Who can serve communion?

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.

GODSPEED

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 

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13 thoughts on “Who can serve communion?

  1. There are good reasons so many thoughtful, learned Protestant theologians and pastors committed to Sola Scriptura nevertheless insisted upon ordained administration of the sacraments. It is unlikely that 21st century American evangelicals are the first to ask “what does the Bible REALLY say about the administration of the sacraments?” Christians are not merely bound by the “explicit instructions” of Scripture, but by whatever Scripture teaches including by deduction and consequence. I would encourage you to do a more careful biblico-theological (and historical) study of the nature and purpose of the sacraments and ordained elders before flouting the historic practices of the Protestant church that resulted from the careful, prayerful, conscientious study by some of the greatest Bible scholars of the past few centuries and beyond.

  2. Simply as such? It doesn’t, but that means little. I would hope that you are not advocating a rash biblicism that insists that a teaching can only be justified from Scripture if it is stated in simple, explicit terms. Matters aren’t that simple. If that were the case, it would be hard to defend the Trinity or hypostatic union. Christ and the apostles all did systematic theology when they taught on the Old Testament, and we must too–carefully comparing Scripture with Scripture, deducing principles and applying them.

    At the very least, the fact that the sacraments are both means of grace (I would assume I don’t have to proof text that) and of judgment (cf. Luke 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:5–7; 1 Cor. 11:27–30) should cause us to handle them very carefully and with due gravity. Like the preached word itself, they are double edged swords (cf. Heb. 4:12). If we go back to the Old Testament and look at the parallels with circumcision and the Passover and what they symbolized, this dual nature of the sacraments becomes even clearer. Volumes have been written on the subject, but one of the great triumphs of the Reformation was to reclaim the sacraments by grounding them in the Word. It didn’t seek to empty them of their supernatural qualities by rendering them a “mere” memorial, but it did, properly and Scripturally, unite them to the Scriptures and the sovereign work of the Spirit, removing the medieval “magic” of ex opere operato. In a sense they are the Word made visible. They visibly testify to Christ, the Word made flesh, as the Scriptures testify in writing. They are signs and seals of the New Covenant (Matt 26) just as the Scriptures are the written “testaments” to the covenant. This being the case, many theologians (back to Augustine I believe) have referred the sacraments as the “visible Word” and the Scriptures preached as the “invisible Word” and are inextricably bound together. As the explication of the written word in preaching is a holy and fearful calling and thus limited to those carefully examined and duly ordained, so are the sacraments (and should thus, I believe, not be administered by deacons either more properly). Now this is almost unbearably brief and there’s much, much more to be said, including on the nature of elders and especially on the dialogical principle of worship, but I hope that this at least demonstrates why great care should be exercised in the administration of the sacraments, even if you don’t ultimately reach the same conclusions.

      1. Since Chris has not responded – Catholics believe Communion and Baptism are means of grace. There is a twinge of this in a few other Protestant faiths. Scripturally this is not proven. Scripturally Communion is a memorial – “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

        Baptism is not required for salvation or else Jesus would not have said to the thief on the cross after he made a statement of belief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

        Concerning Augustine – he might have said the preached word is the invisible word and the sacraments are the visible word – but he also said in Luke 14:23 that Jesus words in a parable, “…compel them to come in.” means that the State should be used to enforce people going to church to receive the preaching and the sacraments so that they would be saved. Augustine went as far as to say the State should use physical force to make people go to church.

        This is not the way of Christ but are words of misinterpretation by a brilliant and yet flawed theologian.

        As for the elders of Grace Church, it is our charge to make sure we are preaching and applying what the Scriptures say. Methodology can change depending on culture so long as the methodology does not directly contradict the Scriptures.

        Se we, the elders and pastors of Grace Church, have decided a format for communion and baptism that we believe is just fine with Jesus.

        GODSPEED

      2. PRFaust

        I differ with you based on the scriptures, in your statement that “baptism is not required for salvation”. Jesus himself stated (Mark 16:15-16) “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved.” When the people ask what must they do after they knew that they had killed the messiah (Christ) the answer Peter gave (Acts 2:38) “Repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sin..” Sin is removed when we come in contact with the saving/cleansing blood of Jesus by faith in the watery grave of baptism (I Peter 3:20-21).

        By the way, the thief was saved by the words of Jesus before Christ died. The thief lived and died under the law of Moses, not under the Christian dispensation. Baptism for the remission of sin came in affect after Christ died, under the Christian dispensation.

  3. Hi Chris! I was encouraged to read your post. As a woman, I find the church I attend has been sending out this subliminal message that I need a man to help me be in relationship with Christ for it is only men who preach me the word, men who lead me into worship, men who serve communion to me and men who collect my offering. Men, men, men… it looks to me like God chooses men to do the important things and I, as a women, need a male mediator. I thought we ALL are ONE in Christ and all part of the believer priesthood! It seems to me that only having men do the important, very visible tasks is not dignifying to the body of believers. I`ve been thinking about asking my pastor if they could include women in passing the offering and serving communion. So I was encouraged to find your post! Thank you Chris!

  4. Question;
    I attend a church of Christ. And I would appreciate if u can please give me some light of an issue that has arise.
    Is it Scripturally correct for boys age 11-13 to pray and serve communion which are NOT BAPTIZED. Please reply. Thanks. A Bro in Christ.

    1. Scripture does not directly speak to your question. But I would assume it would be wise for those serving communion to be believers, baptized, and in good standing with the local church leadership. As young as 11-12 seems a bit odd.

    2. Carlos
      I also attend a church of Christ congregation. The response given was a good one. The boys should be baptized believers who have been taught the importance of the worship assembly and the acts of prayer and communion. Teaching is a must or the significance of the worship items can become a time of hindrance for the worshipers and/or the servers. I was baptized at the age of nine and was immediately taught the importance of worship, the items of worship and how to carry out the acts in an effective manner at the congregation where we worshiped. We (all baptized boys and men) were required to attend training classes before we could serve in the worship services. The leadership did not want anyone serving in the services untrained.

    1. Good question. I believe the minimum requirement would be that a person is a baptized Christian in good standing with the church. Since communion or table fellowship meals typically had the head of the family or church bless the elements, then therefore it would make sense that this take place first and then the elements would be disseminated by bible believing, baptized believers in good standing, with a good reputation in the church.

      Children serving each other in a small group is a possibility as well. But children blessing the communion before the church during a service doesn’t make sense. This should be reserved for the senior elder or pastor or priest leading the service.

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