Should You Give Yourself Communion At Home?

Joe writes to ask

Hi Dr. Clark,

My church is currently streaming service online and advocating for family worship at home. They are also encouraging us to get bread and juice/wine and take communion during service hours with our families. Is this how the Lord’s Supper should be taken during this crisis? Or should we abstain from it until we can all meet again at the Gathering.

Thanks.

God bless.

These are unusual circumstances and so churches are forced to resort to unusual means to try to continue to edify the congregation and to minister to one another during the quarantine, e.g., broadcasting messages online and holding prayer meetings online. Nevertheless, there are two points that ought to be made:

  1. What is being live streamed or broadcast, unless a congregation is present, is not a worship service. We might call them devotions. At school, we hold chapel services twice a week and prayer groups once a week. These are not worship services. These are informal gatherings for mutual edification. A church service requires the presence of ruling elders,  an ordained minister (sometimes described by Presbyterians as a teaching elder), and a congregation. Without those things, it is an edifying gathering but it is not a rightly ordered service.
  2. The Lord has given to the office of the minister of Word and sacraments to administer them to the congregation. He gave it to his apostles (Matt 16; Matt 18, John 21:17; Matt 28:18–20). His apostles gave that office to ministers of the Word such as Timothy,  Tychicus (Eph 6:21), and Epaphras (Col 1:7) and others. He instituted the Supper in the presence of the apostles. Yes, they were disciples at the time but note that Luke calls them “apostles:” “And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him” (Luke 22:14; ESV). Our Lord commissioned his apostles, officers in his church, to do it in remembrance of him. The same is true of the institution of baptism. In both cases, it was given to apostles to administer the sacraments. It was not given to laity, e.g., heads of households to administer sacraments. This is why Reformed and Presbyterian congregations, in the 16th through the 18th centuries sometimes went months without hearing sermons from a preacher—typically an elder would read a sermon in lieu of a preached sermon—or receive communion because of the shortage of ordained ministers. It is to ministers, who hold the prophetic office, i.e. the office tasked with ministry of the Word, to whom God has committed the administration of the Word and the sacraments. We see this pattern in the New Testament. The Apostles gave themselves to the minister of the Word and prayer (Acts 2:42) and when the practical needs of the congregations proved too great (Acts 6:1–6), they instituted the office of deacon, following the OT pattern of prophet (Word), priest (receiving offerings and meeting needs), and king (elder) in the New Testament church. It was to Timothy as a minister that Paul wrote, “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2) not to the entire congregation.

So, to answer your question directly, no, families are not authorized to administer holy communion any more than they are commissioned and authorized to preach the Word, administer church discipline, or holy baptism. For a family to take to itself these functions is a confusion of two spheres, the family and the church. The church may be composed of families but that does not make every family a little congregation and every parent a pastor. It is a hardship to be without the sacraments while we cannot gather as congregations but the Lord will see us through this odd and difficult time and restore us to one another and the ministry of Word and sacrament to us.

We need to recognize the deep influence that American culture has upon American Christians and we need to recognize the difference between the culture and the Kingdom of God. Since the early 19th century there has been a radical flattening of American society. Scholars call it “Democratization.” Others call it “egalitarianism.” In the spirit of the French Revolution we want to tear down all offices, distinctions, and hierarchies. As Eric Liddell says in Chariots of Fire (1981), “The Kingdom of God is not a democracy. It’s a benevolent dictatorship.” So it is. King Jesus exercises his special, saving reign in his church, the embassy of his Kingdom, through ministers, elders, and deacons. He has given to ministers especially to administer the Word and sacraments. He has given elders to oversee the ministry, and to deacons to minister to the practical needs of the people.

Our strange circumstances do not change that order and they do not authorize us to take into our hands those offices that have been given to us.

NB: As they say on Dragnet, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.


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    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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9 comments

  1. Dr. Clark, I greatly appreciate your work and this article has been helpful as I think through how our church should worship during this time.

    One question I have regarding families administering communion/preaching/baptism: are families not apart of the priesthood of all believers and thus have authority to point their friends and children to Christ and subsequently baptize them or administer the Eucharist with them?

    It seems to me that by only allowing ordained ministers to administer the Sacraments we are excluding small Christian communities around the world from ever being able to legitimately partake. Certainly we would want Christians in a small Nepali village with no ordained minister to be able to receive the Eucharist and baptism.

    While I don’t disagree with what you have said, I also wonder if the exclusivity of who can administer Sacraments creates unnecessary road blocks for Christians who have no access to an ordained minister. It would be a shame for those people to never be able to partake in the Sacraments.

  2. Thank you for that analysis, Dr Clark. Could you please expand it to explain which persons senior to deacons in the Church administered the sacraments in the instances given in the Acts of the Apostles (Philip the Evangelist was still only a deacon, Ananias was only a disciple, and was an apostle present at every house in Jerusalem when they broke bread from house to house?)?

  3. Hello Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    If the elders / pastors / ministers of the Word were themselves via a streamed service or an app such as Zoom to conduct the communion service, giving the words of institution, and directing the congregation’s families listening at home to distribute the bread and wine to those eligible, is this not sufficiently equivalent to their being present among them?

  4. What about the Lord’s Supper that was observed at the “love feasts” in the early church. Those were not necessarily all overseen by church elders, were they? Isn’t there a possibility that many of the early house churches observed the Lord’s Supper after many of their meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)?

    Also, If the sacraments are only to be used within the worship services, what about all those who were baptized at the birth of the church. Were there not thousands (including the Ethiopian eunuch) who were baptized “on the spot”?

    • Corwin,

      No, I don’t think the love feasts were the Lord’s Supper. The evidence from 1 Corinthians 11 seems best taken in a formal, ecclesiastical setting. This is why he says, “do you not have homes in which to eat and drink?” Paul distinguished between private meals, even fellowship meals and common meals and the Supper.

      On the appeal to the narratives in Acts, there are a lot of extraordinary things happening in Acts. My somewhat cheeky reply is that when folk are being carried about (literally) by the Holy Spirit they can do private baptisms. The apostolic company had apostolic authority. The Apostle Peter put two to death or the Holy Spirit put two to death through the Apostle Peter. That’s not happening today nor should it.

      This invokes the broader problem of Modern evangelicals (post-1800) failing to distinguish between the Apostolic church and the post-Apostolic church. We do not have their office or their gifts.

  5. In your comments regarding what the Lord had given to the office of minister. In those passages, how do you distinguish what is universally applicable to all believers and those that are specific to just the ministry of elders?

    Thank you for your thoughts on this. I am a pastor, and we regularly observe communion in our home, privately, apart from the congregation (we also observe with our congregation on our Lord’s Day services). I am open to having my mind changed on this, but I appreciate this discussion.

    • Hi Corbin,

      Did you check out the attached resources? There are several articles linked that explain/explore the biblical doctrine of the distinction between the special offices and the laity. That’s the 1st question to be addressed: Did Christ institute special offices? The historic Christian answer is yes. Ignatius of Antioch clearly taught three offices, Episcopos, Presbyteros, & Diakonos (Pastor, Elder, Deacon). That was the pattern into and through the Reformation, which restored the episcopal office to its ministerial (instead of ruling/magisterial/hierarchical) state, which had become corrupted in the Middle Ages. The Reformed Churches also restored the presyterial office to its proper function of ruling (as distinct from a sacrificial priestly service) and the diaconate to its proper function of ministering the needs of the people.

      Here is a longer essay on the doctrine of the church, including some reflection on the offices.

      The Modern (note capital M) prejudice is toward a radically democratic/egalitarian view of the church, with a strong bias against the notion of special office. This bias, however, is unsustainable in light of what Scripture says. God instituted prophets (ministers), priests (deacons), and kings in the temporary national people. Adam was a prophet, priest, and king. He was to rule creation, defend the holy garden/temple, and speak God’s Word to Eve, his children, and Satan. Christ is our prophet, priest, and king. He instituted Apostles, who divested themselves of the office of deacon. As my professor and friend Derke Bergsma noted, the priests joined the church just after the institution of the diaconate because, as he argued, they recognized their office in the diaconate. We see a clear institution of the presbyterial office in the pastoral epistles and some in the Reformed tradition have seen a distinct office of pastor.

      It’s to the pastoral (prophetic) office that Christ has given the ministry of Word and sacrament. He has given to the general office of believer to receive the Word and sacraments, to believe the Word and sacraments, but not to administer them.

      Contrary to a great lot of modern writing, there’s very little evidence in the NT of “every-member” ministry or even “every-member” evangelism. There is a fair bit of anachronism, reading the present back into the NT but taken on its own, in its own context both are hard to support.

      Take a look at the articles & resources.

      Derke’s article on the three offices is in a volume edited by John Armstrong c. 1998 or so.

  6. Thank you. Also, what would you consider to be the minimum (numerically and setting) requirement of a gathering of Believers to rightly observe the Lord’s Supper?

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