Michael Jensen - Holding Back on Lay Administration

Michael Jensen, son of Archbishop Peter Jensen and on the faculty at Moore Theological College, has a recent article on that ongoing conundrum for the Anglican Communion – lay administration of the Lord's Supper.

Despite all of this, I would like to argue that Sydney ought not go ahead with lay administration in the foreseeable future. I don’t think that there are any theological objections insofar as I would (and have) happily receive the Lord’s Supper in a Baptist church from a lay person and consider that the sacrament was in no way deficient – in fact, I would find it offensive were any Anglican to suggest it was in some way incomplete celebration. However, I do think it is not wise or necessary to proceed with this innovation at this time. I have six reasons.

First, despite what some of its proponents claim, it is not in fact a ‘gospel issue’. Calling it a gospel issue posits an either-or that is simply not accurate. It confuses gospel issues with church order issues. The reason for calling it a gospel issue is that reserving the act of administration at the Supper for the ordained priest/presbyter allegedly communicates a view of the sacrament which sets it apart from the Word and makes it a special means of grace in addition to the gospel in some way – along the lines of a Roman Catholic theology of the sacraments. However, there is no sense in which a Communion service run in the evangelical parishes of the diocese of Sydney could ever be confused in that way. The usual practice communicates anything but a sacerdotal view of the Supper – and there is no evidence that anyone thinks that it does. The ministers do not normally robe or even wear collars these days. The locally authorised liturgies specifically rule out a sacerdotal interpretation of the Communion. Who administers at the Supper becomes then a matter of church order rather than of the gospel itself.

Read it all. For those who don't have the patience, the remaining arguments can be summarised as follows:

2. Sydney Diocese has enormous potential for global leadership and we should thus “bear with our brothers” for the sake of partnership.

3. Other evangelicals in the Communion have not agreed with us.

4. It's tactically ill-advised when the Communion is busy tearing itself up over other matters.

5. There is no practical necessity at this time.

6. The arguments, solid as they are, have not yet persuaded the Communion.

One commentor on the post makes this remark,

The basic argument against lay administration is that it has no confessional or historical support.

I note that Michael’s argument's are pragmatic (nothing wrong, they all make sense), however they are not theological, confessional or historical, and therefore I suggest, are incomplete.

which strikes me as getting to the heart of the matter! Do we accept historical precedent or even confessional precedent on the same par as Scriptural argument? Right, off you go….

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Michael Jensen

    Not at all. But the case for lay admin is only that there is no objection to it. It isn’t a strong case FOR, only a mild case not against.

    And in fact, I think a decent case can be mounted against lay admin, as it turns out. But you’ll have to move beyond ‘bible-verse’ theology

  2. David Ould

    Hi Michael, thanks for commenting. FWIW, I agree- you could mount a case around the question of how the Anglican Church designates its leaders in the congregation (ie through ordination).

    However, I think the point I’m making is that this issue, as with others, exposes fault lines amongst conservative Anglicans on how we view authority in the Church.

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