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Who Should Administer the Sacraments? - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Pastoral Theology and Expository Preaching Articles

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An inquiry into administering the sacraments by the ordained Elder of a local church.

It is my desire in this short paper to demonstrate that only an ordained minister of the Gospel has the divine right and prerogative of administering the sacraments. Only an Elder is able and lawfully authorized to exercise the duties of an Elder. These Elders are called and ordained of a particular church. This all may seem obvious. Yet, it has been my experience, that even among good men and women of the faith in the modern church, this may be quite new. I will traverse both historical orthodoxy as well as Scriptural foundations in order to prove this one simple point.

We turn out attention to the Bible. In Ephesians 4:11-13 it states, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Christ has given gifts according to His own counsel to His church. This should be evident and a very simple point to first consider. It is not to an organization, or a group of people simply calling themselves Christian, but to the visible church that these different offices have been given. It is not my intention to point out the historical intricacies of the meaning of the word “church,” but some points are important. The Church is not simply the invisible church, the elect of all ages, “the called out ones.” And churches are not formed the moment two or three Christians sit down together to talk about Christ. Those who appeal to the “two or three gathered in my name” passage in Matthew 18 wrest the text from its context concerning the “pragmaton” or “law” aspects (where we get pragmatic from). When Christ says “anything in my name” the overtones there in the Greek use of the word concern matters of the law, which fits nicely in a passage about church discipline. When two or three are gathered at church for disciplinary purposes, the apostles of the early church, or the elders of any church, have the divine right of authority to bind and loose, to forbid or allow entrance into the church by means of discipline. This you may find on your own in personal study to a greater length. My point is that the church here is the fixed expression of the church in the world, the local church or meeting house of a given body, not simply the basic tenor of “those called out”. There is an immense difference between simply being a Christian, called out of the world by God, and being a Christian who is a member of the church, a visible expression of the invisible church. Obviously, this has huge implications concerning the manner in which a community of believers covenant together in both doctrine, and practicum. A good summation of these concepts is found in the confession, “I. The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. (Eph. 1:10, 22-23; 5:23, 27, 32; Col. 1:18). II. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; (1 Cor. 1:2; 12:12-13; Psa. 2:8; Rev. 7:9; Rom. 15:9-12) and of their children:(1 Cor. 7:14; Acts 2:39; Gen. 17:7-12; Ezek. 16:20-21; Rom. 11:16; see Gal. 3:7, 9, 14; Rom. 4:12, 16, 24) and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ,( Matt. 13:47; Isa. 9:7; Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:30-36; Col. 1:13) the house and family of God,( Eph. 2:19; 3:15) out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (Acts 2:47). III. Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto. (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-13; Matt. 28:19-20; Isa. 59:12). IV. This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. (Rom. 11:3-5; Acts 2:41, 47; 9:31; 18:8-10) And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them. (Acts 2:41-42; 1 Cor. 5:6-7; Rev. ch. 2-3). V. The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error;( 1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. ch. 2-3; Matt. 13:24-30, 47) and some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan ( Matt. 23:37-39; Rom. 11:18-22). Nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth, to worship God according to his will.( Matt. 16:18; Psa. 45:16-7; 72:17; Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:17). VI. There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22) Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof. (Matt. 23:8-10; 1 Peter 5:2-4) but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.”[1]

Now upon this point that we are dealing with the church as a body of believers Christ’s Spirit applies the work of the cross in gifting men for ministry. The gifts associated here are actually men themselves. (Did you know your pastor was a gift of God?) The Apostle names four kinds of men here: apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers. Now, I am aware of the Greek exegetical differences in translating the final kind of men as “pastors” and “teachers”, or “pastor/teacher.” I have no desire to contend that point. I am satisfied that the text in its original intent is speaking of the same person and I believe the Greek bears that out.[2] Even if you disagree, that is fine. That should not change the meaning of the passage and the point which we are coming to. Let us understand at this point that the officers of the church, in all their capacities, are gifts given to the church, and function within the church.

There is a running testimony of Reformed thinkers concerning the nature of the first three offices stated as temporary offices. Apostles, prophets and evangelists have been seen through the writings of the Magisterial Reformers as well as the good Puritans as temporary in nature. In other words, the offices of Apostles, prophets and evangelists are not offices that function today. They were specific offices for specific periods in the birth of the church – extraordinary offices that had accompanying signs and wonders, miracles, which have now ceased. John Calvin says in “treating of Ecclesiastical office-bearers in particular: Some of them, as Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists, [are] temporary. Others, as Pastors and Teachers, [are] perpetual and indispensable.”[3] Even the Westminster Assembly, one of the most doctrinally sound assemblies to convene in the history of the church, had this to say as whole body or consensus of ministers and theologians: “On the 9th of January, the whole question of ordination was fairly stated by Dr. Temple, chairman of one of the committees, in the following series of interrogatory propositions: — “1. What ordination is? 2. Whether necessarily to be continued? 3. Who to ordain? 4. What persons to be ordained, and how qualified? 5. The manner how?” What did the Assembly say in conclusion to these things? “To these were appended the following answers for the Assembly’s consideration: — “1. Ordination is the solemn setting apart of a person to some public office in the Church. 2. It is necessarily to be continued in the Church. 3. The apostles ordained, evangelists did, preaching presbyters did: because apostles and evangelists are officers extraordinary, and not to continue in the Church; and since, in Scripture, we find ordination in no other hands, we humbly conceive that the preaching presbyters are only to ordain.”[4] John Owen makes this comment, “The officers of the church in general are of two sorts, “bishops and deacons,” Philippians 1:1; and their work is distributed into “prophecy and ministry,” Romans 12: 6,7. The bishops or elders are of two sorts: — 1. Such as have authority to teach and administer the sacraments, which is commonly called the power of order; and also of ruling, which is called a power of jurisdiction, corruptly: and, 2. Some have only power for rule; of which sort there are some in all the churches in the world. Those of the first sort are distinguished into pastors and teachers.”[5] For Owen, the Apostle, Prophet and Evangelist were extraordinary offices, and the pastor/teacher was the ordinary office, or general office. He takes this up to a great extent in his writings, but this may suffice for the point at hand. Hendricksen alludes to this same idea when he says that Timothy and Philip, the two described in Acts as evangelists, though both have other functions, are specifically ordained for a specific function before God.[6] Compare both the function of the evangelist with Timothy and Philip: Timothy served as a traveling apostolic vicar and as an evangelist. Philip served as a deacon and traveling evangelist. The evangelist seems to incur the idea of a traveling missionary. However, as Hendricksen says, “the church today is not able to produce an apostle like Paul nor a prophet like Agabus. It is not in need of a Timothy to serve as an apostolic delegate, nor of a Philip, addressed by an angel and “caught away” by the Spirit. In common with the early church, however, it does have ministers, elders, and deacons.”[7]

Even if there are some who believe that the evangelist is a modern day office, and disagree with the above summary statements about the extraordinary office of an evangelist for purposes of starting the early church, the fact still remains that evangelists are men who are equipped in the church for work outside the church and did not have a license of their own to follow their own whims and wills. We should note that Evangelists are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, our text, in Acts 21:8 of Philip and 2 Timothy 4:5 of Timothy.[8] For instance, the Anabaptists utilized such passages as Acts 8:38 to prove that anyone could baptize those they met “on the road” by profession of faith. Acts 8:38 states, “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” However, such proof texting or selective citing should be condemned. For instance, to trace the legacy of Philip we should look through the last couple of chapters in Acts. Philip is to be associated with the Philip of Acts 6:5-6, “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” Here Philip is seen as one chosen by the church, and had the laying on of hands as a result of the apostle’s confirmation of their ministry. With Philip, then, we have a distinct office fulfilled by this man. The problem with Philip being a “rogue” evangelist, untied to the church is a fallacy. Acts 8:6 states, “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.” Miracles were signs, or confirmations, made by God in the presence of the preached word by the Apostolic witness of the message surrounding Jesus Christ.[9] Christ is interested in having authoritative leadership (Matt 18:18–20 ; 28:20 ; Mark 6:7 ; John 20:21–23 ).[10] Philip preaches (Acts 8:5), baptizes (Acts 8:12), did miracles and signs (Acts 8:13), was directed specifically by immediate special revelation by the angel of the Lord (Acts 8:26), and was caught away or translated by God (Acts 8:39-40). He is called one of the seven, an obvious reference to Acts 6, in Acts 21:8, “And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.” As Hendricksen points out, “Philip preached Christ, Luke writes, to the Samaritans. They were no longer excluded from the Good News (Matthew 10:5), which is God’s universal message to all people.”[11] This is no regular or general laymen and the Anabaptists are in fault for using this passage to condone their unauthorized acts of baptizing without being ordained and sent by the church.

Another passage that is used is John the Baptist. Certainly this aspect of the ministry of God’s revelation to the church is crucial but often misunderstood. John 1:6 says that John the Baptist was “sent from God” to prepare the way of the Lord. The Greek construction here is interesting in that the phrase describes John coming from alongside of God to bear witness to the truth. This does not make John preexistent, but it does make his ministry closely related to the covenant concepts that God administers through the Bible. God is sending a special covenant member to His people to call them, again, back to repentance. He was specially sent of God – a special kind of prophet. John’s baptism is known as the “baptism” of repentance. John’s baptism is frequently omitted in discussions of Christian baptism, but this should not be the case, since John the Baptist is a pivotal figure in the overlap between the old and new covenants. It is important to remember, in this regard, that circumcision is not only a sign of blessing, but also “a sign of Christ’s redemptive judgment with its benedictions and maledictions alike.” If this were true, this would mean that we must expand any discussion of baptism to also include the idea that baptism also is a sign of blessing and of curse. Meredith Kline asks this rhetorical question in light of this, “must we enlarge our theology of baptism so as to see it in a more comprehensive symbol of the eschatological judgment that consummates in the covenant of which baptism is the sign?”[12] The answer to this is “yes.” John is bringing an ultimatum to God’s unfaithful people. The Messiah is coming, and how will the people receive him? Sinfully, they crucify him. The eschatological judgment John preached in the wilderness, and baptizes as a baptism of repentance, speaks to this issue. But is John the rogue “Baptizer” in the wilderness for any or all to imitate? Hardly. Not only does the prophetic office of John negate the laymen for imitating him, but also his peculiar call to repentance as the baptism of ordeal takes shape would quickly disqualify anyone except John the Baptist from fulfilling his role as the last prophet of God. John is like God’s lawyer, sent from the side of God’s judgment seat to bring the lawsuit of God against the unfaithful people before the coming of the Messiah. He is subpoenaing the people of God to repent in light of the coming King who will exact the curses of the covenant if they do not keep covenant. His role is the second most significant role in the Bible in my estimation. No one has the right to copy his Baptism, and John, most of all, knew his role and office as being sent directly by supernatural revelation. John was not paying games here. The axe is not laid at the base of the tree, rather, it is laid at the roots themselves. Each tree that demonstrates their covenant unfaithfulness will be cut down. Who do you know today that would take up a role such as this and mimic it?

It would also be worthy to note that in the administration of baptism some believe this simply to be a “doorway” into the professing kingdom. It is much more than that. The sign of “water” through the prophets of the Old Testament, and in the case of John’s Baptism, as well as the other passages concerning water (Creation and Chaos, Noahic flood, ritual Levitical and Neophyte washings), and into and through the New Testament, all surround an eschatological judgment motif. Baptism is not just recognizing a profession of faith, or recognizing a child’s covenantal status, as if we should simply smile and administer the water. We take pictures of this as if it is simply a celebration without remembering the soberness of the event. This is like when parents decorate their baby’s room with Noah’s ark paraphernalia, two by two smiling animals entering jolly ol’ Noah’s ark, forgetting that the ark was a means to salvation in the midst of eschatological judgment on the wickedness of men. The entire world perished in that cleansing rite. And Peter relates the flood, and Noah’s salvation, as an analogy to baptism. Baptism is the sign of the covenant which carries in it both blessing and curses. It is an eschatological judgment sign that knocks everyone off the fence of indifference who partakes in it or administers it, and sets them and the participants into the context of blessing or curse; one or the other. The minister should see this as exceedingly sobering, as well as those who administer it unlawfully as something to shun.

After looking at the above briefly, what, then, constitutes the manner in which the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, may be administered? Who may administer the sacraments in good conscience before the Lord as a representative or ambassador of His gracious provisions? Except for various cultic influences or heretical sects through the history of the church, the answer to this question is more basic than one may imagine. And the conformity, even across denominational lines, is also striking in answering this question.

We should define, briefly, those who have the authority to administer the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and of Baptism. The Belgic Confession in Article 31 on “The Ministers, Elders and Deacons” says this; “We believe that the ministers of God’s Word, the elders, and the deacons ought to be chosen to their respective offices by a lawful election by the Church, with calling upon the name of the Lord, and in that order which the Word of God teaches. Therefore every one must take heed not to intrude himself by improper means, but is bound to wait till it shall please God to call him; that he may have testimony of his calling, and be certain and assured that it is of the Lord.” Here we see that elders and deacons are to be chosen to their respective offices. They must take heed not to intrude on the office, but in due time, as God, through the church, they may be called to function in those offices. These officers are to be defined and installed by biblical standards. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 demonstrate the non-negotiable character of the minister of the Gospel, and the deacon. Most of what is listed in those two areas relate to the character of the men, though we know from those passage and others that elders are to be “apt to teach” and are the “heralds” of the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:24). By authoritative extension, elders or pastors are to baptize (Matthew 28:19), administer the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:1ff), and give themselves wholly to ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4).

In the ordination of the heralds of the Gospel message, we find they are installed or ordained by means of the church during a special time of ordination to the office. Paul, in 1 Tim. 5:22, directs Timothy, an Evangelist/Pastor, “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” With the prototype deacons of Acts 6:6, the Apostles “when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” In Acts 14:23 we find the Apostle involved in the ordination of elders, “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” So we are fully aware that for the early church there was a special ordination of men to the ministry to which the Lord did, in due time, through the church and those in authority, to ordain them to their work. This was even the case with the Apostle Paul in Acts 13:2, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” And so they did.

Martin Luther wrote at length on the ordination of the minister. Luther writes, “To ordain is not to consecrate. Therefore, if we know a pious man we single him out and through the power of the Word which we possess we give him authority to preach the Word and to administer the Sacraments. This is to ordain.”[13] Luther’s conception of ordination is not a liturgical one but consists essentially in the regular call to the preaching office (Predigtampt), — to preach the Word and to administer the Sacraments, — and in the transmission of this office to the candidate. Out of this, out of this alone, the congregational ceremony develops. Four elements make up this “ordination”: — 1. The examination of the candidate as to his worthiness and fitness; 2. election to the office; 3. confirmation and commendation in the presence of the (calling) congregation; 4. the Church’s intercession for the chosen candidate.[14] He says, “First, — An examination having been made, either on this or on a preceding day, if they are found worthy, after being admonished through preaching, prayer shall be made by the Church for them and for the whole ministry, to wit, that God would deign to send laborers into His harvest, and preserve them faithful and constant in sound doctrine against the gates of hell, etc.” Luther also states that a mark of the church, or an outward demonstration of Christ’s visible Church, was the calling of real ministers to tend the flock. “The Church is known outwardly by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices which they occupy. For we must have bishops, pastors, or preachers, to give, administer and use, publicly and privately, the four things, or precious possessions, that have been mentioned, for the sake of and in the name of the Church, or rather because of their institution by Christ, as St. Paul says, in Ephesians 4:11, Accepit dona in hominibus, “and gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and governors, etc.” The whole group cannot do these things, but must commit them, or allow them to be committed, to someone. What would happen if everyone wanted to speak or administer the sacraments and no one would yield to another? This duty must be committed to one person, and he alone must be allowed to preach, baptize, absolve, and administer the sacraments; all the rest must be content with this and agree to it. Wherever you see this, be assured that God’s people, the Christian, holy people, is present.”[15]

Calvin also explains this in a more comprehensive and direct manner. He says, “As to the Apostles so also to Pastors the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments has been committed.” The relationship or extension of passages such as Matthew 28:19 apply to all those in authority, or deigned to authority by Christ for his church. For instance, Matthew 28:19 is often used in reference to “all Christians.” We should all go out and preach the Gospel. Should we all go and baptize though? Oftentimes this passage is wrest from its context. Careful exegetical work, or simply a sharp eye while reading the text, demonstrates that Jesus Christ made no reference whatsoever to all Christians. The fuller context reads, “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”[16] (Matthew 28:16-20) Davies and Allison state, “The eleven – the brethren of v. 10 whose forgiveness for their flight and denial is implicit – reflects Matthew’s precision: in accord with 27:3-10 Judas has been subtracted.”[17] The Greek text here bears out the relationship of the command to teach and baptize to the eleven – not to all Christians.[18] Jesus is instructing the Apostles to teach and baptize. This has no reference to all Christians inclusively, but does have reference to the extension of those who hold the office of the church. It should be evident that in this text we should conclude that it is “…Christ’s stipulation that the pastorate fulfill its Great Commission to preach and administer the sacraments.”[19] This the Reformers saw in common. Calvin explains, “When our Lord sent forth the apostles, he gave them a commission (as has been lately said) to preach the Gospel, and baptize those who believed for the remission of sins. He had previously commanded that they should distribute the sacred symbols of his body and blood after his example (Matthew 28:19; Luke 22:19). Such is the sacred, inviolable, and perpetual law, enjoined on those who succeed to the place of the apostles, — they receive a commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.”[20] Calvin also states, “Paul speaks not of himself only but of all pastors, when he says, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). Again, in another passage, he describes a bishop as one “holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9).”[21] The administration of the sacraments, according to Calvin’s understanding of a comprehensive systematic, is given to the ordained minister. “Our present purpose, however, is not to enumerate the separate qualities of a good pastor, but only to indicate what those profess who call themselves pastors — viz. that in presiding over the Church they have not an indolent dignity, but must train the people to true piety by the doctrine of Christ, administer the sacred mysteries, preserve and exercise right discipline.”[22] These ministers, according to Calvin, should conform and be viewed in light of the non-negotiable requirements of the Bible. “What persons should be elected bishops is treated at length by Paul in two passages (Titus 1:7; 1 Timothy 3:1). The substance is, that none are to be chosen save those who are of sound doctrine and holy lives, and not notorious for any defect which might destroy their authority and bring disgrace on the ministry.”[23] The difference between the Apostle, and the extension of this ordinary office ordaining men of non-negotiable qualities is seen in this statement, “As theirs was an extraordinary ministry, in order to render it conspicuous by some more distinguished mark, those who were to discharge it behoved to be called and appointed by the mouth of the Lord himself. It was not, therefore, by any human election, but at the sole command of God and Christ, that they prepared themselves for the work.”[24] It was not that the Apostles ordained themselves, or that subsequent offices are given the right to themselves. Nor are men, therefore, allowed to take office administration upon themselves. Rather, they are given the right, or bestowed with the right, of administration of the sacraments. This authority is stated by Calvin where he quotes Cyprian. “Rightly, therefore, does Cyprian contend for it as of divine authority, that the priest be chosen in presence of the people, before the eyes of all, and be approved as worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony, (Cyprian, Lib. i. Ep. 3). Indeed, we see that by the command of the Lord, the practice in electing the Levitical priests was to bring them forward in view of the people before consecration. Nor is Matthias enrolled among the number of the apostles, nor are the seven deacons elected in any other way, than at the sight and approval of the people (Acts 6:2). “Those examples,” says Cyprian, “show that the ordination of a priest behoved not to take place, unless under the consciousness of the people assisting, so that that ordination was just and legitimate which was vouched by the testimony of all.” We see, then, that ministers are legitimately called according to the word of God, when those who may have seemed fit are elected on the consent and approbation of the people. Other pastors, however, ought to preside over the election, lest any error should be committed by the general body either through levity, or bad passion, or tumult.”[25] It is no wonder, then, that in the formation of Calvin’s Catechism that Calvin places the order of his questions successively on this particular subject of ordained ministers next to the sacraments. These are questions 307-310, and their answers:

307. Is it necessary, then, that there should be pastors?
Yes; and that we should hear them, receiving the teaching of the Lord in humility by their mouth. Therefore whoever despises them and refuses to hear them, rejects Jesus Christ, and separates himself from the fellowship of the faithful (Matt. 10:40; Luke 10:16).

308. But is it enough to have been instructed by them once, or ought he to continue to do this?
It is little to have begun, unless you go on to persevere. We must continue to be disciples of Christ right to the end. But He has ordained the ministers of the Church to teach in His Name.

309. Is there no other means than the Word by which God communicates Himself to us?
To the preaching of His Word He has conjoined the Sacraments.

310. What is a Sacrament?
An outward attestation of the grace of God which, by a visible sign, represents spiritual things to imprint the promises of God more firmly in our hearts, and to make us more sure of them.

It is without a doubt that the Reformers, Dutch Theologians and English Puritans, in expounding and exegeting this topic from the Bible, say this is an integral part of the administration or hierarchy of the commandments of Christ for His church. In Germany, under the pen of Melancthon, we read this document signed by the electors and dukes of the country, “OF Ecclesiastical Order: they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.”[26] Calling constitutes the ability to administer the sacraments. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession says, “The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.”[27] Most of the orthodox confessions of the Church refer to this pure administration as done by the minister of the Gospel and him alone. The Belgic Confession, Article 30 says this, “We believe that this true Church must be governed by that spiritual polity which our Lord has taught us in His Word; namely, that there must be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and to administer the sacraments; also elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the Church; that by these means the true religion may be preserved, and the true doctrine everywhere propagated, likewise transgressors chastened and restrained by spiritual means; also that the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted, according to their necessities. By these means everything will be carried on in the Church with good order and decency, when faithful men are chosen, according to the rule prescribed by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy.” The Westminster Confession of Faith is even more graphic. “For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the Church; according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person. (I Thess. 5:12; II Thess. 3:6, 14, 15; I Cor. 5:4, 5, 13; Matt. 18:17; Tit. 3:10.)”[28] It also states, “There are only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained. (Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 11:20, 23, I Cor. 4:1; Heb. 5:4.)”[29] It is seen, then, that the puritan witness to the Reformation standard holds true. The minister of the Word, and him alone, is able to administer the sacraments to the body of Christ. Even in the midst of Particular Baptist movement we find the same standard which resides in the Reformed standards, “A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons. (Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1)”[30] The Particular Baptists also saw the importance of the ordained minister and his relation to the administration of the sacraments, even though they structured their church government in a different fashion than most of Puritanism.

Within Puritanism, we could look through the tomes of Puritan writings on this subject and come away overwhelmed. Let us suffice with examining, for a moment, the teachings of John Owen, a very able representative of Puritan writing and Christian orthodoxy. As stated earlier, Owen saw that the role of pastor/teacher is consigned to the ordinary office of the church, not the extraordinary office. It is only temporary in terms of the end of the age, and the consummation of all things. As Jeremiah 31 says, when the consummation of all things takes place, in heaven, there will be no more need for teachers. In heaven, all will know the Lord, from the least to the greatest. However, now, during the inauguration of the Kingdom, teachers in their ordinary office are needed. Apostles, prophets and evangelists are offices of a temporary nature already done away with the passing of the theocracy of the prophets and the Apostolic age. Owen then says, “Let the bishops attend the particular flocks over which they are appointed, preaching the word, administering the holy ordinances of the gospel in and to their own flock, there will not be contending about them.”[31] It is the minister who administers the sacraments to his flock. These ministers are not self-authorized, but appointed by the church. Ordination in Scripture compriseth the whole authoritative translation of a man from among the number of his brethren into the state of an officer in the church.”[32] In this distinction, Owen writes a lengthy treatise in explaining the differences between the Pastors of the Church and the people of the Church. His intent is to demonstrate how both the people and the pastor have specific roles to fulfill in God’s post redemptive economy. “Farther; who are the subject of the keys, in whom all that secondary ecclesiastical power which is committed to men doth reside, after the determinations of so many learned men by clear Scripture light, shall not by me be called in question. All these, though conducing to the business in hand, would require a large discussion; and such a scholastical handling as would make it an inconsutilous piece of this popular discourse; my intent being only to show, — seeing there are, as all acknowledge, some under the New Testament, as well as the Old, peculiarly set apart by God’s own appointment for the administration of Christ’s ordinances, especially teaching of others by preaching of the gospel, in the way of office and duty, — what remaineth for the rest of God’s people to do, for their own and others’ edification.”[33] Though Christians are called priests as well as Pastors, there is a distinction. “All faithful ministers of the gospel, inasmuch as they are engrafted into Christ and are true believers, may, as all other true Christians, be called priests; but this inasmuch as they are members of Christ, not ministers of the gospel. It respecteth their persons, not their function, or not them as such.”[34] There is a distinction then between the sacrifices that the Christian priest brings, and the duty of the Pastors over a particular church. Christian priests have no warrant from the word to impose themselves on the duties that God has ordained for the minister. And there are only three biblical manners in which a minister of the Word, (Apostle, prophets, evangelists or pastors/teachers) may be called to that office; Owen says “1. By immediate revelation; 2. By a concurrence of Scripture rules directory for such occasions; 3. By some outward acts of Providence, necessitating him thereunto.”[35] Prophets were often called of God by immediate revelation from God; Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc. For the minister of the Gospel, such a calling rests not in the self-empowerment of the individual, but rather the internal calling of God on the minister’s heart, the providence of God through the church, and through the non-negotiable qualifications of the Word.

Such an office, Owen insists, is of the highest import and not just anyone is allowed to take the office. What we find is that the church is recognizing the power already invested in the special candidate for the task of overseeing the Chosen People of God. “Wherefore, where the Lord Christ doth not communicate of these abilities in such a measure as by virtue of them church-order may be observed, church-power exercised, and all church-ordinances administered according to his mind, unto the edification of the church, it is no more in the power of men to constitute officers than to erect and create an office in the church, Ephesians 4:11-15; 1 Corinthians 12:4-10, etc.; Romans 12:6-8. This wisdom is a spiritual gift, 1 Corinthians 12:8, whereby the officers of the church are enabled to make a due application of all the rules and laws of Christ, unto the edification of the church and all the members of it.[36] Unto the attaining of this wisdom are required, — 1) Fervent prayer for it, James 1:5. 2) Diligent study of the Scripture, to find out and understand the rules given by Christ unto this purpose, Ezra 7:10; 2 Timothy 2:1, 15. 3) Humble waiting on God for the revelation of all that it is to be exercised about, Ezekiel 43:11. 4) A conscientious exercise of the skill which they have received; talents traded with duly will increase. 5) A continual sense of the account which is to be given of the discharge of this great trust, being called to rule in the house of God, Hebrews 13:17.”[37] Accountability is a key aspect in the manner or discharge of the pastoral office. That is part of the reason that there should be setup an elder form of government where “elders” are ordained in every church; a plurality (Exodus 4:9; Acts 15:6; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 11:2; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1).

Some denominations discourage ordination. It may help some to more readily define what it means to ordain a person to the ministry, so that people are not empowering themselves to the work that should be done by the minister. This would apply to missionaries sent out to do church work, laymen who desire to take up teaching or preaching roles in a church, or outside of the church, and the like. What is ordination? Strong gives us a good outline; “Ordination is the setting apart of a person divinely called to a work of special ministration in the church. It does not involve the communication of power; it is simply recognition of powers previously conferred by God and a consequent formal authorization, on the part of the church, to exercise the gifts already bestowed. This recognition and authorization should not only be expressed by the vote in which the candidate is approved by the church or the council which represents it but should also be accompanied by a special service of admonition, prayer and the laying on of hands (Acts 6:5, 6; 13:2, 3; 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22). Licensure simply commends a man to the churches as fitted to preach. Ordination recognizes him as set apart to the work of preaching and administering ordinances, in some particular church or in some designated field of labor, as representative of the church.”[38] What is important here is that such actions are done as a “representative of the church.” John Gill also confirms this, even though his outlook is based along the lines of a baptistic form of church government, “The election and call of [ministers], with their acceptance, is ordination. The essence of ordination lies in the voluntary choice and call of the people, and in the voluntary acceptance of that call by the person chosen and called; for this affair must be by mutual consent and agreement, which joins them together as pastor and people. And this is done among themselves; and public ordination, so called, is no other than a declaration of that. Election and ordination are spoken of as the same; the latter is expressed and explained by the former. It is said of Christ, that he “ordained twelve”, Mark 3:14 that is, he chose them to the office of apostleship, as he 1733 himself explains it, John 6:70 see Acts 1:2. Paul and Barnabas are said to “ordain elders in every church”, Acts 14:23 or to choose them; that is, they gave orders and directions to every church, as to the choice of elders over them; for sometimes persons are said to do that which they give orders and directions for doing, as Moses and Solomon, with respect to building the tabernacle and temple, though done by others; and Moses particularly is said to choose the judges, Exodus 18:25 the choice being made under his direction and guidance. The word that is used in Acts 14:23 is translated chosen, 2 Corinthians 8:19 where the apostle speaks of a brother, ceirotouhyeiv, “who was chosen of the churches to travel with us”; and is so rendered when ascribed to God, Acts 10:41.”[39] When such men are ordained, what is their function? Gill says, “Pastors of churches feed souls by the administration of ordinances; these are the goodness and fatness of the house of God, with which the saints are richly fed, and abundantly filled and satisfied; these are the provisions of Zion, which the Lord blesses; these are breasts of consolation, out of which gracious souls suck, and are delighted and refreshed; these are green pastures, into which the shepherds of Israel lead their flocks and feed them.”[40] The administration of the sacraments are an integral part of the ministry of the Gospel Pastor. Richard Baxter makes this sarcastic comment about those who simply believe that coming into a pastoral position after ordination is just preaching and does not include social interaction and catechizing, “They commonly think, that a minister hath no more to do with them, but to preach to them, and administer the sacraments to them, and visit them in sickness; and that, if they hear him, and receive the sacraments from him, they owe him no further obedience, nor can he require any more at their hands.”[41] Even though this is a rebuke, Baxter still equates preaching and the administration of the sacraments to the minister.

Throughout church history men have always been ordained to Gospel work, and to the administration of the sacraments. Schaff notes, “No one can be a pastor who is not called, examined, ordained, or installed. In the examination, the candidate must give satisfactory evidence of his knowledge of the Scriptures, his soundness in doctrine, purity of motives, and integrity of character. If he proves worthy of the office, he receives a testimony to that effect from the Council to be presented to the congregation. If he fails in the examination, he must wait for another call and submit to another examination. The best mode of installation is by prayer and laying on of hands, according to the practice of the Apostles and the early Church; but it should be done without superstition.”[42]

Those who would take up the right of an ordained minister, by a true church, are rebelling against the given authority and structure of the church: God – Christ – [General Assembly of Elders – Presbytery of a given locale – Elders (or Session)][43] – Deacons – Congregation. Even the Methodist Arminian preacher John Wesley said, “All Presbyterian Churches, it is well known, that of Scotland in particular, license men to preach before they are ordained, throughout that whole kingdom; and it is never understood that this appointment to preach gives them any right to administer the sacraments. Likewise in our own Church, persons may be authorized to preach, yea, may be Doctors of Divinity, (as was Dr. Alwood at Oxford, when I resided there,) who are not ordained at all, and consequently have no right to administer the Lord’s Supper. Yea, even in the Church of Rome itself, if a lay-brother believes he is called to go a mission, as it is termed, he is sent out, though neither Priest nor Deacon, to execute that office, and not the other.”[44]

If we have a right understanding of what a minister is, then the possibility of unorthodox actions concerning the duties of minister may be kept in control. “A number of descriptive words shed light on biblical pastoral ministry. These include “ruler” (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:4–5; 5:17), “ambassador” (2 Cor. 5:20), “steward” (1 Cor. 4:1), “defender” (Phil. 1:7), “minister” (1 Cor 4:1); “servant” (2 Cor. 4:5), and “example” (1 Tim. 4:12, 1 Pet. 5:3). The NT also tells the pastor to preach (1 Cor. 1:17), feed (1 Pet. 5:2), build up the church (Eph. 4:12), edify (2 Cor. 13:10), pray (Col. 1:9), watch for souls (Heb. 13:17), war (1 Tim. 1:18), convince (Titus 1:9), comfort (2 Cor. 1:4–6), rebuke (Titus 1:13), warn (Acts 20:31), admonish (2 Thess. 3:15), and exhort (Titus 1:9; 2:15).”[45] We should be keenly aware that it is the minister and his role that fulfills the administration of the Gospel sacraments.

A theology of “calling” may help protect the church from several extremes. One of these extremes is the view that a call is a private matter with little or no relationship or accountability to the church. Another view of calling separates the “professional” clergy from the laity. An adequate theology is also needed to help place proper focus on the servant quality of leadership consistent with Christ’s call to discipleship. A biblical call is quite divorced from cultural ideas of power. The case of Simon Magus who attempted to gain ecclesiastical preferment (Acts 8:5–24) stands out as a serious error to avoid. The English word “simony,” the buying or selling of church office or preferment, comes from this incident in Acts.[46]

It should also be noted that the sacraments are to be guarded by the minister. “The body is not without order; again, the kingdom of God is not a Rousseauian paradise. In most churches, only ordained ministers may administer the Supper, and even if this is an unnecessary remnant of clericalism, it is still true that in all properly functioning churches of Christ someone is designated as guardian of the table. Flagrant and impenitent sinners are to be cut off from the fellowship of the feast. In this way, the eucharist not only manifests and exercises proper relationships among the members of the body but also reveals the fundamental contours of the world as a whole. And not only “reveals”: since the exercise of church discipline centers on the table, the feast establishes boundaries, creating an in-group and an out-group. Those who participate in the feast are members of the body, to be treated as brothers and sisters, while those outside may be enemies of the church, apostates cut off from Christ, or the unevangelized. The feast draws the ever-shifting lines between the church and the world.”[47]

Ministers themselves should be quite zealous to see the church adhere to the proper doctrinal standards surrounding belief and practice. To allow anyone to administer the sacraments would be to give up the dictates of Christ’s commission to the authority of the church, and to give up the historical witness of confessionalism to the truth of it. “A minister stands in the pulpit not as an individual but as an ordained minister from a particular communion. “The public,” Dabney wrote, “hears [the minister’s] church in him.” Therefore, officers had a duty to keep those out of the ministry who did not consent to the church’s teaching.”[48] In this office, it is the duty of the minister to fulfill his calling. As Goodykoontz states, “The powers of the ministry are seen in preaching, in administering the sacraments, and in ruling.”[49]

This office is not something new. Ordination and its Gospel “powers” is not something new at all. It is the Biblical norm for minister to fulfill their ordinary office in this way, and there is a distinction between the laity and the minister in this respect. “More to the point, from the earliest centuries the church has seen it as a matter of good order that even higher standards be required of those who regularly conduct public worship, preach and administer the sacraments than are required of other elders and deacons. A setting apart of a presbyter, a presiding elder, from among the presbyters, who was responsible for the ministry of the word and sacraments, yet was still subject to the presbyters as a whole can be found among the oldest extra-biblical documents, including those dating from the first and second centuries. “The things which you have heard from me,” Paul tells Timothy, “these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” ( 2 Tim 2:2 ). [50]

I think it is evident from the Biblical text as well as the cross section of material presented that ministers of the Gospel are those sole heirs of the authority of the apostles in the sense that they are to administer the sacraments under Christ’s direction. Theologians, pastors, and our confessions prove the point well. Christians, those who are not ministers of the Gospel but are involved in the church, have not been given the authority to administer the sacraments. This task has fallen to the ordained minister. It is not a task to take lightly and many often misunderstand the gravity of the office of minister who think that Christians who gather together at any time, whether with or without a minister present, could in good conscience administer the sacraments as they see fit. This happenstance is often the case when poor theology substitutes itself for orthodoxy. We must never be those who take matters into our own hands or who decide for ourselves what the constituted means of the church are or how they should be administered. I would venture to say that those who administer the sacraments in this way have never, at any time, sat with a respectable minister of the Gospel to express their views and learn as to whether their views are orthodox or not. We should take heed lest we wrest the sacraments from its proper context, or cause others to stumble in our mistakes. For instance, if a Christian man were to administer the Lord’s Supper in a bible study bereft of a minister, or himself being a minister, he would be teaching others in the study that such an act is acceptable and with biblical warrant. Doesn’t Jesus Christ command us to “all” partake of the cup? Shouldn’t we desire to have the “all” of our church present when such a act of unified fellowship takes place? Does not Paul instruct the Corinthians that when they “come together” they are to act in a certain accord with doctrinal and practical unity? How would this be done if the body of Christ is left out of the supper’s administration, or if it was distributed in this manner? And what if a Christian woman decided to baptize her next door neighbor in her pool because the neighbor made a profession of faith? Would such and act be lawfully administered? What would the neophyte think after the act, or even after a true minister explained to them that their baptism was not warranted in such an instance? That would bring reproach upon the Baptizer and the neophyte. It may even be a means to cause them to stumble. Just practically in the life of the church the self-empowered administer of the sacraments has no place in the authority structure of Christ’s people. Even the nature of the covenant church teaches us this.

May the Lord help us to see the necessity of a good minister, and the nobility of that office. And so I end with a notable quote from Thomas Murphy, “The nature of the gospel ministry is such that its duties cannot be too thoughtfully regarded. It is an office which was established by Christ himself, the great Head of the Church. Its commission is held from the authority of heaven, and it studies are connected with the kingdom of God. Would it have been ordained by this special appointment of our Lord for any other than the most important ends? What dignity it receives from the consideration that it has not come from the contrivance of human wisdom, but that is emanated directly from Jehovah! Do we know of any other office, held by mortals, that can be compared it in grandeur.”[51]


[1] Article 25, Of the Church, The Westminster Confession of Faith. The last line of the confession in this section concerning the Antichrist is often under what ministers may take as an “exception” clause. However, this may not necessarily be the case.

[2] The conjunction used is kai not de.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Chapter 3.

[4] Herrington, History of the Westminster Assembly, Page 144. Emphasis Mine.

[5] John Owen, Works, Volume 16, Page 64.

[6] William Hendricksen, NT Commentary – Ephesians, Pages 196-197.

[7] Ibid.

[8] F.F. Bruce, NICNT – The Epistle to the Colossians, To Philemon, and to the Ephesians, Page 396.

[9] If you are unclear on the topic of “miracle” then checking 2 Corinthians 9 and Hebrews 2 should make it apparent that the sign or wonder of the miracle always surrounds the preached Apostolic message.

[10] Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 144, Vol. 144, Page 328, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1987;2002.

[11] Simon Kistemaker, NT Commentary – Acts, Baker Book House, Page 292.

[12] Meredith Kline, By Oath Consigned, Page 50.

[13] Martin Luther, The Works of Luther, Volume 15, Page 721.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Martin Luther, The Works of Luther, Volume 5, Pages 213-214

[16] Emphasis Mine.

[17] W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., The International Critical Commentary – Matthew, Volume 3, Page 680.

[18] This does not mean that Christians are not to, by implication, go and share the Gospel with their neighbors or friends. However, one should realize that teaching and baptizing in this instance is not disjointed but conjoined. Christians should not just come to church, but “go” as well to share the Gospel with friends, relatives, neighbors, work associates, etc. They are not Apostles, nor are they heralds, the office kept for those ordained to it, but they are Christians.

[19] Westminster Theological Seminary. Westminster Theological Journal Volume 61, Vol. 61, Page 246, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1999;2002.

[20] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.3.2.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. 4.3.12.

[24] Ibid 4.3.13.

[25] Ibid 4.3.15.

[26] The Augsburg Confession, Article 14.

[27] Emphasis Mine.

[28] Article 30, paragraph 4, The Westminster Confession of Faith.

[29] Article 27, paragraph 4, The Westminster Confession of Faith.

[30] Article 28, paragraph 8, The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.

[31] John Owen, Works, Volume 13, Page 289.

[32] John Owen, Works, Volume 13, Page 227.

[33] John Owen, Works, Volume 13, The Duty of Pastors distinguished from his people, Page 32.

[34] Ibid, Page 34.

[35] Ibid, Page 45.

[36] Owen is a cessationist, though he does believe that wisdom is still imparted to special offices of the church, elders and deacons, for the purpose of their office and their giftedness.

[37] John Owen, Works, Volume 16, Page 59.

[38] Augustus, H. Strong, Systematic Theology, Volume 3, Page 259.

[39] John Gill, A Body of Practical Divinity, Book 2, Chapter 3, Emphasis Mine.

[40] Ibid, 1742.

[41] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, Banner of Truth Trust, Page 129.

[42] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 8, Page 402.

[43] All of these are the collective elders of the church.

[44] John Wesley, Works of John Wesley, Volume 7, Page 297.

[45] Master’s Seminary Journal Volume 6, Vol. 6, Page 150, Master’s Seminary, 1995;2002.

[46] Edward L. Hayesa, A Call to the Ministry, Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 157, Vol. 157, Page 91, DTS, 2000;2002.

[47] Peter J. Leithart ,The Way Things Really Ought to Be: Eucharist, Eschatology, and Culture, Westminster Theological Seminary. Westminster Theological Journal Volume 59, Vol. 59, Page 171, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1997;2002.

[48] D. G. Hart, The Tie That Divides: Presbyterian Ecumenism, Fundamentalism, And The History Of Twentieth-Century American Protestantism, Westminster Theological Seminary. Westminster Theological Journal Volume 60, Vol. 60, Page 99, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1998;2002.

[49] Westminster Theological Seminary. Westminster Theological Journal Volume 27, Vol. 27, Page 91, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1965;2002.

[50]Terry L. Johnson Liturgical Studies: The Pastor’s Public Ministry: Part One, Westminster Theological Seminary. Westminster Theological Journal Volume 60, Vol. 60, Page 132, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1998;2002.

[51] Thomas Murphy, Pastoral Theology, Old Paths Publications, Pages 24-25.

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