Why Ordain Ministers?

UPDATE: Read about and view some photos of the ordination service here.

Why ordination? This question might be on the minds of many evangelicals whenever they hear of someone (like myself) being ordained to be a minister or pastor of a church.

In this age of anti-intellectualism and anti-authority coupled with a low view of Scripture, creeds, church, and ministers, ordination is looked upon as unusual, unnecessary, and maybe even Roman Catholic. Unusual, because so many men (and women) are self-proclaimed pastors and “bishops.” Unnecessary, because of a deformed view of the “priesthood of all believers” and church offices. And Roman Catholic, because of unfamiliarity with the Protestant view of the calling of a minister.

Protestant “apostolic succession”
Christ is the King of the universe, and the only Founder and Head of the church, not the Pope. He exercises his authority by means of his Word, and before he ascended into heaven, he appointed representatives to exercise this authority and to proclaim his Word. He calls these representatives by his Spirit, first through an inner call (“desire” in 1 Tim 3:1), and then through the call of his people, the congregation (Acts 1:23-26; 6:1-6; Eph 4:11-12). Therefore, these men, variously called apostles, ministers, elders, overseers, or pastors, receive their commission from Christ himself.

The end of the apostolic age meant that the unique, foundational office of apostleship also ended (1 Cor 3:10-11; Eph 2:20), but the apostles’ teachings continue to be handed down and entrusted to Christ’s appointed ministers (2 Tim 4:1,2; Jude 3) until Christ returns to earth. Timothy and Titus were appointed to the ministry by the Apostle Paul, and in turn they and others were instructed to appoint elders in every city and church (Acts 14:23; Tit 1:5).

What is the difference between this Protestant view and the Roman church’s view of “apostolic succession”? The Roman church traces back an unbroken series of occupants of the seat of the Bishop of Rome, from St. Peter all the way to the present Pope, as the head of the church, so that the Pope is Christ’s only representative on earth today. The Roman apostolic succession rests only on the Bishop of Rome. Whereas the Roman church emphasizes the minister, namely the Pope, the Reformers emphasized the ministry.

Ordination
In the United Reformed Churches, as in many other Reformed and Presbyterian churches, a man goes through a thorough, exhaustive process before he is called by a congregation and ordained as Minister of the Word and Sacrament. Article 4 of our Church Order states that he has to be fully trained in a faithful seminary, and afterward sustain an oral examination in doctrine and personal piety by a regional assembly of pastors and elders (Classis).

As well, Article 6 of our Church Order says that the last step in the calling of a minister is

the public ordination before the congregation, which shall take place with appropriate instructions, admonitions, prayers and subscription to the Three Forms of Unity by signing the Form of Subscription, followed with the laying on of hands by the ministers who are present and by the elders of the congregation, with the use of the appropriate liturgical form.

This final step consists of two rites: ordination and “laying on of hands.” L. Berkhof’s brief summary of ordination is that it is “a public acknowledgment and confirmation of the candidate’s calling to this office.” (Systematic Theology, 588) Notice that in the ordination, the church does not “make” the ministerial candidate a minister, but rather the church, under its divine authority from Christ, merely recognizes and publicly confirms that Christ has already called and given gifts to the candidate.

These gifts given to the minister enable him in “continuing in prayer and in the ministry of the Word, administering the sacraments, catechizing the youth, and assisting the elders in the shepherding and discipline of the congregation” (Article 2 of the Church Order). The Reformed principle of the “priesthood of all believers” does not mean that lay people can perform these tasks, while the pastor attends to his administrative duties in the church much like the corporate CEO. In ordination, the minister is set apart from the congregation in a “special priesthood” to preach, teach, lead in worship, administer the sacraments of the Holy Communion and water baptism, and shepherd the flock. In the same way that a person does not let a plumber do his income tax returns, the church must not ask a person without training and authority to perform the tasks that a minister is specially trained and gifted to do.

What about the laying on of hands – is there Scriptural warrant for this practice? In the Old Testament, laying on of hands has various meanings and purposes: (1) to make a sacrifice offering acceptable to God (Lev 8:18); (2) to transfer one’s sin to an animal sacrifice (Lev 16:20-22); (3) an act of blessing (Gen 48:13-14); and (4) to transfer authority to another (Num 27:18-23; Deut 34:9). The last one, where Moses commissioned Joshua and transferred some of his authority to him by the laying on of hands, has at least some connection to the idea of ordination to an office.

In the New Testament, laying on of hands is mentioned as (1) accompanying healing of the sick (Mark 5:23; 6:5; Luke 4:40; Acts 9:12-17; 28:8); (2) an act of blessing (Mark 10:16); (3) resulting in the receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-19; 19:6); and (4) an act of commissioning and sending (Acts 6:1-6; 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). Thus, even if Scriptural warrant is not ample, it is clear that there was laying on of hands by God’s authorized servants on those who were called and sent to proclaim God’s Word, and that there was spiritual gifting that accompanied this rite.

Ordination Service
Our Church Order also mentions “appropriate instructions, admonitions, prayers and subscription to the Three Forms of Unity… with the use of the appropriate liturgical form” as parts of the ordination service. Below is a good sample of an ordination service that has all of the above-mentioned elements:

Call to Worship Psalm 100:1-5
God’s Greeting Jude 1-2
Hymn of Praise I Love to Tell the Story
Ordination of a Minister of the Word Ordination Form
Ordination of a Foreign Missionary Ordination Form
Charge to the Minister (ministers and elders are invited to participate in the laying on of hands)
Charge to the Congregation
Prayer
Hymn of Response God of the Prophets
Song of Preparation Far and Near the Fields Are Teeming
Scripture Reading
Preaching of the Word
Prayer
Congregational Response We Have Heard the Joyful Sound
Benediction
Doxology

If you want to know what the “liturgical form” is, you can read it here.

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