Savoy on the Sacraments – Part 4
There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; neither of which may be dispensed by any but a minister of the Word lawfully
The Roman Catholic Church recognises seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation , Marriage, Vocation, Anointing of the sick. The Reformed position is that there are only two sacraments, namely Baptism and The Lord’s Supper.
Historically, There have been other views held on the sacraments. Calvin believed that the ‘laying on of hands’ as practiced by churches when ordaining ministers could be considered as a sacrament. Luther thought that ‘penance’ properly understood, may be a sacrament. Some Pentecostals believed in three sacraments, including the anointing of the sick with oil as described in James. (The Elim Church has only recently removed this ‘third sacrament’ from its tenets. It should be pointed out though, that the Elim Church does not refer to sacraments as such, but ‘ordinances’ and that generally they have a lower view of the sacraments than Reformed churches).
There is a clause here that may cause problems for some of our churches. Savoy states that only a minister should preside over the sacraments. Presbyterians and Anglicans and some Congregationalists maintain this belief rigidly – some Congregationalists and many Baptists and Pentecostals do not. I know that some congregational churches will argue that because of their understanding of the priesthood of all believers, others should be allowed to preside at communion, and some churches allow deacons to do so. (This is usually due to a liberal understanding of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers introduced in Victorian times, based upon ‘democracy’ – where every church member has the right to preach, take part in services, govern the church and administer the sacraments. It is not biblical. Every Christian has the same STATUS in Christ, but every Christian has a different calling and a different role in the church – that is what 1 Cor 12-14 is all about. Not everyone is called to be a minister or a deacon, but the Lord has set in the church some who are elders and some who are deacons, and the two offices are not the same. So we are equal in status, but different in calling and ability, hence, Paul’s teaching on ministry of various parts within the body.) The same churches, it would be fair to say, would not think of having a deacon administer baptism. So, what does the Bible say about this?
A) Christ gave the right to administer the sacraments to those to whom he gave the commission to preach. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 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. But the power of preaching is not given to all men. Heb. 5:4 And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
B) Everyone who administered the sacraments in the NT were either called in a usual manner, or in an extraordinary manner, for example, John the Baptist and the disciples of Christ. Consider:
PETER: Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. Acts 2:41
PHILIP: 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. Acts 8:38
ANANIAS: And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. Acts. 9:18
PAUL & SILAS: And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
A recent discussion on the ‘Reformed Congregationalists’ web group contained this comment ny D T Maurinio:
The historic Reformed position is that the sacraments are directly and intimately linked to the teaching role of the pastor. We’re not Roman Catholics; we don’t ordain people to perform sacraments, but rather view that as being a part of the work of preaching. Once a person has been ordained to preach, he’s qualified to administer the sacraments of communion and baptism.
A person who is regularly teaching in the public worship services should be ordained to that position, or at least be a ruling elder who is licensed to preach or “exhort”; otherwise, he should not be teaching because his doctrinal orthodoxy has not been examined by a body of qualified elders.
Ordination isn’t magic enabling people to administer the sacraments. It’s an act declaring that a person has been examined and met the qualifications outlined in Scripture to be a ruling or teaching elder.
This may indicate some of the reasons why the Pilgrim Church at Plymouth did not have the sacraments for many years after settling at Plymouth because their de facto pastor was a ruling elder not ordained as a teaching elder or pastor. I personally would not have had a problem with ordaining him as a pastor, but I realize that could have jeopardized the civil existence of the Plymouth Colony and there were sound political as well as arguably sound ecclesiastical reasons for not doing so.