Lay Presidency

"God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth", John 4:24.

One of the debates in Anglican circles at the moment is the issue of Lay Presidency. The issue concerns whether only the ordained minister should "preside" at the Lord's Supper or whether church law should be changed to allow lay members of the congregation to preside. Should a member of the congregation, who is not ordained, be allowed to conduct the service of Holy Communion, including the consecration of the bread and wine?

The drive in favour of Lay Presidency is coming from the Evangelical wing in the Anglican church. Against this push there is a large number who feel that it is quite inappropriate for Lay members to preside during the Lord's Supper. The arguments can be summarized as follows:

    i] Continuity of Orders. This argument affirms the link between the ministry of word (preaching and teaching) and sacrament (sign - baptism, the Lord's supper) and so promotes the view that only ordained clergy (elders set apart by the church for a Word ministry) be allowed to preside.

    ii] Ministry as an Icon. This argument sees the clergyman as someone who functions as Christ to the congregation and as such only he should preside at the Lord's Supper.

    iii] Tradition. This argument rests on the fact that for two thousand years the catholic church (holy apostolic church) has always reserved the table for those specially set apart to minister.

There is no direct word from the Lord on this matter and so we are left to our own devices to make sure that our "love feast" ("the breaking of bread", the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion) is done "decently and in order". As to who leads the service, presides at the head of the table..... through to what cloths we should wear, these are but matters of mutual agreement. So in simple terms, the "how" we do church is up to us.

Some Evangelicals in Sydney Australia are promoting an "anarchy" approach. The way to reformation is for the local parish to do it in defiance of church law. This, for them, is the way to force change. Yet must we change existing practice, especially when it is not possible to argue that the present practice is against the Lord's command?

As Anglicans, we function under a simple principle of church order. We do it as received, unless it is against the Lord's word. Archbishop Cranmer reformed the ancient catholic church by removing anything that was contrary to scripture. As for the rest of the "stuff" of human devising, the traditional forms of worship, he left it alone. Obviously a person who rejects tradition is in the wrong church. Catholic form has always reserved presidency at the table for the teaching elder. It is true that there is no word from the Lord on the matter, but neither is there a word against it.

In no way does this tradition interfere with gospel ministry. As an issue it does not affect either nurture or evangelism and is not against Biblical truth. So where is the problem? It is just another one of those issues which divert us from Biblical ministry.

[Pumpkin Cottage]