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March 08, 2013

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So what exactly is "ordination"? Is is specifically the laying on of hands? Or is it the appointment? Or is it the consecration prayer? Or...?

All of the article's aforementioned examples represent a setting apart for leadership. None of them use the word "ordination". So how exactly did we decide that "laying on of hands"="ordination"? Or is the ordination the conferring of the credentials that takes place during the service? Which piece of what we do "is" the ordination part?

And does our specific attachment of that word to that particular action therefore invalidate the other methods described in the Bible?

Thanks for sharing this overview and your reflections Dr. Fortin.

To me it shows biblically that there are other ways for us as a Christian church - besides the laying on of hands in an ordination service - to equally affirm the calling of deacons, elders, and pastors.

While there is no indication that these other ways would be any less definitive in God's eyes, the reality that they would be in ours validates the final statement in your post.

This may be semantics, but if a biblical non-sacramental view is an induction and prayer of blessing (rather than their reception of authority through the ceremony), is it possible we might be shifting the locus of authority from the ceremony to the voting boards thus sacramentalizing the committees?

Of course this is not being suggested and it depends upon how one defines 'authority' when attaching the term to the work of the relevant boards. It just seems that if the role of the board is appointing the leader to a particular function rather than granting the leader authority that it might more accurately capture the essence of what you are suggesting?

If the conversation is about where the authority resides, then in effect some may unknowingly embrace a sacramental committee instead of a sacramental ceremony.

Good article, however, by using the word ministry, it seen to cover many facets of gospel work/witness. Is the Ordination subject about one's preparedness for ministry or is it a subject of one's preparedness for the pastoral/priestly role? If it is just about ministry, then a resounding NO, one does not need to be ordained to do ministry. However, if it is about the pastoral/priestly role/ministry, then that is another discussion all together. I think Pastoral Ministry should be the focus of the discussion and not just ministry as is used in the article. And if Pastoral Ministry is the focus, then the answer could be different.

Lorena, you are accurate in asking these questions. Christian tradition has come to equate ordination with the service of prayer and laying on of hands. I don't think it was that way in the early years of the Christian church. The laying on of hands service was simpler and more a commissioning to a ministry, a prayer of blessing asking God to be with the person. In Acts 13:1-3, we are told that Barnabas and Paul were set apart by the church at Antioch for their missionary ministry. The setting apart was done by prayer and laying on of hands. Later, at the end of their missionary journey. when they returned to Antioch, Luke says that Antioch was "where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled" (Acts 14:26). I think Luke gives us the interpretation of what the laying on of hands meant in Acts 13:3. It was a way to commend the apostles to the grace of God for a particular ministry. I think this is an interesting insight we may have forgotten.

Leon, I use the words ministry and service interchangeably in this article. I think we are creating confusion by differentiating ministry and service, and pastoral ministry from other kinds of ministry or service. Jesus did not seem to make a hard distinction between these words when he referred to the kind of ministry or service his disciples were to do. The Greek word used in Matthew 20:26 translated servant or minister (depending on the translation) is diakonos, which is also translated deacon elsewhere. All church members who do some ministry in the church are servants and ministers. Some are appointed by the church to do a specific work of pastoral ministry to supervise the church. But the point is that in the OT and NT different people had different kinds of ministry and not all of them were ordained yet they were still genuine servants of the gospel.

Some questions that your research raised in my mind:

To what extent are the biblical rituals of induction to leadership culturally conditioned, and to what extent are they broadly applicable? Clearly, we would not ask North American pastors to ride a colt as a symbol of their induction.

Is there a taxonomy of biblical leadership induction rituals? For example, in the OT anointing seems to have been reserved for priests and kings. Jesus fulfills the role of priest and king, having received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I propose that the NT church did not anoint their leaders because (1) that would have made the leaders priests and kings, when all believers where considered a royal priesthood and (2) the ritual of anointing was spiritualized on the basis of Jesus anointing by the Holy Spirit. Is there anything else to be learned along these lines?

1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6 indicate that spiritual gifts can be bestowed on church leaders through the laying on of hands. Is this sacramentalism? How can we incorporate these verses into our theology of ordination? For me personally, this was the benefit that I most desired out of my ordination service, and the main reason why I went through with it.

2 Tim 5:17 says that effective elders should be given double honor. Recognizing the diakoinia is the basis of all church leadership, how can we incorporate higher levels of respect in our church structures for those deserving of them. I worry that many of us who come from Western cultures have a cultural blind spot to biblical honor because we value equality so highly.

Anthony and David raise good questions that need further reflexion. First, in Adventism church committees make a lot of decisions regarding who has authority but I can't say the committees take on some aura of sacramental purpose. It is the community that makes the decision to give authority to someone and to ordain that person. I think the point of cultural influence on how a church understands and values the authority given to a pastor is a valid observation. Our western biases are at play here and we need to be careful not to take away what God gives. But I think we are giving more to the rite of ordination than what is really said in Scripture. The references to Timothy's laying on of hands by Paul and the council of elders are not clear passages. Some understand Paul to refer to Timothy's baptism and the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit. The reference to the council of elders is more likely a reference to his ordination. But it doesn't say what he was ordained for, what task or function. So there is something missing and we wish for more details.

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Memory, Meaning & Faith is a blog covering Christian history in light of contemporary issues.

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