Time for lay administration

When I first attended our diocesan Synod (= denominational ‘parliament’) 10 years ago as a new Anglican Parish Rector (= Senior Pastor), I expected to sit quietly and get a feel for how things worked, reading the business papers and listening to speeches from ‘old hands’ to shape how I’d vote on the various motions and ordinances (= denominational laws).

Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself on my feet, seeking the chance to enter a debate. Even more surprisingly for a novice, I received the call to speak. (I think the Archbishop was looking for someone outside the circle of ‘familiar suspects’, and I had not learned to dress in a suit yet, so I fitted the bill!)

What spurred me to jump up? It was the topic of lay administration of the Lord’s Supper. In plain terms, we were seeking a way to allow suitably godly and respected laymen to administer the Lord’s Supper in Anglican church services.

Originally (from English Reformation times) in Anglican churches, only the ‘priest’ (= presbyter or parish ‘elder’) was able to lead the church service. Only he read the Bible readings, led the prayers, preached the sermon, and administered Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Over the years since, deacons and laypersons have been permitted to do all those things in certain circumstances—except administer the Lord’s Supper!

I felt strongly about it a decade ago because, as a young Senior Pastor, I benefited greatly from the ministry of half a dozen fine lay preachers in the parish I served. I doubt I would have survived without them. Legally, they could lead, preach and pray. But, come the Lord’s Supper, they had to sit down and I had to stand up. (This restriction also meant the congregation members could not have the Lord’s Supper at church if I was sick or away on annual leave.)

In practical terms, this said to everyone that the Lord’s Supper was more important than preaching the Word. The more restricted a thing is, the more precious it appears! But if anything, it should be the other way around, for the gospel Word gives the sacrament its meaning.

At the time, the ordinance permitting lay administration passed, but for reasons of conscience, the Archbishop of the day refused to give his assent, as he was entitled to do. One of the reasons given for restraint was that if we made this move in our diocese (controversial for many Anglicans, especially of an Anglo-Catholic bent), then this would give permission for liberal Anglicans elsewhere to go further with their controversial (and unbiblical) re-invention of sexual ethics. But if we restrained ourselves, this would allegedly encourage the liberals to restrain themselves.

Roll on New Westminster. Roll on New Hampshire. Our restraint for the sake of others did nothing to prevent liberalism steam-rollering its way ahead.

Now lay and diaconal administration is on the agenda at our diocesan synod again. This time, rather than passing legislation, we are seeking simply to express the mind of the Synod via a motion:


  1. accepts the report concerning legal barriers to lay and diaconal administration of the Lord’s Supper which was submitted to the 3rd session of the 47th Synod; and
  2. affirms again its conviction that lay and diaconal administration of the Lord’s Supper is consistent with the teaching of Scripture; and
  3. affirms that the Lord’s Supper in this diocese may be administered by persons other than presbyters.

You can read the latest report. It includes a good historical background and theological justification for this move.

For years, in other Australian dioceses (and even ‘on the quiet’ in Sydney), we’ve had the use of mass vestments and sacrificial mass theology—against The Book of Common Prayer and The Thirty-nine Articles (e.g. Article XXXI). We have people deciding to reserve the sacrament, which is totally against the BCP and the 39A (e.g. Article XXVIII), again without General Synod agreement.

And Sydney Anglicans (insofar as you can lump us together) might disagree, but we don’t go off making such a big fuss. We are actually fairly reasonable at living and letting live.

But if other dioceses can have these un-Reformed practices, which are historically un-Anglican, then why can’t we have lay administration? Even a liberal Anglican I dialogued with about this could see the hypocrisy of rejecting lay administration as un-Anglican while themselves permitting reservation of the sacrament.

I quote, with permission, from a recently retired senior layman from our Diocese, who is now doing a locum in an isolated town in north-western Australia, where ordained clergy are thin on the ground:

Some have asked me if I have taken any Holy Communion services in [town’s name]. Well the answer is ‘No’, as I promised before I came. I am well aware of why we have not authorised Lay and Diaconal Presidency, but what a nonsense in the real world of Biblical ministry especially in remote Australia where there are simply not enough Priests to go around.

The time has come to act by expressing our minds. Despite what some alarmists say, the sky will not fall in around the Anglican world as a result—not even among our orthodox friends.

Recently, Bishop Tom Frame (a real, but friendly critic of Sydney Anglicans) wrote an article entitled, ‘Is “Conservative Evangelicalism” a contradiction of terms?’ (‘Essentials’—the journal of EFAC in Australia, Summer 2008 edition, pp. 16-18.) In it, he argued, that conservatism and evangelicalism do not necessarily belong together (certainly not always in political terms). Instead, he suggested that genuine evangelicals should really be radicals (with individual lives and communities shaped by the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ), rather than seen as synonymous with moderation, caution and restraint:

Evolution rather than revolution is the typically Anglican approach to any problem or possibility. This is, in part, a function of the Church’s institutional mindset, bureaucratic character and lingering English temperament. Admittedly, there are times when the Church must be slow to promote change and quick to resist innovation. But there are many more moments when the Church must open itself to thorough going renewal, perhaps even hosting a revolution, and take risks and forego security for the sake of its mission and ministry. The present time is such a moment because there is an array of factors conspiring to prevent the whole Communion from undergoing renewal just as there are many impediments to a single diocese embracing a holistic program of change. But this does not, of course, stop parish communities and convinced individuals from making an immediate, uncompromising and comprehensive response to the Gospel’s radical demands within the community or their own lives.

Let me be clear on this point: the weight of institutional inertia should never prevent a group of energetic Evangelicals from challenging unrestrained consumption, defying governmental oppression, overturning entrenched injustice, and celebrating human freedom. Evangelical radicalism can take the form of creative experiments in new forms of community life, daring parish welfare initiatives that offer alternatives to sterile state-run programs and the trial of confronting local liturgies that sharpen the parish’s prophetic witness to the world.

I suspect Bishop Frame may not agree with lay administration. And his words are directed much more broadly at living radically countercultural lives as Christ’s disciples. But I believe conservative evangelical Anglicans would do well to consider the applicability of his words to the lay administration debate as it returns to the Sydney Diocesan Synod.

24 thoughts on “Time for lay administration

  1. Dear Sandy,

    Why are you wanting to go out on a limb over an issue (lay administration) of secondary importance? The Presbyterians don’t practice lay administration. How particularly is lay administration going to make the church in Sydney more healthy?

    As one who functions outside of Sydney, all I can say is that there are much bigger fish to fry, and that it will cause all sorts of problems for us non-Sydney evangelicals.

    Just because liberals act recklessly doesn’t give us evangelicals the license to do the same.

    If we speak out about the uniqueness of Christ, the bodily resurrection, the supreme authority of Scripture, it will put liberals in the hot seat because these are creedal, not to mention, central beliefs.

    If we focus on lay presidency, we get put in the hot seat and spend all our time having to defend what is otherwise an issue of small importance.

    Every blessing,


  2. Thanks for your thoughts Sandy.

    The one sticking point I have encountered with lay administration is that the Lord’s Supper goes hand in hand with church discipline. That is, if someone needs to be placed under discipline, at some point that may mean they are no longer able to share the table with the rest of the congregation.

    Therefore the fact that the minister presides over the table is key in enforcing this discipline. Both for the sake of the brother or sister who has erred and for the rest of the congregation to see that it is being enforced. A lay member of the church doesn’t have this kind of clout.

    What are your thoughts on this?
    Do you think that this might be a reasonable objection?

  3. Scott, whilst there is a very important place for church disciple, I am not sure that confessional Anglicanism has a problem with the wrong people participating. Check the articles, but I am pretty sure it accepts that there will be those who shouldn’t / who do.

    You also assume that the place where discipline is exercised is at the table—at the point of participation; why not at some other point by those who have been appointed to pastor?

    And for that matter, if they are licensed to preside, then they are also licensed to preach, and in doing so, have already been given a degree of pastoral authority, even if they may not be ‘the elder’.

    Good church discipline will not just be between the elder and the congregation, but between the elders and the congregation, and it should probably occur before we get to the Lord’s Supper.

  4. And yes, it is time to press on with reforming our practices in accordance with Scripture.

    Surely our friends who stand with us on the authority of Scripture at GAFCON will see that we take this course of action in good conscious.
    If they cannot appreciate the integrity with which Lay Presidency has been sought,then maybe they love their traditions more than the word of God.

    You are right: the world will not collapse and Anglicanism will not be lost. Indeed, our spines may well be found, and countless of struggling faithful around the communion encouraged to be a ‘reformed church always refoming’ around the word.

    Let’s press on with giving good theological leadership.

  5. I agree with my namesake above.

    Sure lay presidency is agreeable with the Scriptures, and sure it will be a big practical help in the way we run our Sunday services, but given the much bigger issue of human sexuality which is dominating the Anglican world at the moment, I think it’s a good idea to put this on the backburner for the time being.

    If we go ahead, then we can no longer comfortably use arguments of Anglican propriety against those who have ignored resolution 1.10 from Lambeth 1998. To do so would make us look like a five-year-old who points to his sister and says, “But she hit me first!” So if we value and want to use those arguments which paint the North Americans as the true schismatics, then going ahead with lay presidency may prove to be a difficult manoeuvre to live with.

    Alternatively, we could go ahead and forge new ground. Moving in this way would demonstrate what has been true all along: for each decision we make, it’s Scripture that’s our foundational guide. On one level, this would not be a bad thing, but if we do value the Anglican Communion (which is what we all said at GAFCON), then arguments from propriety must mean something. We have to keep the family rules and honour the family system if we say we value the family, and recently we’ve shown that we want to honour the family and its processes (we keep referring to 1.10 after all). So it’s not time for lay presidency just yet—not if we want to maintain some international Anglican leverage on the much bigger topic.

  6. Thanks for your post, Sandy.

    As a reformed evangelical Christian, I have no theological issue per se with lay administration of Holy Communion, just plenty of pragmatic doubts (in no particular order) …

    1. You write about priests (I’m pretty sure they are still ordained as such) being “thin on the ground”: this really isn’t the case in Sydney. I know of Anglican churches in Sydney where they had six ordained priests on staff. To be fair, some were part-time, others honourary, but six in one parish!!!
      Obviously this is not the norm, but I would suggest that if a parish is having difficulty getting a licensed priest for their (typically) one-Sunday-per-month, then there are a lot of uncharitable licensees out there. I’m sure some of the Anglo-catholic priests in the diocese would be happy to assist (they usually have more than one per parish) and what a lovely expression of Christian unity that might be.
      And when the minister is on annual leave, why not mix things up a little and schedule HC on another Sunday in the month? Better still, make HC a regular part of your Sunday service so that if the priest is absent/sick, your congregations is denied the sacrament for only a week, rather than a month.
    2. From a theological point of view, I’m not really sure why this needs to happen. Marty Foord asks the pertinent question: how will it make the church in Sydney healthier? My guess is that it won’t.
      What it will do is draw attention to the person administering the sacrament (oh the spectacle of being the first lay person to legally conduct HC).
      If we want HC to contribute to a healthier church, perhaps the proper response is to conduct it more regularly, rather than the arbitrary once-per-month, or 1st and 3rd Sunday arrangements that seem to be so common. In addition, good teaching on the sacrament would also be a welcome change. Let’s face it: among Sydney evangelicals, too high a view of HC is not a problem … unless, of course, lay administration is your hobby horse.
    3. Lay administration of the sacrament jeopardizes church discipline (which Scott Tubman pointed out in his earlier comment; further comment from me is not necessary), but also good order. The Anglican way (for better, and often worse) seems to be to “give everyone a go”. Like myself, most Anglicans will recall countless examples of when the tasks of reading the Bible, or praying, or even preaching have been performed with indignity and a spiritually immature attitude by people, not because that is their gifting, but because their name is on the roster. Clergy are, by no means, excluded from that indictment, but at least with clergy there is some kind of training and appointment process. What a sad thing it would be if the HC administration was subject to a roster in which all and sundry were invited up to have a shot.
    4. For the sake of unity, Sydney Anglicans should tread very carefully. Perhaps we should stop imagining any unity with many of the participants of Lambeth 2008, but what about our brothers and sisters represented at GAFCON? If legislation were put to a vote in their dioceses, would most of them stand with you? I suspect most would not, but rather they would take a more conservative approach and continue with ordained administration.
  7. let me flag a potential issue –  if sydney doesn’t press ahead with lay administration, it will disenfranchise its own constituency.

    that is,
    1. there will be lay people who will be discouraged because in lay adminstration there is the kind of affirmative empowering of them as proclaimers with their pastors that is apparantly lacking according to the mid mission report.

    2. there are young men who are considering which boat they will fish from, and unless the Anglican boat is a little more attractive and reformed in its structures, I contend they will go and fish elsewhere.
    the stats are out, they are already doing this (in boatloads)  and subsequency we are losing some really good guys.

    the longer we delay in making radical reforms, the more we will lose to more radical and refomed models of planting, or other denominations who sorted this out when the reformation was still in the headlines!

    I will say it again, Gafcon is about the authority of scripture amongst quite divergent Anglicans -why can’t lay admin be also seen in the same category of differing opinion but same commitment to the authority of scripture. If our Gafcon buddies are genuine – they will appreciate our confessional Anglicanism and get on with it.

  8. Marty K, the good anglican order argument has categorically failed. Whilst we have held the line there has been more gay consecrations in North America and now womens bishops in our own country.

    I think you will find that the same legal argument for women bishops will also apply for lay admin, so they are hardly likely to accuse us of being unconstitutional – they may even see us as being consistent with our own convictions. do you realy think they care what we do? probably not as much as the 50k-70k sydney anglicans who want us to be a biblically reforming church.

  9. For a good part of its history Anglo-Catholicism dominated the Episcopal Church in the United States. It contributed to the detachment of authority from the Bible and the wide spread acceptance of doctrines and practices without a clear Bible warrant in that province. It substituted sacramentalism for faith in Jesus Christ. It produced a laity who are woefully ignorant of the Bible and the Reformation and overly dependent upon the spiritual guidance and leadership of the clergy. It paved the way for the revisionism of the past 40 odd years. As an evangelical and confessing Anglican in the United States I must admit that I have little sympathy for the objections of Anglo-Catholics to lay administration of the Holy Communion.

    If we accommodate the Anglo-Catholic objections to lay administration of the Holy Communion, we are abandoning the principle of sola Scriptura. We are elevating the authority of human tradition above the authority of the Bible. We are accepting the Anglo-Catholic view of the sacraments, ordained ministry, and apostolic succession. We are saying that presbyters serve as intermediaries between humankind and God. In the Eucharist they re-offer or represent Jesus’ sacrifice to God. We are saying that the consecration of the bread and wine are more important than the communion of the people. With the laying on of hands bishops pass on to presbyters the power to transform bread and wine into the Blood and Blood of Christ by praying over the elements and reciting the dominical words of institution over them. We are in essence repudiating the Thirty Nine Articles’ disavowal and rejection of the doctrines of the Sacrifice of the Mass and Transubstantiation. We are turning our backs on the Bible.

    The Bible does not prescribe who should officiate at the Lord’s Table. The New Testament records that when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The Bible not only does not prescribe who should be the officiant at the Lord’s Table, it also does not state whether any particular class of people is prohibited from officiating. Since Jesus is addressing his disciples when he instituted the Lord’s Supper, we can safely assume that his words apply to the Church and not to those outside the Church. But whether his intent was to limit officiating to a priestly caste in the Church is purely conjecture on the part of those who draw this conclusion. Paul’s writings do not support this notion.

    If we examine the history of the Christian faith, we do find a period in the first five centuries of Christianity in which bishops were delegating officiating at the Lord’s Table to deacons. Presbyters, however, by this time had come to regard officiating at the Table as their prerogative and took steps to suppress the practice. Later we also find monasteries in Italy developing and practicing rites for the setting apart of bread and wine for communion outside of the Mass for those occasions when a priest was not available. Lay administration of the Holy Communion then is not without precedence.

    In his writings the German Reformer Martin Luther advocated lay administration of the Holy Communion under certain circumstances—in small gatherings of mature Christians meeting in private homes for Bible study, fellowship, prayer, and the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Luther had a decided realist view of the Lord’s Supper. While he taught that Christ was present with the bread and wine, he did not tie Christ’s presence to priestly consecration of the bread and wine as do Anglo and Roman Catholics. He taught that the Word of God, not the pastor or priest, consecrated the elements. To this day a number of Lutheran Churches permit lay administration of the Holy Communion under special circumstances: a lay pastor may, with the permission of the appropriate authority, officiate at the Lord’s Table in the absence of an ordained minister.

  10. This is the second part of a three part comment that I am submitting.

    The Reformed Churches have tended to be more conservative regarding the administration of the sacraments, viewing their administration as one of the duties of the pastor-teacher of the local church. The Puritans in the Church of England opposed lay administration of Baptism even though there is a long tradition of lay Baptism going back to the New Testament Church. The Bible also does not prescribe who should baptize nor does the Bible state whether any class of people is prohibited from baptizing.

    In the seventeenth century Archbishop Ussher argued on the basis of Matthew 28:19 that only those called to preach the gospel have warrant and authority from Christ to administer baptism. Ussher interpreted the disciples in Matthew 28:19 as representing ministers of the gospel and not the whole Church. If one accepts Ussher’s interpretation of Matthew 28:19, only a select few in the Church are bound by the Great Commission. The rest of the Church is free to sit on their duffs and do nothing.

    The Reformed Churches have been criticized for emphasizing the office of pastor-teacher at the expense of the other members of the local church. The ministry of pastor-teacher is certainly an important one from a New Testament perspective. But the way the spiritual gifts and natural abilities of the pastor-teacher are, in some churches, allowed to overshadow those of other members is not consistent with New Testament teaching. Instead of being urged to discover and to develop their gifts and abilities, church members are encouraged to bury their talents God has given them—to dig a hole in the ground, to wrap them in a handkerchief, and to hid them from sight.

    The Reformed Churches’ delegation of the administration of the sacraments to the office of pastor-teacher is largely based upon human tradition and not the Bible. It is generally conceded that the practice has no real basis in the Bible except 1 Corinthians 14:40: “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

  11. This is the third part of a three-part comment that I am submitting.

    Would chaos ensue if the Sydney proposal for lay administration of the Holy Communion was adopted? The Diocese of Sydney is not proposing that any layperson should be permitted to officiate at the Lord’s Table but that Readers and deacons who are serving as ministers of the gospel in a particular congregation should be licensed to administer the Holy Communion in that congregation. These individuals, while they have not been ordained as presbyters, are typically functioning as pastor-teachers to their congregations. Under the Sydney proposal the Readers and deacons licensed to preach and administering the sacraments in a congregation would be no less “lawfully called” and “sent to execute the same” than a presbyter licensed to preach and administer the sacraments in that congregation.

    Whether lay administration of the Holy Communion would weaken church discipline is debatable. Any proposal to license Readers and deacons to officiate at the Lord’s Table should include authorization to bar notorious sinners from the Table. 

    The liberals here in the United States are set upon introducing more innovations into the Anglican Church. They do not need any excuses to go ahead with their innovations. They deny the authority of the Bible and the uniqueness of Christ. They ordain women and practicing homosexuals. They bless same sex relationships and support the legalization of gay marriage. They argue that Baptism entitles the baptized to all the sacraments of the Church, including marriage and ordination. They have incorporated the prayers, ceremonies, and sacred writings of other world religions into their worship. The UN Millennium Goals have displaced the gospel. Sermons are often calls to social and political action, in which passages from the Bible are taken out of context and used to bolster the assertions of the preacher. A not uncommon theme is that all humankind is saved. The liberals argue that the Lord’s Supper, and not Baptism, should be the sacrament of entry into the Church and that the Lord’s Supper should be open all comers irrespective of whether they believe in Jesus Christ, have repented of their sins, and are “in love and charity with their neighbors, and intend to lead a new life.” To them the Lord’s Supper is not a meal of thanksgiving and remembrance but of welcome and inclusion. They would omit the Nicene Creed and the General Confession from the Communion Service. They already omit references to God the Father and to the Holy Trinity, and pray to Sophia, or Wisdom, and the Mother.

    The adoption of the Sydney proposal for lay administration of the Holy Communion admittedly might serve as a distraction from the present crisis in the Anglican Communion but only because too many provinces are unwilling to deal with the cause of the crisis and would welcome any distraction. The alternative to lay administration is to ordain Readers and deacons as auxiliary diocesan clergy. This means doing away with the requirement in the Diocese of Sydney that a candidate for ordination must have a cure of his own before he is ordained.

    In the United States it is not uncommon for Episcopalians who drop out of the Episcopal Church due to the present direction of that province to stop attending church altogether. This is part due to the prevalence of eucharistic worship in the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians are accustomed to a weekly celebration of the Holy Communion. Indeed the sacrament is the principle focus of Sunday meetings in the Episcopal Church. Consequently, they have difficulty making the transition to the non-eucharistic worship prevalent in the churches of other faith traditions in their communities. This is also apt to keep them from joining with other former Episcopalians to start an extramural Anglican church in a particular community because there is no priest/sacramentalist around which the new church may be organized—the most common organizational principle for new Episcopal and extramural Anglican churches in the United States. Under similar circumstances Baptists would start holding meetings in someone’s home for Bible study, fellowship, and prayer. Eventually that meeting would grow into a church. At some point in the process the church might call a pastor-teacher or God might raise up a pastor-teacher from within the church itself. The adoption of lay administration of the Holy Communion by the more evangelical of the extramural Anglican jurisdictions in the United States might facilitate the enfolding of de-churched Episcopalians into new churches. They might be encouraged to start home meetings of their own for Bible study, fellowship, prayer, and celebration of the Holy Communion. The latter would help them to feel like they are a “real” church.

  12. Shane,

    The whole point is that it isn’t about our own constituency. It’s about the Anglican Communion. If we say we are supporting anglicans elsewhere and looking to uphold true Anglicanism worldwide, then we can’t carelessly disenfranchise those who are overseas.

    If we went ahead with it, that’s fine, but we may have to be willing to lose some of our international leverage when it comes to influencing the Anglican Communion. And given the events of the past six months it seems that our leadership is indeed interested in playing on that particular field. So while we’e engaged with things on a wider level, we may have to exercise some patience with the way we do certain things here.

    I think a useful next step would be to have a report or something which actually outlines the likely fall out from such a decision, then we could move forward in a more informed and careful way. It may be that such a report shows that there is indeed nothing to worry about, but so far I’ve only heared opinions (and not convincing arguments) that this would be the case.

    As for the value of appealing to order etc … of course us appealing to order won’t stop liberals from being liberal, but it does show that we are the ones who are playing the game properly, and that we have the right to guide the future of the Communion (if that’s what we actually care about).

    And what if those other GAFCON delegates “care more about their traditions” than good theology? Well, that should have been thought about before we all jumped in the same boat (and I seem to remeber a number of us asking questions about this at the time). But jumped in we did, and so now we’re committed to rowing together.

  13. Thanks Scott and Martin K and Chris for your comments. Thanks also to Shane for his replies.

    I agree that it is a mistake to focus all the attention in terms of church discipline on partaking in the Lord’s Supper, and in the hands of the presbyter alone. Scripturally, lay elders and indeed the whole church have a part to play according to Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. And in those passages nothing is said focussing the expression of church discipline especially on participation on the Lord’s Supper. And anyway, in Anglican polity, what happens when the regular presbyter is away and a visiting presbyter is administering the Lord’s Supper. He has no idea about any local church discipline issues and the nexus between official local leadership has already been broken. Indeed, one might argue that a respected local layman is in a better practical position in regards to church discipline than a visiting presbyter.

    And I can only repeat that by far the majority of the time I have served in the two parishes where I have been rector, I have been the only presbyter. And Chris, it’s nice of you to assert that it’s easy to rearrange things and change the frequency of or the Sundays of the month when Holy Communion is served or to find a visiting presbyter; but that has not been my experience. It’s one more often quite difficult thing to organise and frustrating when I have such godly and gifted men available and permitted to preach in my absence, but forbidden to administer the Lord’s Supper.

  14. Robin, thank you for your North American perspective, both historical and theological. I appreciate this very practical demonstration that the call for lay administration is by no means a view which is idiosyncratically belonging the people in the Sydney Diocese alone.

    May I recommend everyone read The Lord’s Supper in Human Hands: Who should administer?, edited by Peter Bolt, Mrk Thompson and Robert Tong. It’s published jointly by the Anglican Church League and the Australian Church Record. I think the latter site is how you order it.

    It offers valuable theological and historical reflection and interacts with the objections people have raised. Anyone who wants to oppose it owes it to themselves to read this strong presentation of the case in favour.

    (By the way, I find Bishop Glenn Davies’ argument therein that – perhaps to the surprise of many people – legislation already exists at a General Synod level which permits diaconal administration of the Lord’s Supper to be compelling!)

  15. I noticed a copy of that very book sitting on my minister’s desk this evening and look forward to borrowing it.

  16. Friends,

    Somehow my first post yesterday which was responding to Marty Foord did not make it through. Anyway, I do not have time to repeat it in full now – almost off the Synod.

    But thanks to Marty for engaging. My main question is to say how will this make things worse for evangelical Anglicans. People assert this, but give us some details. In my opinion the sky won’t fall in.

    And in the cases where evangelical Anglicans are already being marginalised or more actively persecuted, I can’t see this will make it much worse.

    Further it may feel like a secondary issue comapred to some others, but the underlying reason is the absolute prohibition on something Scripture is entirely silent on – hence the authority of Scripture is at stake. We should not forbid what Scripture does not forbid.

    This is reinforced by the fact that at the same time, the hedge around administering the sacrament seems wrongly to elevate the sacrament over word, and/or to denigrate lay ministry.

    Lastly, I want to say evangelicals in Sydney are not acting rashly or recklessly over this. Discussion about lay involvement in assisting and administering the Lord’s Supper has been going on in this Diocese since before I was born – and I am turning 40 in a few days! And it has been discussed – and not always negatively – in other Anglican circles even before that. See the book I have just referred to.

  17. Dear Sandy,

    Thanks for your reply, I appreciate it. However, I struggle with your reasoning.

    I reply to your comments (in Italics).

    <i>And in the cases where evangelical Anglicans are already being marginalised or more actively persecuted, I can’t see this will make it much worse.</i>

    I can’t see how you may have spoken to many people outside of Sydney to arrive at this conclusion. It will be a <b>major</b> victory for other dioceses if Sydney go ahead with lay administration.

    The rhetoric of other dioceses about Sydney is this: Sydney are neither true Anglicans nor true evangelicals. Rather they are a bizarre bunch of fundamentalists who live out on a theological limb and get upset about trivia. Whether this is true or not (and I don’t believe it is) is not the issue. The perceptions are out there. Now, if Sydney go down the lay presidency road, it will finally give concrete proof (which hitherto has not been there) that Sydney are out on their own limb. Here is a diocese doing something no other diocese has ever done. Please let’s go out on a limb for something more important.

    Secondly, it will thus be a concrete reason to ban Sydney people ministering in other dioceses. This is exactly what other dioceses have been looking for. It will also make people who are from Sydney in other dioceses look even more illegitimate. Please don’t do this to us. It’s hard enough as it is. PLEASE!

    <i> Further it may feel like a secondary issue comapred to some others, but the underlying reason is the absolute prohibition on something Scripture is entirely silent on – hence the authority of Scripture is at stake. We should not forbid what Scripture does not forbid.</i>

    Sandy, I don’t follow you here. It is not an absolute prohibition but a question of good <b>order</b>. As such it’s not at all about the authority of Scripture.

    Just because the Bible doesn’t say anything about what time church should be, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set the time of (say) 9am. To do this is a matter of good order. This is not questioning the authority of Scripture. There is a significant difference.

    <i>Lastly, I want to say evangelicals in Sydney are not acting rashly or recklessly over this. Discussion about lay involvement in assisting and administering the Lord’s Supper has been going on in this Diocese since before I was born – and I am turning 40 in a few days! And it has been discussed – and not always negatively – in other Anglican circles even before that. See the book I have just referred to.</i>

    Sandy that’s precisely the problem. Discussion has been going on <b>within</b> the diocese, but not with evangelical brothers and sisters <b>outside</b> the diocese. Please don’t assume you know what’s best for people in other dioceses without consultation.

    To make decisions that will impact badly the ministry of evangelicals outside Sydney will be rash if it hasn’t been done in consultation with those outside. So far, from my experience, it looks rash. Whenever I’ve tried to chat about it with people from Sydney they’re not interested in listening. (As some of the discussion has shown in this thread).

    My whole concern is that Sydney is going to harm their ability to influence the rest of the communion. Please be careful.

    Your brother in Christ,


  18. The motion I mentioned in my original post was passed last night at our Synod. Please note that it was a motion, not legislation so changes nothing in terms of governance.

    The argument of the motion passed is that
    (i) General Synod has already passed legislation which leaves room for lay and diaconal administration (albeit unwittingly for many if not most);
    (ii) that lay and diaconal administration is entirely in keeping with Scripture;
    (iii) that we believe the Lord’s Supper may be (not must be) administered by persons other than presbyters in our diocese.

    For example, this motion makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with an Anglican home group leader administering Holy Communion in his own home, or an Anglican father doing so with his own Christian family and guests, or an Anglican beach mission leader with his team, or an Anglican deacon in his parish church, or an Anglican deacon in her girls’ school where she serves as chaplain and so on.

    Some of the main objections and responses were as follows…

    1. This was ‘plain meaning of the text’ people (like we are in Sydney) playing fast and loose with the text of General Synod canons.

    However, the person who put the argument did not actually defend the ‘plain meaning’ of the General Synod canons. Glenn Davies who promoted the motion showed the plain meaning of the GS Canon texts certainly leaves room for diaconal and almost certainly for lay administration.

    What the objector actually defended was the search for authorial intention behind the words – notoriously a much more difficult task in hermeneutics, especially when the author is not infallible, nor indeed a single author. In the case of a law, there are many minds at work, namely every person who voted on it. And how are we going to claim to know the (varying) intentions of each of those participants who considered, agreed to and passed the law?

    Indeed, it is widely held – even in hermeneutics which says we should consider authorial intent – that the prime place to look for this intent is in the text itself!

    Further, commentaries and research articles on texts are done which often claim to show new light in the texts which had not properly been noticed previously even over many years. Sometimes these arguments hold up, and people will agree, “Why did I not notice that before?”

    Further, at least one speaker said it was recognised at the time of passing these GS Canons – at least by a few – that these canons opened the door to lay and diaconal administration.

    Recently the General Synod Appellate Tribunal established that women bishops had apparently being legal in our national Anglican Churches for some time without most people realising it when another piece of legislation was passed which did not mention this specific matter. Justice Keith Mason wrote on this

    The primary source of the presumed “intention” of a legislative body is the language it uses. But to talk about a legislator’s “will” is largely finctional… Those who prepare or promote legislation (or any other formal instrument) have the opportunity to form it in their own terms, but they have no additional control over its interpretation. After all they are not the lawmakers.

    2. A second major objection was that GAFCON bishops may not like it. It emerged in discussion from our bishops who had spoken with various overseas bishops that this was true, although often they wanted to understand more, rather than just to flat out oppose. It was also said this was an ideal time to remind, teach and model to our Bible-minded Anglican brothers the truth that the Lord’s Supper takes is efficacy from the faith of the recipient not the worthiness of the one who administers it.

    It was also observed that the Jerusalem declaration allows room for disagreement in secondary matters, and that GAFCON includes those in favour and those against women’s ordination, those who are strongly Anglo-Catholic, and those who are charismatic. The point was made that now near the start of the GAFCON process was the time to make our views clear – we too are ‘Bible guys’ and we want to be welcome on the basis that GAFCON is making the Bible central and that this is another issue important where GAFCON allowing some room on secondary matters. It will do no good to go all quiet about it now an then try raising it in another five years.

  19. I should mention that a more typical Anglo-Catholic speaker was given a chance to run his line of opposition to the motion. Our Synod always gives a fair chance for opposing views to be heard. This speaker insisted that you only ever see Jesus or an Apostle presiding at tables, and that the deacons job was to wait at tables and by implication nothing more.

    I observed to my neighbour that he seemed to ignore the fact that two of those appointed to ‘deacon’ at tables in Acts – Philip and Stephen – are immediately found not waiting at tables but preaching the gospel!

    Further in Paul’s guidance about the Lord’s Supper there are no instructions at all about who should administer the supper. I would add that in the same epistle (1 Corinthians) he also seems unconcerned about who should administer baptism.

    Outside the Synod, and even on this thread, people have suggested that this is not needed for practical purposes in our urban diocese. However I would just like to repeat that in the ten years I have been a rector, I have been the sole presbyter on staff on 8 of those years. For the other two years, I have had a Sunday Assistant who was a presbyter (i.e. one day/week, but not for all services). Retired clergy who have sometimes been around have not been available on any consistent basis due to locums elsewhere and their own health issues.

    One experience brought this practical need home to me with great clarity. I was on holidays in a parish in this diocese which has 5 or so church centres. It has generally not been able to afford more than one staff member. When I attended church, the rector was away on leave. So a very elderly retired clergyman had been invited and had driven over 45 minutes to get there. In addition, he was so sick on the day that he could not remain standing to complete his sermon. He did the remainder of the liturgy sitting down. Immediately he finished, with obvious difficulty, he had to hop in the car to go to the next branch church as well. Near by me was sitting a layman whom I happened to now, a respected regular member of this congregation – authorised to lead services and to preach. But he could do nothing to prevent this situation without lay administration. Why did an obviously sick and elderly clergyman have to be imported – at great difficulty to himself – when this local layman was available?

    Don’t tell me we have passed this motion just for doctrinaire reasons, without any practical pastoral concerns.

  20. Forgive me if I seem to be intruding on a good debate, and forgive me again if I seem to have misunderstood something (I must admit that I have not read each comment in depth).
    From what I have read, though, I am thinking that maybe there is too much politics being read into an issue that seems (at least to my young and immature eyes) a relatively simple scriptural issue.
    Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember reading a comment that has scriptural basis for being against lay administration of the Lord’s Supper. Why then must we debate amongst ourselves as to what to do?
    I do understand, and to some extent agree with some arguments against this proposal, but surely our politics must come second to the Bible. Why cannot we do what we think best (and biblical) and leave it at that? God is in control, and we can trust that the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of those that may be troubled by such action.
    I do understand that the Bible says neither yeah or nay on this issue, however the Bible does ask the ritual of the Lord’s Supper to be done ‘in rememberance of Me’. I would propose that any legislation the denies such activities to those who wish to participate (such that Sandy has demonstrated – churches with a sick rector etc.) should be removed.
    I come from a Baptist background, but now go to an Anglican church (and I see very few difference, and that only a few minor happenings within the gathering of the church service). At my old church Elders sometimes administered communion. There were no issues arising from this.
    That is just my thoughts. Maybe I am wrong. Perhaps I am being too cynical. However I still get the impression that there is too much politics going on.


  21. Dear Nick

    I have heard a number of Sydney Anglicans use the argument that in presbyterian/baptist churches any elder (whether ordained or not) can preside at communion. In the Anglican/Episcopal system of church government the local leadership is synonymous with ordained ministry. In other systems, local leadership is synonymous with eldership.

    In both cases however, local leadership is the role of (and communion is presided over by) the πρέσβυς (presbus) referred to in the NT. So really, that’s an argument against lay presidency.

  22. Dear Sandy,

    One last comment to yours:

    <i>Don’t tell me we have passed this motion just for doctrinaire reasons, without any practical pastoral concerns.</i>

    Well, again, you don’t seem to have grasped the issue with this comment. Your “practical pastoral concerns”:

    [1] Could be solved in a variety of ways (e.g. don’t have communion on the Sunday when the minister is on holidays so a lay person can run the service etc. Which is a very small price to pay considering what others elsewhere have to face.)

    [2] Still are only thinking about Sydney and no-one outside. The church is “catholic” and not just in Sydney.

    [3] Are hard to take seriously when there are so many in the diocese who have a very low to non-existent view of the Lord’s Supper.

    Life is very difficult for some evangelicals outside Sydney, please don’t make it any more so.

    Well the fate of the motion rests with the Archbishop.



  23. Nick, a belated thanks for your comments, because in many ways I agree it is a pretty simple Scriptural issue. Very little is raised against lay and diaconal administration that comes from the Bible.

    Marty, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    However I think you’ve made some pretty uncharitable assumptions about how much I personally (and other evangelicals in Sydney) have consulted, listened to and sympathised with people outside Sydney, alongside the accusation of our selfishness.

    I am sure there are times this is true.

    However, my original post quoted someone from their current ministry experience in a diocese outside Sydney. My comments noted the fairly extensive discussions with GAFCON bishops reported by various speakers in the debate.

    And those who will read the book I mentioned will know that there have been quite extensive discussions about the matter elsewhere, for example in the British House of Bishops, not all only negative.

    It’s also worth noting that the Anglican Churches in Kenya have had diaconal administration for years – apparently without much protest. Further the Church of England in South Africa (the evangelical Anglican denomination there) whose representatives were invited and present at GAFCON, have had lay administration for years, although it’s true they are sadly and tragically rejected by many other Anglicans around the world.

    Lastly, Marty suggested

    It is not an absolute prohibition but a question of good order. As such it’s not at all about the authority of Scripture.

    A perusal of the Standfirm website discussion about this will show that for many orthodox Anglo-Catholics it is far more than a question of good order. For many of them, there is and should be an absolute prohibition and lay or diaconal administration.

    So yes, it makes them angry, but this is also evidence they want an absolute prohibition on something that Scripture is completely silent on, with all the sacerdotalism that this prohibition implies.

    Sadly there are real differences and divisions among conservatives. But in the end I think this is – indirectly but truly – a matter of the authority of Scripture. We should not demand something that cannot be proved by Scripture (Article 6 of the 39 Articles)!

    By the way, anyone who is interested can download the audio of the topical sermon I preached on the topic of the Lord’s Supper last Sunday at St Michael’s. It included comments on this matter.

  24. Dear Sandy,

    We could go on and on about this. However, I’m sad that you’ve made it personal:

    However I think you’ve made some pretty uncharitable assumptions about how much I personally (and other evangelicals in Sydney) have consulted, listened to and sympathised with people outside Sydney, alongside the accusation of our selfishness.

    Nowhere have I accused anyone of being “selfish”, and “uncharitable assumptions”—I don’t know where that’s come from. I have no doubt that people wanting lay presidency in Sydney have voted so out of good intentions as they look at <b>their</b> context.

    The problem is that we are all prone (including me) to react to our immediate circumstances. I’ve tryed to make the point that Sydney needs to talk to their evangelical brothers in other parts of Australia and across the world.

    The consultation Sandy that you speak of, isn’t in my mind that convincing. I’m in a strong network of evangelicals outside of Sydney and we have never been consulted about this. Moreover, a few people in the upper eschelons of the system speaking to people from other parts of the communion is hardly helping the clergy in Sydney understand their relationship with the rest of the communion. They’re the ones who will vote, and they’re the ones that need education about it.

    When I was in Sydney I was very pro lay-presidency. I changed my mind on the issue once I got out because I became aware of another context. My whole point in this interchange is to try and do some of that education, but I can’t understand the resistance to it?

    As I’ve said before in my posts, the reason I think Sydney should not go with lay presidnecy is because they’ll lose their influence. I don’t want that because I think Sydney has much to contribute.

    You make the point:
    A perusal of the Standfirm website discussion about this will show that for many orthodox Anglo-Catholics it is far more than a question of good order.

    And this precisely my problem. Why do we want to pick a fight with Orthodox Anglo-Catholics, who are such a minority in the communion? Theologically the BCP and our Creeds make lay-presidency a matter of good order. If the Ango-Catholics disagree it’s for other reasons. The main problem in the communion is not the rise of Anglo-Catholicism (which is diminishing), it’s the denial of historic Christianity (in a denial of the creeds). To cause a fight with Anglo-Catholics is missing the elephant in the room.

    One last comment:
    Nick, a belated thanks for your comments, because in many ways I agree it is a pretty simple Scriptural issue. Very little is raised against lay and diaconal administration that comes from the Bible.

    That’s right because it’s not a big issue. Nick’s comments don’t take into account that some doctrines are more important than others in the Christian faith. We have to choose the hills we’re going to die on. To fix the deck chairs may be worth doing, but not when the ship is sinking. Why aren’t we fighting over the central creedal issues that are so much denied?

    God bless you dear brother,


Comments are closed.