Modified from a text conversation.
Why should only Teaching Elders (pastors) and not Ruling Elders (lay elders) administer the sacraments? Why are the sacraments (normally) not valid otherwise? Here are the broad strokes of my reasoning, with particular application to the EPC. A more detailed breakdown can be found on pages 30-38 of the document linked in this post.
Biblical theology: The sacraments are part of the churchly ministry granted to the apostles (e.g. Matthew 16:19, 18:18-19, 28:19; John 20:23; 1 Corinthians 4:1, 11:23). The authority to administer sacraments is not entrusted to just anyone in the church. Teaching Elders as pastors stand in continuity with this apostolic ministry (i.e. apostolic succession) – e.g. Romans 15:15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:27-29, 14:1; Ephesians 2:20-22, 3:7, 4:9-11; 1 Peter 5:1. Whatever Ruling Elders are, they are not an apostolic, sacramental office. Pastors (or bishops, or ministers, or Teaching Elders, or whatever your preferred term) do stand in ministerial, apostolic succession, and therefore do have a sacramental nature to their office. Teaching Elders have been authorized by Christ to administer the sacraments, Ruling Elders have not…
At their General Assembly last week, the Presbyterian Church in America voted to allow presbyteries to forbid ministers teaching their exceptions. This does not appear to be a formal position of the PCA; the denominational committee that reviews presbytery minutes approved a presbytery forbidding the teaching of exceptions, and then the GA voted to affirm that committee’s approval.
I think this was a mistake. I have written extensively on exceptions and scruples, but the core of my argument is that if a presbytery allows an exception, the minister is vowing to subscribe to the Westminster Standards except where he disagrees. Even though the word “except” is not in the vows, it is implied by the granting of an exception. Otherwise the minister would be lying in his subscription vows. Yes, the church sets the rules on what can be taught, but those rules are enforced through the ministerial vows which have excluded the subject to which the minister took exception. Since the presbytery has granted the exception, to forbid a minister from teaching his conscience is a violation of his conscience, which in and of itself contradicts the Westminster Confession.
Here’s a case study on the impracticalities of this.
If a candidate for ministry takes the most common exception (recreation on the Lord’s Day) and the presbytery forbids him from teaching his view, there are three potential scenarios. It is easy to imagine a congregant asking this pastor what his view is on recreation during the Sabbath. Pastoral discretion will have been hampered by the presbytery’s gag order. In the first scenario, the minister teaches the Confession’s view as scripture’s teaching, contrary to his own convictions. This would violate his conscience and be a form of deception since he would not be “from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speak[ing] the truth, and only the truth…in all other things whatsoever” (WLC 144). In the second scenario the minister would simply avoid addressing the subject. This is probably not possible in a Presbyterian church, and is certainly not advisable for a pastor charged with teaching the whole counsel of God. The third scenario is the pastor teaching the Confession’s view, only to then tell his congregants that he cannot affirm what he just taught. This would spare his conscience, but would undermine the integrity of his message and de facto be teaching his exception.
Simply put, if the presbytery does not want an exception taught, don’t grant the exception.
The College of Bishops of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) released a pastoral statement on human sexuality and identity in mid-January. At the time, I thought about assessing it here, like I did with the Nashville Statement, the PCA’s report on human sexuality, and the CRC’s report on human sexuality. But the ACNA statement seemed so benign that there was not much that I thought I could say. The statement held that there is no guarantee, though there is the possibility, that Christians experiencing same-sex attraction will see an end to that attraction in this life. No comment is made on whether same-sex attraction or orientation is itself sinful or needs to be something repented. The statement even-handily evaluated the ways in which “same-sex Christian” or “gay Christian” are used, but then said, “We do not believe it wise nor commendable to adopt categorically the language of ‘gay Christian,’ or ‘same-sex attracted Christian’ as the default description for those who experience same-sex attraction…
The Reformed Church in America (RCA) released its Vision 2020 Report this week, and some of its diagnoses are things to be taken into account for my own EPC. The report recommends that the RCA shift to affinity-based classes rather than being geography-based, allow each classis to determine their position on LGBT marriage and ordination, creating an independent missions board to maintain the RCA’s mission work if the denomination collapses, and mandating a gracious dismissal process for all RCA congregations. The recommendation on the missions board elicited a minority report from the committee that believes “Its structure is voluntary and pragmatic. By design, the agency would be extra-ecclesial, existing outside of the connection and accountability of a covenant community.” This criticism summarizes the warning lights that the RCA’s report contains.
This report and its recommendations are necessary because the RCA has been divided for decades on questions of what its unifying standards and structures should actually be…
The North American Anglican, as is their purpose, has recently published two articles explaining and defending different aspects of historic episcopal polity. The first was an explanation by Alexander Whitaker of Anglicanism’s retention of the term “priest” to describe their ministers, the second a survey of the patristic basis for historic episcopacy by Drew Keane. Both of these article represent the problem that Presbyterians like myself have had with episcopal polity: the conclusion is determined in advance, then a justification is sought out for the practice.
Whitaker asks rhetorically,
But if in the New Testament there are no Christian priests as we know them, and if Scripture identifies Christ as our one great high priest and the church as a priesthood—where and what is the basis for having some other sort of priest at all?…Anglicans would respond that these questions should be pointers to why it is right to have priests, and what functions they serve. Indeed, it could be said that Anglicans have priests because Christ is our one priest and because his Church is a priesthood of all believers (emphasis original).
No Reformed Presbyterian should have a problem with Whitaker’s description of a priest’s function, but Whitaker’s rhetorical question raises our crucial critique…