Christ brought with him the Kingdom of God and not the Democracy of God. A king is an office. Jesus is, in distinct ways, King over the church and the world. As King over the church, where he exercises his special, saving providence, he has instituted offices and sacraments. He has not empowered all the people to do everything.
A correspondent wrote to ask whether Christian laity should administer the sacraments? This is an ancient question, though typically we face it in a different form. In the Reformation, Calvin dealt with this question because midwives would administer baptism to infants in view of infant mortality and under the conviction that baptism is necessary to salvation.
Sacraments Not Sentiment
In our setting, the question is a little different. Most evangelicals take a much lower view of the sacrament of baptism than did the sixteenth-century midwife. Most evangelical laity, in 2022, are more likely to administer the sacrament for sentimental reasons (e.g., it’s nice) or under the influence of a radically egalitarian (or democratic) view of the church and sacraments.
To be sure, the medieval, priestly (sacerdotal) view of the sacraments was grossly mistaken. Despite what you might hear from some quarters, the sacraments are divinely instituted signs of divine grace and seals of the same to those who believe but they are not the things signified. Radbertus (a ninth-century monk) was wrong: at consecration, the elements of holy communion do not become the literal, actual body and blood of Christ. Ratramnus was correct. Were that true then they would, by definition, no longer be sacraments. Christ is one thing and a sacrament another. Baptism signifies what Christ does in justification and sanctification but baptism does not itself confer new life, justify, or sanctify. The same sovereign, free, Holy Spirit, who hovered over the face of the deep (Gen 1:2), ordinarily (in both senses, i.e., routinely and by divine ordination) grants new life to his elect through the preaching of the gospel (Rom 10:14–17). In the sacraments, he signifies to our senses the things promised (e.g., in the washing of baptism and in the sight, smell, and taste of the bread and wine) and confirms (seals) the promises of the gospel. They testify to believers that what we have heard preached is really true for us personally. This is why we speak as we do in the Heidelberg Catechism:
73. Why then does the Holy Spirit call Baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?
God speaks thus not without great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby that like as the filthiness of the body is taken away by water, so our sins are taken away by the blood and Spirit of Christ; but much more, that by this divine pledge and token He may assure us, that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water.
We deny that baptism is itself the washing away of sins. Baptism is called the washing of regeneration rhetorically or figuratively (Titus 3:5). The one thing (the sign) is said figuratively to be another, i.e., the reality. This is a sacramental identity or union (See, e.g., Calvin Institutes, 4.15.15). The benefits signed and sealed in baptism are received through faith alone (sola fide) not through baptism.
We say the same sort of thing about the Lord’s Supper:
75. How is it signified and sealed to you in the Holy Supper, that you do partake of the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross and all His benefits?
Thus: that Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread and to drink of this cup in remembrance of Him, and has joined therewith these promises: First, that His body was offered and broken on the cross for me and His blood shed for me, as certainly as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup communicated to me; and further, that with His crucified body and shed blood He Himself feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, as certainly as I receive from the hand of the minister and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, which are given me as certain tokens of the body and blood of Christ.