Tuesday, May 17

Lord's Supper, baptizing, funerals, weddings in house churches

If simple churches are usually led by non-professional "lay" leaders, who performs all of the ceremonies traditionally officiated by professional clergy? Who does the baptizing, serving of the Lord's Supper, funerals, weddings, and all the other duties traditionally done by ordained ministers? Who do you call when there is a death in the family? Can anyone baptize (women?) Who presides over the Lord's Supper? Can any believer marry a couple?

I have no problem answering these questions, but as part of my answer, I like to inquire of the person asking, where in the NT do we get the idea that only a certain class carry out these functions? Can any of us point to a single instance in the NT where any of these functions is designated as exclusive terrain of a chosen few? Is it a commandment or an ordinance that only trained, seminary educated, ordained ministers be the ones to baptize, serve the Lord's Supper, wed, or bury? There is nothing wrong with them doing so, but are we not ALL Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a Chosen Race?

So, to the practical outworking of how these things are carried out in simple house church settings...

The short version is that we deal with each situation as it comes up. In other words we don't worry about these things until in the natural flow of things they need to be dealt with. When the need arises, those in the house church leadership will call on us to help them. This usually entails sitting down and helping them understand what God wants them to do in this situation. Sometimes they come right out and ask us to lead the ceremony. Often I will agree to do so this first occasion, but next time it is their responsibility. I view these opportunities to further train and orient the servant leaders by their watching me do it.

Baptism. We don't make a big deal over who does the baptizing. Any disciple can baptize. In fact disciples are commanded to do so in Matthew 28:18-20. Usually the way this works is that the house church leader will do so themselves with one or two assistants from the church. If for whatever reason they are not able, or do not wish to do so, they find somebody else to do the baptizing. It's not so much WHO does the baptizing, as in WHOSE NAME they are baptized.

The Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is a meal and regularly observed by the house churches. It is carried out in any number of different ways. One way is, again, to model how it is done. Many times when a group of new believers is ready for their first Lord's Supper, they will invite one of their mentors to preside. We gladly do so as a means of modeling a way of how it can be done. What is scary is that however we choose to lead during this time is often copied from there on out as "the way" to do the Lord's Supper! Over the years, though, I have seen a lot of creative and meaningful ways to celebrate this memorial.

Weddings. We have had many house church weddings over the past few years. Each has been special and meaningful to not only those getting married, but a blessing to the church as a whole. Sometimes I have been asked to perform the wedding, and have done so gladly. Usually though I will only perform the first wedding in a house church, but expect them to do any subsequent weddings. Sometimes the couple getting married will specifically ask their house church leader to do the ceremony. In these cases--and there have been several--the leader will come asking for help. We will sit down and step by step go over what needs to be done. We practice until they are fairly confident. It is important that the servant leaders be seen as empowered to carry out ALL the necessary tasks involved in church life. If we somehow leave the impression that only ordained pastors and missionaries can fill certain roles, we will harm the church's natural development. The last thing we want to do is create dependency upon the missionary.

Funerals. Again, we will go over with the house church leaders a basic outline of the kinds of things to say and do at a funeral. I just returned from one of these funerals not 30-minutes ago. The house church leader did a wonderful job. He asked me to say a few words, but the bulk of the time was led by him. I remember one house church leader being asked to preside over a wake. She had absolutely no experience or background to do so. In a panic she called several people to come to the rescue. None were available so she prayed to the Lord for guidance and went on to the wake. There, she was able to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, and was a great blessing to the family. She related that it wasn't that hard. It was just a matter of allowing the Spirit of God freedom to minister through her. She related they sang a few songs, she shared a passage of Scripture and a few words of comfort, the family shared their memories of the loved one, prays were said, and then she visited with the family.

The list really extends to many other natural church life functions as well. Praying for the sick, dealing with demons, counseling, baby dedications, home visits, anniversaries, birthday parties, etc. NONE of these are the exclusive domain of professional clergy. ALL are matters which normally should be carried out by Spirit-filled disciples. It is not about us and how highly trained we are, but about HIM and what He wants to do in and through us.


Kevin, Somewhere in Southern America said...


these issues are local church issues. Even the late and very highly esteemed Dr. Rogers said that. Let the local church, be it a house church or traditional, appoint their leaders who can officiate. But let them follow clear guidelines of Scripture for pastoral ministry.

GuyMuse said...


Good to hear from you again. We miss you guys down in our part of the world!

Where in the NT do we find that these are local church issues? What passages would you use to say that officiating leaders to baptize, do the Lord's Supper, weddings, and funerals are to be appointed by the local church?

The only person I find officiating the Lord's Supper is Jesus.

Baptisms were performed by a wide variety of people (most are not named.)

Weddings and funerals are not even mentioned as having someone to officiate like we do today.

What are the "clear guidelines of Scripture for pastoral ministry" that you refer to? I am not saying there aren't any, just what are they?

If referring to what I wrote in my previous post for those desiring to be a bishop/overseer/pastor/elder, 26 of the 27 qualifications deal with character issues, only one with ministry.

Tim Patterson said...


I think it is an interesting trend in more missional institutional churches in the U.S. that small group leaders are baptizing, doing Lord's supper, etc. The professional leadership structure is still there but they are empowering lay leaders to do more. Still not to the extent of what leaders do in simple churches. But it is a positive trend.

GuyMuse said...


I see it too, but more in the USA than here. The key word is EMPOWER. What we find are many just waiting to be told, "yes, you can do it!" There are literally millions of "foot soldiers" awaiting in reserve for someone to say, "get out there and do what Jesus said to do."

Tim Young said...


In some (maybe most; I'm not sure) states here in the USA, some sort of licensing or ordination is required to perform weddings. Have you any thoughts on how we can work through this, short of officially ordaining every disciple? (This is a hard task in many traditions, as I'm sure you know).

The Parousia Network Cyber Cafe said...

Great post, Guy. I think you've given a very accurate description of what should take place. And what I hear underlying it all is that you are equipping OTHERS to do these things, following the "MAWL" pattern: "Model, Assist, Watch, Leave". In the words of George Barna, you are "setting people up for success in your absence", and that is critical for house churches multiplying and moving forward. Keep it up! You're an encouragement for the rest of us!

GuyMuse said...

Tim Young,

I believe you are right about someone needing a license to marry in the USA. Here the only ones who can legally marry are civil authorities. No church wedding has validity so even if the one officiating is ordained, licensed, etc. it wouldn't make any difference. I guess the same could apply in the USA. Marry down at the courthouse (legally) and then in the church before God. That's what we do here!

GuyMuse said...


Yep. Only we use MAOS, not MAWL...