The question of Lay Presidency of the Lord’s Supper has been placed firmly on the global Anglican agenda by the recent motion by the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney. The motion read as follows:
7.2 Lay and diaconal administration
(a) 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
(b) affirms again its conviction that lay and diaconal administration of the Lord’s Supper is consistent with the teaching of Scripture, and
(c) affirms that the Lord’s Supper in this diocese may be administered by persons other than presbyters,
and requests the Diocesan Secretary to send a copy of The Lord’s Supper in Human Hands to all bishops who attended the GAFCON.
and was passed overwhelmingly. Subsequently the Archbishop made it clear that he would not consider licensing laity to administer communion, out of respect to those that objected. Thus we are now at the position where the Diocese of Sydney approves of Diaconal Administration.
Almost as soon as the news got out there were strong responses. Perhaps the most concerned were GAFCON partners who saw the move as a serious breach in Anglican order. A clear example would be the following from Peter Toon of the Prayer Book Society of the USA:
...what the Diocese of Sydney has recently re-affirmed and confirmed as its public doctrine stands in total opposition to the doctrinal and public stance of GAFCON.
This is, quite clearly, an issue where Anglicans are divided - and divided where, previously, they had stood together.
So what has moved the Synod of Sydney to take this decision, knowing that it would upset and even offend many of their global partners - partners that only months earlier they had work so hard to win over? How should orthodox Anglicans all over the Communion understand these actions? What are the convictions that drive the motion and how can it be that evangelicals at Sydney should, in good conscience, pass such a resolution without considering it to be in any way a contradiction of their dearly-held Anglican identity?
This piece is not an apologetic for that decision, although the reader should not be ignorant of the fact that I am broadly in favour of Synod’s position - which places me somewhat at odds with my blogging colleagues at Stand Firm. As things stand I am an ordained Deacon in the Diocese and I wait, after the Rector has canvassed the opinion of church members, for my Church Council’s approval for me to administer Communion. I am, myself, an object of the current controversy and I realise that even that simple fact causes distress to some of our readers.
Nevertheless, I wanted to spend the time working hard at helping our more “Catholic”-minded friends understand how Sydney had reached this point. I won’t pretend to be neutral, rather I intend to set out (to the best of my ability) how we have ended up in this place. Along the way we will tap into some of the deeper debates that have been had in this place and others about the nature of Anglican identity. That cannot be avoided. As John Richardson observed in his recent address to the Lincoln branch of Forward in Faith in the UK,
the ‘farmer’ of Anglo-Catholicism and the ‘cowman’ of Conservative Evangelicalism can, indeed, be friends
while, in the same speech laying out a great number of areas of challenge to his audience. I would suggest that our shared convictions (or, at least our claim to share convictions) should make us eager to listen to each other, particularly on areas of deeper disagreement.
Defining the Issue
What is indicated by the term “Lay Administration”? Are we talking about assistance at Communion, what others may call “distribution”? More than that is intended. When one reads over the legion documents produced in Sydney over this issue, it immediately becomes apparent that presidency at the Lord’s Supper is indicated. This terminology is consistent with the 1662 BCP so, for example, in the prayers at Communion you have this:
Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all Bishops and Curates, that they may both by their life and doctrine set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments.
and in the next notice:
EARLY beloved, on——- day next I purpose, through God’s assistance, to administer to all such as shall be religiously and devoutly disposed the most comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; to be by them received in remembrance of his meritorious Cross and Passion;
Presidency, including consecration, is obviously in view. Indeed, the service is properly titled “The Order of the Administration of the Lord’s Supper”.
The question of a legal or canonical objection is not something that can be simply ringfenced from other areas. For our Anglo-Catholic friends church order, including the matter of canons, overlaps heavily with theology. It is not simply a question of whether something is legally or canonically permitted that makes something be in good order. The endorsement of the election of Gene Robinson, for example, did not make the action any more valid.
With this in mind, we must still consider the question of legal objections. This issue was dealt with by the Standing Committe of Sydney’s synod back in 1993. The report can be found here. (A number of other relevant reports, going back over 20 years, may be found here. Such a provenance of this position should indicate to the reader a high degree of conservatism, rather than an impulsive rush, in the area of legislating for controversial changes). The report notes that the 1985 General Synod of the Church in Australia passed a canon on the ordination of Deacons. I will let the report make it’s own argument:
5. Two notable changes occur in the service. First, the restriction upon the deacon, who could previously only baptise infants in the absence of the priest, is removed so that the deacon may baptise a candidate of any age and do so, if appropriate, in the presence of the priest. Second, the authority to preach, which was previously dependent upon the bishop’s permission is replaced with the bishop’s instruction: “to preach the word of God in the place to which you are licensed.” In other words, the licence to preach, which was not inherent in the BCP service, is now constitutive of the order of deacon.
6. Under the 1985 canon, both of these changes are highlighted in the words of the bishop when he gives the deacon a copy of the New Testament: “Receive this sign of your authority to proclaim God’s word and to assist in the administration of the sacraments.”
7. These changes have been universally recognised as an authorisation of the deacon to preach God’s word and to administer baptism to candidates of any age. In many ways this represented a liturgical catch up as many deacons had baptised candidates other than infants, and the recognition that there are occasions when it is appropriate for a deacon to baptise, notwithstanding the presence of a priest. However, what is curious about the wording of the 1985 service is the explicit inclusion of the holy communion in the deacon’s responsibilities. On three occasions the term “administration” of the sacraments is used in the service, whereas the word “baptism” does not occur at all.
11. What pertains to the authority to administer baptism pertains to the authority to administer holy communion. There is no differentiation in the service between the deacon’s authority to administer either sacrament. In both cases the deacon is assisting the priest, whether it be in administering baptism or in administering holy communion.
If Deacons are to assist the Priest in baptism by performing baptisms, argued the report, then surely the same should be accepted for communion - the ordination canon made no distinction between the too. (Remember, at this point we are speaking only to the legal objections). The legal position is founded upon the premise that the Deacon’s role has been raised in all areas to that of the Priest by leglislation.
The Report cited above contains an Appendix, the contents of which are a report by the Doctrine Commission of the Diocese. Again, it would be best to allow them to speak for themselves:
2. Theological Assumptions
2.1 The Doctrine Commission accepts the finding of the 1983 report that the arguments against lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper, such as those expressed in the General Synod Doctrine Commission Report Towards a Theology of Ordination, are incorrect, and that “there is no Scriptural or doctrinal barrier to lay presidency”.
2.2 Moreover there do exist positive reasons, theological, historical and practical, for allowing lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper.
(a) The welcome development of lay preaching ministry over many years has resulted in a distortion of our Anglican order which has, in effect, elevated the Sacrament above the Word in that those authorised to preach are not necessarily authorised to preside (note the words “vice versa” in the 1985 report quoted above). To preserve the balance of Anglican order there is a need for lay ministry of the Sacrament to develop in a way corresponding to lay ministry of the Word.
(b) On the grounds that Jesus Christ alone was the proper sacramentum given us by God (1 Tim 2:3-7; 3: 14-1 6), the 16th century Reformers worked to heal the split between Word and Sacrament endemic to medieval theology and practice. Anglican writers of the period when the formularies were being composed “regarded the ministry of the word and that of the two sacraments as closely bound up together, and were, generally speaking, entirely free from those sacerdotal conceptions which put the ministry of the eucharist in a class by itself” (i) While the question of lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper hardly arose in this period, this was because lay ministry was generally only envisaged in cases of necessity or “highly remote theory”.[ii] Normally a layman could neither preach nor administer the sacraments. Where opposition to lay presidency was expressed, it was in terms of the general argument propounded by Calvin, which was based on the concept of those “called and authorised” to each and administer the sacraments.”[iii] The main stream of Anglican writers did not apply Calvin’s argument narrowly, as can be seen in their views of lay baptism, and, at least theoretically, of lay preaching. The development of Anglican lay ministry generally in more recent times has likewise not accepted a restricted application of Calvin’s principles of order to modern church life. We have recognised that lay people too may be “called and authorised” for various ministries. However the separation we now see between preaching and sacraments was inconceivable to the Reformers. This separation has developed in the climate created in Anglicanism by the theology of the 19th century Tractarian movement which reverted to pre-Reformation views of Church and ministry.[iv]
(c) It follows that the role of presiding at the Lord’s Supper should not be elevated above the role of presiding when the congregation of God’s people gathers for prayer and the hearing of God’s Word. This is not a diminution of the importance of the Lord’s Supper: it is, rather, a recognition of the importance of every gathering of God’s household. At the centre of every such assembly must be the word of Christ, the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. We have rightly recognised that the headship of Christ over his household allows for any suitably mature and gifted member of the congregation to be authorised to preside at Morning and Evening Prayer (see the conclusion to the 1983 Doctrine Commission Report, 1.1 above). It follows that the prohibition of lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper is today a serious inconsistency, which has distorted Anglican order as envisaged in our formularies (see (d) below).
(d) The anomaly of churches, schools, colleges which have regular Anglican ministry, but must bring in an outside priest on certain occasions in order to conduct the Lord’s Supper suggests the “Mass priest” concept rightly rejected by our forebears.
(e) When lay people are permitted to share in every form of ministry except one in the regular meetings of the congregation, except one, the impression can be given that the prohibited thing is the essence of ordained ministry. A sacerdotal view of the priesthood is difficult to avoid. Again this is a distortion of Anglican order due to the welcome developments in lay ministry which have not however been matched in the ministry of the Sacraments.
It has been suggested to me that it is worth considering the original intent of much of the order put in place durning the 16th Century Reformation. Why, for example, were only some Priests licensed to preach their own sermons whereas all were licensed to preside at Communion? The answer, of course, is that Cranmer had provided the words for Communion, whereas sermons came from the Priest’s own pen. Hence the need for homilies.
This action was not to raise the Sacrament over the Word and its preaching but, rather, to protect what Cranmer clearly saw as of first importance - the preaching of the word of God. He was obviously no sacerdotalist.
Of course, we now have (particularly in Sydney) a situation where not only the clergy but much of the laity are theologically literate and competent. We are, rightly, licensing many men to preach. We have ended up with a situation where what was previously prioritised and reserved (the preaching of the word) no longer needs to be whereas that which could not be so readily abused and was previously not so constrained (the sacrament) is now more restricted. This is, surely, contrary to Cranmer’s original intention. His original change was gospel-minded, prioritising and protecting the word of God. Perhaps, some in Sydney are suggesting, another like-minded change is required?
The current Dean of Sydney, Philip Jensen, puts it more simply in his recent piece “Traditions Old and New”:
There is no reason to retain or to dispense with some custom just because it is old - anymore than there is any reason to embrace something because it is new. What pleases God is that we put forward the Gospel of Jesus clearly so that His people can understand His ways and respond in obedient faith.
The move from Sydney must be recognised as coming from a sincere (although some may argue incorrectly focussed) gospel imperative.
The question of Cranmer’s original intent, outlined above, and his understanding of the gospel strike to the very heart of current discussions over the nature of Anglican Identity. Sydney Anglicans would see themselves firmly in the line of those Reformers of the 1500’s, who they understand to have be unfeignedly protestant.
This is, of course, where the real fault-line lies. Conservative evangelicals, such as those typically found in Sydney, do not see themselves as bound to tradition as their High Church friends. Indeed, they are more than happy to reject Tradition if they understand it to be contrary to the Scriptures, as they understand Cranmer and his peers felt impelled to do. It is no surprise that Sydney is a place that, while having a very low rate of usage of the Prayer Book, has a very high allegiance to the 39 Articles and the theology of the Prayer Book. It is a strange combination, but perhaps more understandable with reference to Article 34:
XXXIV. Of the Traditions of the Church.
IT is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one or utterly alike; for at all times they have been diverse, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s word. Whosoever through his private judgement willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not repugnant to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly that other may fear to do the like, as he that offendeth against common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the conscience of the weak brethren.
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
Many here would look to that Article and see in it a mandate to change traditions and ceremonies so that the gospel be most clearly communicated to the culture in which we find ourselves.
It is not a mystery that much of the opposition to Lay Presidency from those who would be more generally included in the “orthodox” camp comes from the “Higher” church Anglo-Catholics - those who look not to Cranmer but Laud, Pusey and, of course, Newman for their identity. This, of course, is an issue we have discussed in this place before. Readers will be under no illusions as to where I stand on the matter but perhaps I might quote again from Richardson. His words may be better received as “wounds from a friend”, or at least serve to outline the nature of the evangelical objection:
...the Anglo-Catholic must face the fact that many things precious to the tradition are, in fact, at odds with the formal position of the denomination. The onus is, therefore, on the innovator to justify their position.
Above all the Anglo-Catholic must, if progress is to be made, demonstrate the coherence of his own position within Anglicanism.
As I have stated, this is a place where the 39 Articles are taken seriously. The consitution of the Australian Church sets the Articles as the standard of doctrine and in Sydney oaths to uphold that doctrine are said and believed.
I do not think it would be too much to state that a frank response from many in Sydney who accuse them of innovation with their move to Lay Presidency would include a challenge to consider who the real innovators were. That is not to say that in Sydney there is great antipathy amongst the leadership to Anglo-Catholicism. On the contrary. Peter Jensen worked hard at GAFCON to build as many bridges as possible. Back here in Australia he joined with Anglo-Catholics in forming the “Association for Apostolic Ministry” in response to the consecration of women bishops.
Nevertheless, the move to widen the administration of the Lord’s Supper is bound to increase, not decrease, pre-existing divisions in the Communion. What for Sydney is an imperative of the gospel is seen by others as close to a denial of it. Still, if we are to have this discussion it is better to have it as well-informed as possible as to what it is exactly that our opponent believes. I trust this article will work towards that end.