In the last four years our elders have had discussions about who can serve the ordinances, such as communion and baptism? Is it only pastors? Only elders? Only deacons? Only members? Can a woman serve? Can a person with un-reconciled sin serve? Can a non-Christian serve?
This has been a conversation of late because we are planning to do communion a little differently this coming Sunday (see the end of this post). For now, let us look at each of the questions above and run them through the filter of Scripture.
We use Scripture as our filter because God is the ultimate authority and because God is the author of Scripture; therefore, Scripture is the authoritative Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Scripture trumps Traditions of men. In the Christian Church one of the biggest mistakes Christian leadership has made over the last 2,000 years is to say that the Traditions of the Church have equal authority with the Scriptures. And so what can sometimes occur is people make up a rule about how to do church and then that rule becomes a tradition and people do it because it is what they have always ever done. For example, some would say only a Pastor, elder, or deacon can serve communion or baptize people.
But is this true?
Let us run this through the filter of Scripture: do the Scriptures say only Pastors, elders, or deacons can administer the ordinances? I can’t find a Scripture that says only these officers are allowed to baptize and serve communion.
What about members of a church, can they serve communion? Again, I don’t see anything in Scripture that says a member is prohibited from serving communion. When we read Acts 2:42 or 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, these Scriptures describe what is happening during church gatherings, but they do not tell us who is breaking the bread and serving the wine. We assume the leaders are doing this, or at minimum that the people serving are doing so in conjunction with the leadership’s approval. But in these two verses it does not say only Pastors, elders, or deacons can serve.
About Baptism, same as communion, in Scripture there are not explicit instructions about which Christians are or are not allowed to baptize new believers.
What about women baptizing? What about a woman serving communion? To this I ask, where in Scripture does it say a woman can not?
What about a Christian with un-reconciled sin? When it comes to communion the very purpose of communion is to get Christians to come together, confess their sin, be in right relationship with one another, and look to the cross of Christ. In 1 Cor. 11:17-34 there are instructions about un-confessed sin and communion. So before a Christian serves another Christian communion, each Christian needs to deal with their own sin issues through confession and then communion can be served. Jesus takes this one step further when He instructs people to leave the alter, be reconciled, then come and worship (Matthew 5:23-26). Jesus is not talking about communion in Matthew 5, but I think we can extract a principle from this passage that jives with Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11.
What about non-Christians serving people? Well, why would a non-Christian partake in an ordinance they don’t believe in? Besides, 1 Cor. 11:27-32 applies in this situation in that when a person takes of communion in an unworthy manner, he or she eats and drinks judgment unto himself (herself).
So based on Scripture, what we know for sure is that Christians in good standing within a church community can serve communion or baptize. We assume these Christians should be working with the leadership to make sure they are not doing anything counter to the leadership (Hebrews 13:17). And we assume the leadership is overseeing what is happening to make sure those serving understand the purpose of communion and baptism theologically.
The plan for Grace Church this Sunday is for one of our Home Communities to serve communion. This breaks with our tradition of Pastors, elders, and men only serving. But Scripturally our elders do not see that there is anything wrong with Christian lay-people in good standing (both men and women) serving communion.
For more on how the first century church did church and how you can be involved in a disciple-making movement today, read my Doctoral Thesis entitled — Recontextualizing Church: From Attractional Events and Program-Driven, to Missional Community and Cell-Driven