Church Order Q: Can Elder's Perform the Lord's Supper to Those Who Are Sick or Shut-In?


Does the church order have anything on elders performing the Lord’s Supper to sick and shut-ins, or should a pastor be present and perform these sacrament?

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Elders are permitted to officiate at the Lord's Supper provided that they have received the approval of classis to do so (C.O., Art. 55). Otherwise, only ministers of the Word or commissioned pastors are authorized to officiate at the Lord's Supper. Logically, this applies also to the case of celebrating the Lord's Supper with those who are sick or shut-in.


Cedric is correct about this if we are talking about administering the sacrament.  But I distinguish between the administration of the sacrament and the distribution of the elements.  Elders typically distribute the bread and wine (though others may assist).  A minister or an authorized elder administers them.

As I wrote in my commentary on Article 55:

"I do happen to believe that elders and ministers are free to serve communion to the home-bound or to members in hospitals or rest homes.  I don't view these as private celebrations of the sacrament but, rather, as extensions of official worship in the building.

Specifically, I have found it meaningful to have elders or elders' assistants serving such folk the bread and wine while playing tape recordings or DVD's of the service on a Sunday afternoon.  That enhances the notion that these actually become "extensions."  Then again, our elders sometimes do it in groups of three or four at hospitals or hospice facilities in a very simple ceremony along with prayer over one who is critically ill.  This reminds me of James 5:14: 'Is anyone among you sick?  Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.' So I have a hard time saying that this violates the order of the church."


This is a side note to Henry DeMoor's comment, which I appreciate.

For a short period of time I served with The Anglican Diocese of Canada. Their view of the Eucharist is somewhat "higher" or more formal thn is ours, so only the priest can consecrate the elements. Once consecrated, however, deacons, and in some instances others who are not ordained Anglican priests, can take what is referred to as the "reserve sacrament" to homes, shut-ins, etc. The point is, the bread and the wine have already be consecrated, so it really is not a separate celebration, but an extension to those members of the community not able to be present.


Ron VanAuken

Prof. DeMoor's position is one way of trying to address this issue, but it is not the official position of the Christian Reformed Church nor do I think that it is the best application of C.O. Art. 55. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in the context of talking about sacraments, the verb "administer" most commonly is used to refer the "dispensing" or "distributing" of the sacrament. Accordingly, when C.O. Art. 55 says that "the sacraments shall be a minister of the Word, etc.," I take it to mean that the distribution of the sacrament is to be by a minister of the Word or some other ordained official approved by classis. It is true that elders often assist the minister to distribute the elements, but (1) this can (and probably should) be viewed as an extension of the ministers own act and (2) it is done in the presence and under the supervision of the minister. Accordingly, I would argue that, if we are going to distribute the elements of the Lord's Supper to someone who is shut-in, C.O. Art. 55 requires that this distribution be done by or under the direct supervision of a classical official, i.e., a minister of the Word, a commissioned pastor, or an elder who has received authorization from classis.

Regarding Anglican practice, we need to remember that Anglican practice (esp., the practice of reserving the bread and wine) is founded on the Anglo-Catholic belief that the consecrating of the bread and wine for use in the Lord's Supper somehow bestows on the bread and wine a permanent consecrated quality. Accordingly, for Anglicans, a reservation of the elements and distribution of those elements at a later time makes sense, because, for them, the sacramental action persists so long as the elements exist.

In the Reformed churches, however, we do not believe that the elements of bread and wine possess some permanent sacramental quality after their use in the communal celebration. It is for this reason that we don't say someone has committed an act of sacrilege, if they go into the church refrigerator after the service and decides to make a sandwich out of some of the bread that had been used for communion and also decide to wash it down with some of the wine that had been used. The bread and wine have ceased serving a holy purpose at the conclusion of the community's use of them for the Lord's Supper. Accordingly, I would argue, with regard to shut-ins, that it will be more in keeping with our sacramental theology if a classically approved official takes the elements to the shut-in at the same time that the elements are distributed to the rest of the community. If that is not possible, then I believe that a classically approved official should administer the sacrament anew at the shut-ins home.