Administration of Sacraments
The sacraments shall be administered only under the authority of the consistory, in a public worship service, by a minister of the Word, with the use of the adopted Forms.
Instead of having the above provision stated twice: in the article about holy baptism as well as in the one about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (as was the case in previous redactions of the Church Order), the churches have made a general provision covering the administration of both sacraments. The points dealt with in this article are: a. under whose authority?, b. where?, c. by whom?, and d. how are the sacraments to be administered?
In the first place then the question under whose authority the sacraments are to be administered. It is under the authority of the consistory. They have been appointed by the Lord to govern the church and to see to it that the flock of Christ is preserved, that the Bride is kept pure and undefiled. It also belongs to their task and authority to prevent as much as possible that the sacraments are profaned and to ensure that they are received only by those who are entitled to receive them. The administration of the sacraments is not a private matter but a matter of the church; consequently, those who have the oversight over the church have to supervise this administration, too.
It follows that one also needs the consent of the consistory to receive either holy baptism or the holy supper. For this reason it is often announced to the congregation that “holy baptism has been requested by brother and sister A. for their son/daughter,” or that “brother B. from the church at C. has received permission from the consistory to partake with us of the holy supper.” It is not necessary that precisely these wordings are used as long as it is clear that the decision to allow one to receive the sacrament belongs to the consistory. It is under its authority that the sacraments are administered. Neither baptism nor supper are private matters, however personal they may be, but are matters of the whole congregation.
In A Worship Service
In connection with the above comes the second point, namely, that the administration of the sacraments shall take place “in a public worship service.”
The sacraments are meaningless in themselves. They have meaning only when they remain inseparably connected to that to which they have been added, namely, the Word of God. They do not exist on their own and for this reason they are to be administered only there where the Word of God is proclaimed, that is, in a public worship service. Having been given to signify and
seal the promises of the Gospel, they are to be administered where these promises are expounded and proclaimed to the assembled congregation.
There is a second reason why the sacraments are to be administered in the public worship services only: the congregation as such is totally involved not only in the administration of the holy supper but also in the administration of holy baptism.
That the congregation as such is involved in the administration of the holy supper does not need further proof, although it is good to pay some attention to this point as well. At times the question is raised whether the desire to receive the holy supper should not be granted to one who has been ill for a long time, perhaps many years, and cannot come to church. Would it be out of the question that a minister goes there, if needs be accompanied by a few elders, and celebrates the holy supper with such a brother or sister at their home?
We can understand the desire of such a brother or sister who has to miss so much already. Yet it would be wrong to grant their request. The Lord’s Supper is not a matter between the Lord and “the soul” or the individual believer, but it is a meal at which the congregation sits at table. We correctly remind ourselves of our being one body and of the Spirit uniting “us in brotherly love as members of one body.” Sitting at table as a body is something which can be done only when the congregation is together in a worship service.
Although baptism differs from the Lord’s Supper in that it is administered at that particular moment to just one person, this does not mean that it is not a congregational matter. However personally the promises of the covenant are signified and sealed to this particular member, called by name even, we do not forget that “by baptism we are received into the Church of God and set apart from all other peoples and false religions,” Art. 34 B.C., and that infants “by baptism, as sign of the covenant,... must be ingrafted into the Christian church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers,” Heid. Cat. Lord’s Day 27. For this reason baptism, too, must be administered where the congregation is together in a public worship service.
The sacraments, thus this article states, may be administered only by a minister of the Word. This, we repeat, is not because the office of a minister is higher than that of an elder or deacon, but it is because it belongs to his particular office and does not form part of the task of any of the other office-bearers.
The sacraments have been added to God’s Word. Thus it is not strange that only one who has been entrusted with the task of proclaiming the Word is the one who has the right to administer the sacrament.
At times it did happen that an elder administered baptism, when a child remained without the sacrament for a long time and when no minister could be expected to be available within the foreseeable future. It was irregular when this was done, in as much as what renders one guilty before the Lord is not the lack of baptism but the contempt for it. But since such a brother
was appointed by the congregation to do it, the legitimacy of baptism was acknowledged also in this case. This does not imply approval of the procedure followed. It only acknowledges a fact that cannot be undone. We refer here to the discussion of baptism by others which will be found in the explanation of the next article.
The final provision in this article deals with the use of the adopted Forms. They should be used with the administration of the sacraments. Although these liturgical forms are not to be considered as being on a level with the confessional forms, yet we may say that they contain the doctrine of the church regarding the sacraments. Instead of giving his own personal thoughts and explanation of the sacraments, the minister is to remind the congregation of what the church teaches regarding them on the basis of the Word of God. Use of the adopted forms also ensures that the proper questions are asked and that there is uniformity as far as the various churches are concerned. When the adopted forms are used, not only with baptism or the holy supper but also with the Public Profession of Faith as well as the Ordination of Office-bearers, the churches know mutually that everything was done properly.
Is anyone allowed to change anything in these forms when using them? Or is everyone strictly bound to the literal wording and is it forbidden to deviate from it? Do ministers who allow themselves some freedom with the use of the Form for the Solemnization of Marriage, for example, overstep their authority?
As said before, the liturgical forms are not on a level with the confessional forms. No deviation from the confessional forms is allowed in any case. Matters stand differently with the liturgical forms, although extreme caution is to be exercised. Making changes in the use of the liturgical forms may signal deviation from the Scriptural and true doctrine. These forms are not the private property of the one using them but the communal property of the churches. They must be respected and honoured as such.
However, no minister reading the Form for the Solemnization of Marriage in the case of an elderly couple, will say: “If it pleases Thee to give them children.…” We may not expect a miracle to happen as in the days of Sarah or Elizabeth, someone once remarked in this connection. There is nothing against either leaving these words out of the prayer or, in case there are already children who are still at home, to speak of “the children whom Thou hast given them.” Everyone will agree that such a change makes sense and that there is nothing against changing the wording of the Form.
As for the rest, extreme caution should be exercised. Let it be repeated that the Forms are the property of the churches and that the churches have the right to expect that they shall be used loyally and faithfully.