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Circular Letter
Ninth Anniversary of the Baptist Convention
State of Georgia
April, 1830

"The Scriptural Meaning and Manner of Ordination"
By Jesse Mercer

     When we last assembled, I had the pleasure of presenting you, "A Dissertation on the Pre-requisites to Ordination to the Gospel Ministry;" it was then further requested that I would prepare one, "on the meaning and manner of ordination," which now, by the grace of God I make an effort to perform. And,

     I. "The scriptural meaning of ordination" must consist in the appointment of God, involving all the gifts, graces and mental endowments requisite to, and "the scriptural manner" in those ceremonies, which the practice of the Apostles furnishes to give visibility, consideration and respect to those, who are approved as qualified of God for that high office. The meaning then must be gathered from what Christ and his Apostles said, the manner from what they did in ordaining men to preach the everlasting Gospel.

     Christ ordained twelve, whom he named Apostles; and whom, as such, he gave to be the founders of his kingdom -- "To bind up the testimony, and seal the law among his Disciples." But these, in common, with the seventy, and all after ministers of God to the end of time, were appointed and commissioned to preach the gospel to all nations. Matthew, x.1. states that Christ "called unto him his twelve disciples, and (edoken autois exausian) gave them power." -- Luke, after using the same words, throws in another (denamin) to give emphasis to their authority. Luke ix.1. By an examination of the words here used , "the meaning of ordination" will be clear. The word (edoken) used by both Evangelists and rendered gave, signifies to give freely; which Matt. x8. Shews, "Freely ye have received, freely give." -- By reference to texts where this word occurs, its application, in this case, will be clearly seen. See John iii.16. "God gave (edoken) freely gave, his only begotten son," &c. Chap. vi. 51. "And the bread which (doso) I will give freely for the life of the world." That such is the dispensation of the Gospel, the declaration of Paul will fully testify. Eph. iii.7, 8. "I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, given unto me -- Unto me is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unreachable riches of Christ." It also signifies to give in trust. As in Matt. xiv.19. "He blessed and broke and (edoke) gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude." -- And Chap. xxv. 9. "And unto one (edoke) he gave (in trust) five talents, to another two, and to another one." And Mark xii. 9. He will come and destroy the husbandman and (dosei) will give the Vineyard to others (in trust). With this agrees the following Texts: 1 Cor. ix. 16, 17. "For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel. For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me." 2 Cor. v. 18, 19. "And all things are of God; who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation." -- and "hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation;" with which compare 1 Cor. iv. 1. with 1 Tim. i. 11. and vi. 20. Mark records it thus: Chap. iii.14, 15. "And he (epoiese) ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have (exousian) power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils." Here the main object is expressed "that he might send them forth to preach." The power "to heal sickness and cast out devils" was incidental for the confirmation if their testimony. The word (epoiese) here rendered ordained, is used to express a change of character, as in Matt. iv. 19. "And he saith un to them follow me, and (epoiese) I will make (or constitute) you fishers of men." See Mark i. 17. And Luke xv. 19. "And (the last son said unto his father) (poieson) make me, as one of thy hired servants." But the official constitution for which this word is used, will be clearly seen in the following texts: John vi. 15. "When Jesus perceived that they would take him by force (poiesozin) to make (or constitute) him a King, he departed" &c. Acts ii. 36. "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God (epoiese) hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." The word (anedeicen) used by Luke x. 1. rendered appointed, signifies to shew openly, or to manifest, as in Acts i. 24. "Thou Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, (anedeixon) shew (openly or manifest) whether of these two thou hast chosen."

     But the official degree of the ministers of Christ will appear by an examination into the meaning of the word (exousian and dunamin) power and authority. These words are used to express official power, or jurisdiction. Thus Christ in reference to his life says: John x. 18. "I have (exausian) power to lay it down, and I have (exausian) power to take it up again." Matt. vii. 29. "For he taught them as one having (exousian) power and not as the Scribes." Mark i. 27. "And they were all amazed, saying, what thing is this? for with (exousian) authority commandeth he the unclean spirits and they obey him." Luke xx. 20. "And they watched him -- so they might deliver him unto the (exousia) power and authority of the Governor." Also xxiii. 7. "And as soon as he knew that he belonged to Herod's (exousias) jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod." Compare these with Matt. xxxiii. 18. And John xix. 10. And what more is necessary to show that Christ gave his ministers all the fulness [sic] of the gospel treasure, with official power to administer it? "The meaning of ordination" then is, that the individual ordained is approved as a minister of God, and sent forth, endued with power from on high, to preach the gospel and administer its ordinances, wherever he may be called, in the Providence of God.

     II. "The manner of ordination" will be found in those rites and ceremonies, used by the Apostles in setting men apart to the gospel ministry -- and these appear to be,

     1. Designation. -- To assertain whom God has called and fitted for the work is an important part in "the manner of ordination." This lies at the foundation. It is the preservative of a sound and spiritual ministry. Inattention at this point, the indulgence of fleshly wisdom and human discretion in this matter, is the inlet to corruption, impurity, division and strife in the churches of Christ. The utmost therefore, must be had to find out and forward those, and those only, in whom the evidences of a divine call are clear.

     But it may be asked, whose duty is it? It is answered, even nature teaches us, that the church has the first concern in this important duty. She is the mother. It must be her's to rear her sons in the service of God, according to their several ability. The general instructions given the Churches in scripture prove this; but the special instructions directions given in 1 Cor. 12 and 14 Chapters, and the 4 Chapter of Ephesians, show very clearly that it is the duty of the church to exercise the same care for, and give the same direction to her members, as a natural body does, that each be found in its proper place, and all acting to edification and comfort. A careful examination of the Epistles sent by Jesus Christ to the seven churches of Asia, will show the responsibility of the churches in this respect. For if some of those were commended because they could not bear them that were evil, and had tried false Apostles, and found them liars; and others were condemned, because they retained among them those, who held and propagated false doctrines, and suffered them to teach and seduce the Lord's servants: then it must be the duty of all the churches carefully to distinguish the good from the evil, and to know and maintain those only, who preach and defend their Lord's truth. But a critical notice of Acts xiv. 23. will testify that Paul and Barnabas ordained Elders in the churches, through which they traveled, at their instance, and must have been selected by them; for the word (autois) them, referring to (matheton) disciples in the preceding verse, being in the dative, shews the Elders were ordained to or for the disciples; and the phrase (kat or kata ekplesian) rendered in every church, rather shows that they were ordained in agreement with the will or desire of the church. Lexicographers agree that kata, when followed by an accusative (as it is in the text) expresses agreement, or the accordance of one thing with another. And this fact is abundantly confirmed by its use in the New Testament. Then the agreement of the intercession of the spirit with the will of God is expressed by kata theon. Rom. viii. 27. and in 1 Peter iv. 6 the accordance of holy living with the will of God is expressed by the same phrase. The agreement of the death and resurrection of Christ is expressed by kata graphas, 1 Cor. xv. 3, 4. Kata saraka (after the flesh) is used in several verses in Rom. viii to show the accordance of living in sin with the desires or will of the flesh; and so kata ekklesian, in the text, testifies the ordination of the Elders was in confirmation with the will of the church. But the work of designation stops not here. Ministers, especially Pastors, have a very responsible part in this business -- They are the watchmen on the walls -- have the care of the churches and the ministry both in their hands. Responsible office! No good reason can be plead why Paul and Barnabas were called on, in their journey at Systra, Iconium and Antoich, to ordain them Elders, unless it was their duty? But this is confirmed by the instructions to, and injunctions laid upon Timothy and Titus in this matter; and why should Paul have appointed Titus to seek out and ordain Elders in Crete, except it was a ministerial work? The cautions given by Paul to these young ministers, together with the command Christ gave the seventy, immediately on their appointment, to pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest, proves most conclusively the duty of ministers to bring forward others into the field; and to see well to it, whom they introduce into the sacred office. But,

     2. Examination. -- If the call of God, inspiring holy qualities, fitting men for the responsible office, be the governing principle in ordination, then an examination into these facts must be indispensable. If a man must desire the office -- be apt to teach and blameless, these things must be inquired into. But by whom should the examination be conducted? By the church! by no means; the church is the only proper Judge of character. But by the Presbytery, or session of Elders. These, being duly called, should proceed to inquire of the church relative to the character of the candidate both in and out of the church, and of the usefulness of his gifts; and then of him relative to soundness of his faith -- his desires of the office -- his motives leading him to take it upon him, and the objects he has in view, to be accomplished by his instrumentality; of which last the Presbytery is the best judge. The whole is go be conducted according to the requisitions of scripture. And if all (both Church and Presbytery) are unanimously and comfortably agreed (for there must be no schism in this case) that the thing is of the Lord, then let the Presbytery proceed.

     3. By prayer and fasting (the church uniting in these) with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery (or of one on the part of the rest) to set him apart to the great work of the ministry. In the use of prayer and fasting in the manner of ordination, all are agreed; but to laying on of hands objection is made -- First, because it is not always mentioned in cases of ordination, in connection with them. But the argument is just as fair against prayer and fasting, because they are not always mentioned in connection with it; and so by this mode of reasoning we should be left without any form or significant ceremony in ministerial ordinations. But would not this be a sinful negligence? But secondly, it is objected to, because it was used by the Apostles in conveying the gifts of the Holy Ghost. But, this significant jesture [sic] is not restricted in scripture, either to the Apostles, or the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The Prophets and Teachers in the Church at Antioch used it, and Timothy is allowed and cautioned about its use, and these were not Apostles. And there is no case of ordination to the gospel ministry on record where Apostles exclusively presided; or where the jesture was used to impart the gift of the Holy Ghost. In most instances those ordained were full, already, of the Holy Ghost -- so that this objection has no support from scripture. But from the scriptural account we have of this rite in ordination to church, or ministerial offices (for it is used in both;) and from the fitness of its meaning to convey the sense of the Presbytery in approving and receiving a fellow-brother into the ministry; and from its being the only outward sign, used in ordinations, recorded in the practice of the Apostles, we are decidedly of opinion it should never be wanting in "the manner of ordination" among us.

     Let it be further considered, that Paul attaches importance to laying on of hands by the classification he gives in Heb. vi. 1, 3. He terms it a doctrine, whose foundation needed not to be laid again, but to have built thereon the Gospel practice it taught "to perfection." By reference to the rites of the law, we shall find this among the institutions of God. First, to signify his appointment, and the inspiration of the spirit of Wisdom. Num. xxvii. 18. "And the Lord said unto Moses, take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thy hand upon him." Verse 20. "And thou shalt put some of thine honorupon him." -- Verse 22 and 23. "And Moses did as the Lord commanded, and took Joshua, and laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge." Compare Deut. xxxiv. 9. Secondly, this rite is used to express a transfer of any thing from one to another. Thus in Lev. i. 4. It is commanded when any one brought a sacrifice for sin, "He shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him, to make an atonement for him." And it is instituted in making atonement for all Israel, especially as expressed in the case of the scape-goat. Lev. xvi. 21, 22. "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, putting them upon the head of the goat; and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited." Thus it is plain the rite was instituted to be a sign of divine appointment and acceptance of honor, or official dignity transferred; and of qualification and fitness in him on whom hands were rightly imposed. And thus it is used in New Testament Ordinations. The word (anedeixen) used by Luke (Chap. x. 1.) to express our Lord's appointment of the seventy, says Parkhurst, signifies, "to appoint to office by some outward sign,." And that this word is used in this sense: "often by the profane writers, and in the apocryphal books." What outward sign our Lord used in consecrating the seventy we are not told; but as he commanded his Apostles to teach all things whatsoever he had commanded them; we are not at liberty to believe they did, or taught what was not laid down in the examples and instructions of their Lord. The carefulness of Paul to distinguish his own sentiments from the commands of Christ will justify this inference. It is then, quite likely, he laid his hands on them.

     The ordination of Mathias was only a transfer (we conceive) to the apostolic number, to fill the place of Judas, and not properly an ordination to the gospel ministry. The first ordination to church-office by the Apostles, is that of the seven. Acts vi. 6. What kind of office this was we pretend not to judge, but after they were selected by the multitude of the disciples, they were set before the Apostles, and "they prayed and laid their hands on them." For what? Not to give them the Holy Ghost; for they were full of it; but doubtless to approve and confirm them in their office.

     When Paul and Barnabas were, by divine order, set apart to the work of preaching the insearchable riches of Christ to a dying world, the prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch, "Fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, and sent them away." For what? They were already called to the work. It must have been to give the outward sign, and approval of the inward call thereto. -- Paul and the Elders associated with him in the ordination of Timothy, laid their hands on him, not to give him a gift, but to give him an outward sign of that gift, which was in him by the spirit of prophecy. The solemn charge given Timothy, in reference to the use of this jesture shows that Paul viewed it as the consecrating sign.

     But it is alleged, the account given us of the ordination of Elders in Acts xiv. 23. Affords us no evidence of the use of this ceremony; but it is believed, a minute construction of that text will prove the contrary. It is granted the verb Cheirotoneo is intransitive and literally signifies to extend or stretch out the hand, and is used for appointments made by sufferage, or holding up the hand as a mode of choosing. -- The word used expresses the state of being chosen, as in 2 Cor. viii. 19. Here the brother is the subject of the verb, and the churches choosing, are in the genitive. But the order of words in the text is altogether different, and must receive a different construction. The word here used (Cheirotonesantes) is an active transitive participle agreeing with Paul and Barnabas understood, and governing (Presbuterous) Elders in the accusative. Now in this case the act must pass over from the agents to the objects, and if the act of the verb is to extend the hand, then the hands of the Apostles must have extended to, or on the Elders; and this is laying on of hands. But should it be said that the participle here does not govern (Presbuterous) Elders, then some preposition must be understood to govern the accusative case, and what but (eis) unto can be that proposition to make sense in the construction of the sentence. Then it will stand thus: And they extended their hands (eis Presbuterous) unto Elders, and this would be still laying on of hands. So that a fair and literal construction of the text leaves us with a conviction that these Elders were ordained by the laying on of hands of the Apostles.

     I am, dear Brethren, yours in the bonds of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



[Minutes of the Ninth Anniversary of the Baptist Convention of Georgia, 1830, pp. 30-38. From a photocopy from Mercer University Library. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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