Administration of The Ordinances

We intimated on the wrapper of our last October Number that it was in our mind to take up the above subject, as involving considerations hidden from the eyes of men of one idea, who only know what they have been taught by the precept of men, and as having also an important bearing on many points of divine truth. This pledge, therefore, we shall now attempt to redeem.

Were it a mere idle, unprofitable question, or a point of dry and barren controversy, we would willingly let the whole subject drop, for we cannot but think most of our readers would consider that our proofs from the Scripture were decisive and conclusive of the truth of our views; but we believe it will be found on mature examination that it contains in its bosom some instructive lessons, and involves some important consequences which, perhaps, may not have presented themselves to their minds in the light in which we see them. The deep wisdom of the Holy Ghost, as manifested in this question, is altogether HIDDEN from superficial, ignorant professors, who know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God; and indeed is not only usually OVERLOOKED by ordinary readers of the New Testament, but, in our judgment, is not sufficiently understood or appreciated even by some who possess a deeper insight into the mysteries of the kingdom.

In examining, however, such points, we should bear in mind several important considerations. First, let it be remembered that the Scriptures, as given by inspiration of God, were written for ALL TIME, as well as for the then present time, and as such looked forward prospectively to ALL the various circumstances and phases in which the church should be placed down to the end of the world. Secondly, it should be recollected that there are certain strong, deep-seated tendencies in the human mind which are EVER displaying themselves, and unfolding, as a necessary consequence, different forms of error or evil. Now the Holy Ghost, possessing an infinite and infallible knowledge of the heart of man, and foreseeing with ineffable clearness and distinctness the whole end from the beginning, has in the depths of His wisdom provided beforehand suitable and sufficient remedies against these evils for the guidance of the family of God.

The amazing subtlety with which these tendencies of the human mind have been worked upon and drawn out so as to issue in the firm establishment of error and evil in the professing church, compels us to believe that Satan has been the main agent in this matter, and that he has employed these tendencies to the building up of HIS KINGDOM OF DARKNESS and wickedness. We trust we shall make this clear as we carry on our argument and work out the chief points of the question now before us. Two preliminary considerations will, however, be necessary:

1. We shall first, then, assume that there are two standing ordinances in the Lord’s house — ordinances of His own institution, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And we shall assume that these are not sacraments, according to the views of the Church of Rome and the Church of England, but ordinances, the difference between the two consisting in this that sacraments are claimed to be immediate channels of grace, whilst ordinances are merely celebrations or memorials, which may or may not be attended with a divine blessing, but are not channels of spiritual life. This distinction between sacraments and ordinances it is most important clearly to understand, and ever to bear in mind, for without it neither this nor many similar questions can be fully comprehended.

2. We shall, secondly, assume that these ordinances of the Lord’s house, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are LIMITED to believers in the Son of God; for not being sacraments to convey grace to the soul, but memorials of the sufferings, sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, faith is required in the recipient that they may not be lifeless forms, but spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

But now comes the main gist of our present question — the administration of these ordinances of the Lord’s house.

Is their administration, for the same arguments apply to BOTH ordinances, LIMITED TO MINISTERS — in other words, may none but ministers either baptize or break bread?

WE HOLD that their administration is NOT so limited, and that the Holy Ghost has not confined the administration of the ordinances to one class of men — the ministers of the word of truth. If you deny this, you are bound to show us two things:

1. That the Scriptures of the New Testament have CLEARLY drawn this limit.

2. To inform us what you mean by the word “ministers.”

We shall take the last point first, as occupying less room for its examination and clearing the ground more fully for the consideration of the first.

What, then, do you mean by “ministers,” when you say that to them is limited the power or privilege of baptizing and breaking bread to believers?

Do you mean ordained ministers — men on whose heads have been laid the hands of the presbytery?

“No,” you answer, “we do not mean that, for we do not hold with human ordination.”

Do you mean then, pastors of churches, or will you in-clude supplies of various kinds, from the man who is regularly engaged in a wandering ministry to the man who sometimes reads a sermon, gives out a hymn, reads a chapter from the desk or pulpit, and comments a little on what he reads?

“No,” you answer, “I do not mean all who thus occasionally speak, but only generally recognized ministers, such men as those whose engagements appear every month on your wrapper.”

Well and good. But these very men — most of them, at least — began in a small way. They were led first to read a chapter and make some comments on it; then, as their grace and gifts became more manifest, and the Lord seemed more evidently with them, they advanced from the desk to the pulpit, and went gradually on from strength to strength till they obtained a firm footing in the esteem and affections of the church of God.

Now, if you limit baptizing and breaking bread to these recognized ministers, please tell us when they might begin to administer the ordinances of the Lord’s house?

Draw the line for us when this great blessing became theirs.

Was it when they mounted the pulpit?

Then you make a low box or a high box the exact turning point, and that a man in the low box is not a minister and must not baptize, but the same man, when mounted in the high box, is a minister and may. Hold the ordination of ministers as the Church of England and some dissenting churches do, and you can then draw a line between the ordained and the un-ordained, and say boldly, “None but an ordained minister may break bread or baptize.” But if once you give up the ordination of ministers as held by them, we defy you to draw a line, on one side of which there stands the man who speaks in public; but may not baptize, and, on the other, the man who speaks in public, and who may baptize. False principles necessarily lead to false conclusions, and to set out and walk in an unscriptural path must end in folly and confusion. If you, limit the administration of the ordinances to ministers, you are bound to show us who are ministers, and what makes them ministers, what sort of recognition is required to manifest them as such, and at what period of their ministry the blessing is to be conceded them to administer the ordinances of the Lord’s house. If you cannot do this, it is evident that you do not understand the question, and are talking of matters in which you possess neither earthly nor heavenly wisdom.

But now a few words upon this all important point: “Has the Holy Ghost LIMITED the administration of the ordinances to ministers of the word of truth?”

If He has, show us where. Point out the chapter and verse in which we find, either in word or substance: “None may baptize but a minister of Jesus Christ.” We are bold to say that there is no such limitation to be found in the New Testament.

And what is more, the precedents given us in the New Testament prove just the contrary; in other words, most plainly show that private believers may, if occasion need, Scripturally baptize their believing brethren. We have before adduced the remarkable instances of Paul and Cornelius, neither of whom was baptized by a minister. Ananias, who baptized Paul, was simply a “disciple at Damascus,” where there was no church or congregation, (See Acts 9:2 and verse 10 — these believers were in the Jewish synagogues still) but only a few scattered disciples, who had fled there for refuge, at the time of the persecution at the death of Stephen. There is not the slightest ground to believe that he was a minister in any sense of the word, as set apart to preach the word of faith.

Peter would not baptize Cornelius himself, moved probably by the same godly motive which kept Paul from himself baptizing at Corinth, lest any should say he baptized in his own name. (I Cor.1:15). He therefore simply “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord,” (Acts 10:48) which was doubtless done by one of the brethren who had come with him from Joppa. They were simply believing brethren, what we should call members of the church, who accompanied him on his journey for his protection and comfort.

Indeed, to these men of God, Peter and Paul, as long as the candidate was a believer in the Son of God, as long as the ordinance of baptism was rightly attended to, it was a matter of little importance who took him down into the water and baptized him — that is, of course, so long as the baptizer was himself a true believing brother. Paul therefore considered it a matter of so little importance that he had almost forgotten whom he had and whom he had not baptized: “I thank God that I baptized NONE of you but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas; besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.” (I Cor. 1:14-16)

Custom and tradition have invested it with a factitious import-ance, and turned a simple memorial into a solemn ceremonial; but could we view the baptism of a believer as a mere memorative act, a simple, open profession of faith, we should see that it really mattered very little who led him into the water and immersed him in the name of the Godhead, so long as the administrator was a believing and baptized brother. IT IS THE FAITH AND PROFESSION of the candidate, NOT of the person who merely baptizes him, in which the chief stress of the whole act lies. Were it otherwise, and did its right administration depend on the ministerial office of the administrator, its validity might be CONTINUALLY IMPAIRED or CALLED IN QUESTION.
But now take a matter of fair inference, for this is admissible where positive proof seems defective.

Could the twelve apostles have baptized all the 3,000 who were called on the day of Pentacost?

It seems physically impossible that twelve men should have baptized 3,000 persons in that space of time. But assume that the 120 brethren who met with them aided them, and the difficulty much disappears. That allows about twenty-three candidates to each administrator, whereas to limit it to the twelve apostles would allot 250 to each apostle. (Note. The 5,000 with only Peter and John in Acts 4:4 — if baptized is even more staggering!)

But we pass on now to another part of our subject, to which we made some allusion in the opening of the present article. We have there alluded to the wis-dom of the Holy Ghost in not limiting the administration of baptism to ministers. To set this point forth more clearly, we shall consider it under the two following heads:

1. The genius, character, and spirit of the New Testament dispensation.

2. The tendency of the human mind to set up a system of its own distinct form and opposed to the mind of God.

1. Unless we can understand and enter into the character and spirit of the New Testament dispensation, we cannot properly understand the nature and bearing of the question now before us. Observe this, then, as a fundamental principle of the New Testament dispensation, that its main, its ruling spirit and character is, that it is a spiritual dispensation. Forms, rites, ceremonies are all foreign to, and alien from this spiritual character. Order is needful to prevent confusion, and ordinances have been graciously given as commemorative acts of the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of the blessed Lord, as well as pledges of His love, and distinctive badges of true discipleship. But these very ordinances are as if impregnated and permeated with the character and spirit of the whole dispensation. They are, therefore, on the one hand not sacrificial or sacramental rites, nor on the other mere forms and ceremonies, but spiritual institutions, and as such for believers only, and to be attended to by them in faith.

Now, if you assert that none but ministers may administer these ordinances, you at once endow them with a kind of sacramental character. You make their validity depend on the administrator being the member of a kind of priesthood — one of a privileged caste or body of men to whom in some mysterious, unexplained way belongs a peculiar privilege. But this is the very essence of the Old Testament dispensation, and to hold this is virtually a renunciation of the distinctive character of the New Testament. You are, therefore, as far as you have the power, bringing us back to the “beggarly elements” from which the gospel has delivered us, and thrusting our necks under the old yoke. You are virtually restoring priesthood as the peculiar privilege of a separate class, and thus overthrowing that grand and blessed truth that all believers are priests, for as they are “a chosen generation,” so are they “a holy nation, a royal priesthood,” (I Pet. 2:5) whom Christ Himself has made kings and priests unto God. (Rev. 1:6) We have all along admitted that, for the sake of order and other reasons, it is BEST for one to administer the ordinance of baptism who has some recognized standing IN THE CHURCH OF GOD. Our present argument is to show that it is NOT so limited, and that so to limit it is contrary to the free spirit of the new dispensation, which allows and sanctions a liberty unknown to the old.

2. But now see the evils which would have been produced had the administration of baptism been so limited. Never was there a time when these evils were more FORCED on our attention. What is the MAIN doctrine of what is called Puseyism or Ritualism? The doctrine of sacramental grace, that is that grace is communicated mainly if not solely by the sacraments, of which the chief are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But what thence follows? That they are only channels of grace as entrusted to, and administered by the ordained successors of the apostles to whom alone appertains the Christian priesthood. And who are these priests to whom alone appertains the right of baptizing infants and celebrating the Lord’s Supper? The regularly ordained ministers of the Church of England, who have been set apart as consecrated by the laying on of hands by the bishops, the only legitimate successors of the apostles. To them alone, according to this doctrine, are given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. They alone are priests, and all other ministers excepting their brethren of Rome, are schismatics, who have no more divine right to baptize or celebrate the Lord’s Supper, than the priests made by Jeroboam of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi, (I Kings 12:31) had right to minister in the temple and offer sacrifice at Jerusalem.

We see, then, where we should be landed, were this doctrine true that none but ministers may baptize or break bread. What a stepping-stone to that domineering priesthood which is everywhere now lifting up its head. How soon would the doctrine be established on the following basis:

1. None but ministers may baptize or administer the Lord’s Supper.

2. If so, then they must be ordained ministers, that all may know their office, and that none should thrust themselves into it without proper testi-monials.

3. If ordained ministers, who is to ordain them? In whom is lodged the power to ordain? It must be some superior order, some SUCCESSION OF MEN, like Timothy and Titus, who ordained elders in every city. Then it must be the bishops, for these claim to be the only legitimate successors of the apostles. All this finely-spun web seems to us, and rightly seems, a mere figment. But it is the creed, and the advancing creed of thousands. How wisely, then, does the breath of the Holy Ghost blow away all this gossamer web by the simple fact that, in the Scriptures of the New Testament, the administration of the ordinances of God’s house is not limited to ministers, though, as a matter of order, they may be most suitably and conveniently administered by them.

But of all sects and denominations we should be the last to limit the administration of the ordinances to ministers.

For who and what are our ministers, and how are they distinguished from their believing brethren?

They are NOT educated at an Academy, and made into ministers there. They are not ordained by the laying on of hands at any chapel, and made ministers there. When called to the pastoral office by a church, and they accept the call, they are not made ministers there. They wear no distinctive dress, take no distinctive title, and assume no priestly position to separate or exalt them, as a peculiar and privileged caste, from above theft fellow believers. Some of them labour through the week at their secular business, and by honest industry maintain themselves and their families; some are deacons of churches, with the good will of the church still retaining their office; some assume no higher position than serving occasionally destitute places; few are pastors regularly settled over a church and congregation. As called of God to preach the gospel, as honoured instruments of good, as possessed of grace and gifts, as labouring many of them under poverty of circumstances, heavy trials, and many afflictions, they have an enduring place in the esteem and affections of their hearers, and to them is willingly entrusted the administration of the ordinances. To baptize, to break bread, falls as much within the scope of the pastor’s office as to take the chair at a church meeting; and we should be the last persons to wrest the administration of the ordinances out of their hands. Order, regularity, the giving of honour to whom honour is due, the avoiding of petty jealousies, and the general maintenance of peace and quietness in a church and congregation, all point to putting into the hands of the pastor the administration of the ordinances. And, by parity of reasoning, where there is no pastor, the same should be conceded to the minister who supplies the pulpit. But what is conceded as a matter of order must not be claimed as a matter of right, or, what is worse, demanded as a matter of divine warrant. For were it so, it would nullify our ordinances, unless it were proved in every instance that they were administered by an accredited minister. It would make them like the mass if the wafer were not consecrated by a priest — profane, invalid ceremony. It would unchurch a large number of our members, fill our churches with strife and confusion, and land us next door to, if not actually within, the threshold of Ritualism and Popery. From all which evils, good Lord, deliver us.

(Editorial – Gospel Standard, January 1, 1867)

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