The issue attracted international attention in October 2008, when the Diocese of Sydney passed a resolution authorizing lay presidency. Now, in August 2010, a tribunal in the Anglican Church in Australia has ruled against Sydney's action. The report from that tribunal will be received at this October's Diocese of Sydney convention, where apparently, it will be considered only as "advisory." In other words, Sydney could choose to implement this innovation despite the opinion of the tribunal.
This discussion brought back a comment I made on this subject on Stand Firm in November 2008, responding to David Ould's piece on this subject, which I have adapted slightly and offer here in light of the importance of this issue for the Anglican Communion.
I thank you for posting this piece on Sydney’s consideration of lay presidency, given the seriousness of the issue as it pertains to the present and future unity of orthodox Anglicans, and I wish I had time to write a more comprehensive response. But let me, at least, offer a few thoughts, beginning with the Articles of Religion and the 1662 and 1552 Ordinals.
XXIII. Of Ministering in the Congregation.
It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.
The article is wonderfully Elizabethan in its use of language, and perhaps not as direct (or circumspect with regard to the potential for misinterpretation) as one might be in writing a confessional statement, church canon, or policy today. However, the article is saying that only those who are lawfully called and sent may engage in preaching or ministering the sacraments in a congregation, and that only those who have public authority to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard can do this calling and sending.
In other words, this is talking about ordination. How can we be sure it is talking about ordination? Because of the way those who wrote the Articles applied them. The uniform practice of the Church from that time to the present was that the Ministers (clergy) did the preaching and the administration of the sacraments. (See “Article XXXVI Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers” where the context demonstrates that here and in every instance in which the term “Ministers” is used in the Articles, it means the clergy, functioning in such manner as pertains to their order.)
Regarding the application of these Articles, we notice this language from the 1662 ordination service for a deacon:
The Bishop says.
IT appertaineth to the Office of a Deacon, in the Church where he shall be appointed to serve, to assist the Priest in Divine Service, and specially when he [i.e., the Priest] ministereth the holy Communion, and to help him in the distribution thereof; and to read Holy Scriptures and Homilies in the Church; and to instruct the youth in the Catechism; in the absence of the Priest to baptize infants; and to preach, if he be admitted thereto by the Bishop. And furthermore, it is his Office, where provision is so made, to search for the sick, poor, and impotent people of the Parish, to intimate their estates, names, and places where they dwell, unto the Curate, that by his exhortation they may be relieved with the alms of the Parishioners, or others. Will you do this gladly and willingly?
Answer. I will so do, by the help of God.
Notice that it is the priest who ministers (administers or presides at) the holy Communion. The deacon merely assists in the distribution of the elements. Further, note these differences in the services of ordination for a deacon and a priest:
(From the Ordination of a Deacon)
Then shall the Bishop deliver to every one of them the New Testament, saying,
TAKE thou Authority to read the Gospel in the Church of God, and to preach the same, if thou be thereto licensed by the Bishop himself.
(From the Ordination of a Priest)
Then the Bishop shall deliver to every one of them kneeling the Bible into his hand, saying,
TAKE thou Authority to preach the Word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments in the Congregation, where thou shalt be lawfully appointed thereunto.
(These words are virtually unchanged from the earlier 1552 book, favored by many evangelicals.)
Most significantly, perhaps, in the Preface to the Ordinal we read:
IT is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which Offices were evermore had in such reverend Estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by publick Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority. And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in the Church of England, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal Consecration, or Ordination.
XXVI. Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
ALTHOUGH in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.
From this Article we see three things:
1. the Sacraments have an effect;
2. unworthiness of the ministers does not diminish or hinder that effect, and
3. the sacraments are administered by the ministers.
Another thread on Stand Firm dealing with this issue is entitled: Dan Martins on the Sydney Stance: Evangelicals to Liberals: “Psst! Meet Me in Back of the Barn”. And there is one sense in which I fear Dan Martins' comparison of Sydney Evangelicals with western Liberals is apt: Both seem to be saying (1.) “we know more about how the church should function than our Anglican forebears did” and (2.) “we believe that what we are doing (be it lay presidency or same sex blessings) is a ‘Gospel imperative’.”
While the Diocese of Sydney asserts that its position is based on a Gospel imperative,” it does not actually or convincingly demonstrate how that is so. There is also a tendency in the Sydney position to attribute too much to the bogeyman of Anglo-Catholicism and a supposed sacerdotal conception of the priesthood, when all we are really talking about is Church order as it has been traditionally understood by Anglicans and as reflected in the 1552 and 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
If we wish to remain consistent with the 39 Articles as an expression of our Anglican identity, the burden of proof must fall on those who wish to implement lay presidency to show that laity or even deacons were ever authorized to administer the Lord’s Supper. And, if the language I quoted from the Preface to the Ordinal is correct, it cannot be shown from the Scriptures or the whole history of the Christian Church that this was ever the case.