Monday, February 25

How baptism, the Lord's Supper, weddings, & funerals are carried out in churches that meet in homes

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, where do we get the idea that only a certain class can 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 things until they need to be dealt with. 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 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.

6 comments:

Wade Burleson said...

Guy,

Excellent post. I understand baptism, Lord's Supper, funerals and other worship events, celebrations and tributes performed by any Christian gifted to lead (male or female). Help me out with the following:

I am not sure how it is in other countries, but I know that the 50 states of the USA require a "licensed" or "ordained" clergy (I hate that term), to be the officiant at a wedding. The marriage "license" is then turned over to the state with the "credentials" of the "minister" on them.

Though I wholeheartedly agree with your post, I'm wondering how you in a house church get a wedding certificate "signed and certified" in the United States if the state requires a license from the officiant?

J. Guy Muse said...

The church wedding has no legal validity in the eyes of the State. All couples have to be married in front of a judge. Therefore, what usually happens is that Christians getting married have TWO ceremonies: one in front of the judge (civil/legal), and one before God (sacred.)

Most believers want a church wedding in that they desire to make their vows before God, rather than the State. But to do so, they have to go through two ceremonies.

Usually attending the civil ceremony is just close family. But in the church wedding all friends, relatives, and church family are present to help the new couple celebrate.

J. Guy Muse said...

P.S. I just reread your last sentence and realize you are asking about house church weddings in the USA. I suspect they would have to do both as well, unless the person officiating is a licensed minister. Good question, anybody up in the USA want to answer Wade?

Brian said...

In New Zealand what happens at some weddings is that the Licensed minister does the actual vows part of the wedding, the legal bit. The rest of the wedding is taken by whoever the couple may desire. this satisfies the legal requirements as well as enabling the couple to have the person of their choice perform most of the ceremony.

J. Guy Muse said...

Brian,

Thanks for sharing this. I think it could equally work this way in the USA. Here in Ecuador, though, one still has to go down to the Civil Registry for the legal wedding, and then back to the church for the "real" wedding.

Jillian Johnson said...

Thanks for sharing! My cousin wants to become a minister. He explained to me how to get ordained as I'm not highly religious. While I never pictured my cousin to become a minister, he's very dedicated to the church and his faith, and he's a very giving person.