified to administer the ordinances. The validity of the sacraments is everywhere based on the response of the person receiving them (Acts 2:38; 22:16; John 6:47,48; Romans 4:11). Now we are told to be in subjection to our leaders in the church (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17), so such things should be done under their instruction and guidance. Also, it does not make sense to be engaged in an act of worship with one who is an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Romans 16:17; 2 John 10). But beyond this we are not given definitive instruction as to who should administer them or in what context, though the gathering of the church is obviously an appropriate place (1 Corinthians 11:20).

Now salvation is not a purely individualistic thing, but involves making us part of a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-5; Ephesians 2:11-22). Therefore, the sacraments that are the signs and seals of this salvation also involve being a part of that body (1 Corinthians 10:16,17; 5:6-8; Ephesians 4:4,5). The organizational church should reflect this universal church, which is Christ's body. But there is a tendency to bind the ordinances to a specific church organization (often through emphasizing certain convictions regarding the sacraments, many of which are not specifically addressed in Scripture). In reaction to this others have minimized the ordinances or neglected them altogether. But Scripture does unhesitatingly command that these sacraments be participated in by all true followers of Christ (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 10:44-48). These are those who have put their faith in Christ for salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). But this is broader than any particular church organization. And I am convinced that tying them to a particular organization, office, or context has no basis in Scripture. But neither they nor the Christian life should be seen as simply individualistic, but as connected with the body of Christ universal, of which the organized church is an expression. The danger here is that we can end up feeling cut off from the larger church, which is Christ's body, and see ourselves only in terms of our particular group or even of just ourselves as individuals or us and our immediate friends. This can make our focus and our allegiance narrower than what it should be. And we can fail to grasp the breadth of what God is doing in the world.


  1. I agree Mike. Always interesting how religious types hinder people from things like communion as if they themselves died to spread the table.

  2. The desire to be in control is, as I have noted in myself, a hard one to give up. It is one that we have to be always on guard against.