Officiating at the Lord’s Supper

Need the right to officiate at the Lord’s Supper be restricted to the theologically trained clergyman? As far as the proclamation of the Word is concerned, there can be little question that in our day the aptitude to teach which the Lord sets down as a qualification for the office of a bishop does require theological training. I am not thinking only of the formal sermon in the worship service, but also of the varied areas of teaching, the devotional addresses at organization meetings, and the devotions with the sick and shut-ins. I believe, too, that this training is requisite for the capable performers of the vast variety of pastoral duties. This applies also to the stewardship of the Lord’s Supper, which involves not only granting it to those who are entitled to receive it, but also withholding it from those who are not entitled to receive it. (Irwin J. Habeck, “Who May Officiate at the Lord’s Supper?”, Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 3 [July 1968], p. 201)

There yet remains the question of Christians in isolation. If there are two or three in a similar plight in the same general location, far removed from a church or pastor of their confession, may they agree to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together? My answer would be a guarded Yes. First of all I would advise that they make sure that their isolation is real. The fact that it would take some effort to get to a congregation or a pastor of their faith in itself would not be cogent. Effort and sacrifice are not to be eliminated from the Christian’s vocabulary. But if the isolation is real, we must bear in mind that the Lord says: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Where He is, the Keys are, also the right to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. ... In effect they will be forming temporarily their own congregation and calling someone qualified from their own midst to officiate. (Habeck, p. 204)

In the WELS I assume we follow the line of thinking of Prof. Habeck in his article, “Who May Officiate at the Lord’s Supper?” He says that if there are Christians in genuine isolation, far removed from a church or pastor of their confession, a “guarded yes” could be given to them to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, assuming they know what is proper. ... Still, as a general practice the administration of the sacraments in our congregations is entrusted to those in the pastoral ministry. Certainly others may be asked to help distribute the Lord’s Supper. But pastors are asked to oversee and preside. I know of no one advocating that this responsibility be given to others. This work fits well with the role of the pastor as the spiritual overseer. The administration of the Lord’s Supper, for example, often involves spiritual judgment. Decisions commonly need to be made by the administrant about who is properly prepared to receive the sacrament, both in the public worship services and in the visitation of shut-ins. This requires a knowledge of the sheep and is definitely the work of spiritual oversight. (Thomas P. Nass, “The Pastoral Ministry as a Distinct Form of the Public Ministry,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 91, No. 4 [Fall 1994], p. 262)

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