Wednesday, 1 June 2016

General Assembly Part 2

One of the more interesting debates featured the question, "Who gets to administer Communion?"

Churches which ordain their clergy tend to do so to "Word and Sacrament", however that may be worded in their ordination rites. The claims to Apostolic succession by the laying on of hands are hotly disputed and asserted by all parties, for in the great scheme of things, this is counted as very important by the big established denominations. But the point is, in the eyes of these Churches this ordination of the celebrant gives a validity to the dispensing of Communion and Baptism and if your Church sees it as a sacrament, marriage, which would otherwise be lacking. There are some compromises allowed. For instance, Baptism, if done in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is for the sake of the Biblical "one faith, one baptism, one Lord" declaration, seen as valid, even if done by a non ordained person, since none of the ancient great and orthodox churches would want to cast doubt on the saving validity of a Baptism done in the threefold name. This peccadillo does not worry Baptists and other groups and individuals who believe in believer's baptism, although, I do know of some Baptist Churches who have recognised the infant Baptism of some of their revered attenders, and allowed them to become members and even elders!That aside,effectively, if you believe in believer's baptism you are saying that that first (infant) baptism is invalid.

Now, it is the case for better or worse, that there has been a creeping invasion of sharing bread and wine in small groups in homes and other places over the past 50 years, in the more evangelical and charismatic parts of the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches. Sometimes this is done under another name: fellowship meals, agape suppers and the like. Sometimes it is done under the radar, without the priest or minister's knowledge, and sometimes with their tacit approval.

This emphasis on "validity" is an interesting one. What is meant by it, and what does it impart to the process which it validifies? After all, it is the presence and benediction of the Holy Spirit which ultimately validates all that we do. We all know that the Spirit is not subject to our direction, e.g. John 3.8. Those who argue that the presence of the Spirit and the blessings it imparts are unquantifiable, unassessable, mysterious and various, but depend upon the valid dispensing of the Sacrament, can just sit on their hands and smile benignly from their lofty towers. Those who argue that there is no Biblical warrant for such a view, can take the same argument and smile back. What is true is that in both camps, there are many testimonies of people having been deeply blessed, uplifted, healed, comforted, inspired and more, by participating in communions both recognised and rogue. The opponents of lay people dispensing communion argue that blessings are not evidence of "validity" in the rarified sense that they give to that word with regard to the sacraments. This holding on to the mysterious authority of ordination is one of the last bastions of the great churches' claims to their own validity and necessity. Which is why they fight so hard to defend it.

But in the great scheme of things, in the plan beyond our little plans, the Church is changing. People who know little if anything about ordination and valid sacraments are entering the Kingdom through doorways far from the reach of the old denominations and true Churches.They are meeting together, worshipping together, celebrating, baptising, sharing communion together and bringing others to know the love of Jesus Christ. The Church of Scotland would do well to accept this and work constructively with it. The latest suggestion from the Ministries Council about hubs of ministry would be one way of doing this. It was in this context interestingly enough, that the debate arose.

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