What is Ordination to the Ministry?
The Christian Repository, 1889
HOW are the ministers of Christ to be introduced into their sacred work?
In the first place, the candidate must have a strong persuasion in his own bosom, that he is called of God to preach the gospel; in the next place, the church to which he belongs must obtain good evidence of the same. No church has a right to urge a man into the ministry, contrary to his own convictions. On the other hand, no man has a right to urge himself into the ministry, contrary to the convictions of his brethren. However strong his own desires for the sacred work, he should hold himself in doubt of his divine call, unless he is sustained by the concurrent convictions of his brethren. We have frequently heard young men complain that they were anxious to commence a preparatory course of study for the ministry, but that they could not obtain the recommendation of their church. They have not scrupled to ascribe this to some unjust prejudice; and have seriously inquired whether they ought not to ask a letter of dismission, and unite with some church more likely to favor their wishes. In such cases, a young man has reason to distrust his own feelings. He ought to wait, and pray that the same God who, he trusts, has led him to desire the ministry, would also dispose his brethren to encourage him to enter the sacred work. He has no authority for leaving the church for such a reason; and we question whether any other church has a right to receive him for such a reason. A young man carries with him but a poor recommendation, when he represents himself much higher in the confidence of God, than he does in the esteem of his brethren.
But where an individual is himself convinced that God has called him to the work of the ministry and the church receives the same conviction, it is as much the duty of this church to encourage him, as it is his to enter upon the work; for this is one main design for which churches are organized—that they should search out, and send into the ministry, and sustain, those who give evidence of being divinely called for this purpose. It is of little importance how such conviction first came to take possession of the candidate's mind;—it may have originated in his own meditations, or in some season of prayer, or some brethren in the church may have first communicated to him their own convictions as to his duty; or the attention of the pastor may have been directed to him, as one whom the Lord seemed to be preparing for his work, and he may have pressed the young man to a serious consideration of the subject; this would be perfectly proper; it is one of the important duties of the pastor to seek out and bring into exercise all the gifts with which God is blessing the church. All that is necessary is, that the candidate himself, and especially the church to which he belongs, should have good reason to believe that he is called of God. Then, after he has been properly instructed, there is a divinely sanctioned mode, by which he may be appointed to his work, and officially invested with authority to discharge all the duties, of the sacred office. This is usually denominated Ordination.
What, then, is ordination, and to whom does the power of ordaining belong! The advocate of prelacy would entrust this power only to a prelatical bishop. Others, wishing to be as far removed from this system as possible, would invest the church with this power, and make ordination consist simply in the election or choice of the church. We cannot regard either of these views as correct. There is no one word which is uniformly employed in the Scriptures to express the act of ordination. Wherever the word ordain occurs in our version, as having any reference to setting one apart for the work of the ministry, it will be seen that different terms are used in the original, whose signification may be expressed in English by the simple word, appoint. Compare Mark 3:14, Acts 1:22; 14:23, 1 Timothy 2:7, Titus, 1:5. Hebrews 5:1. But neither of the words here need can be fairly rendered by the words choose or elect; and consequently, could not have been designed to indicate the election or choice of a church. In Acts 14:23, it is said, ''When they had ordained them elders in every church," etc. The verb here
used, is thought to be sufficiently explicit as to the manner in which these elders were appointed. The word, in its literal and etymological import, signifies "to stretch forth the hand:'' and is the same which is employed among the Greek republics to signify an electing or choice to office in a popular assembly, which was done by raising the hand. But usage often invests words with a secondary signification, in which their strict etymological import is neglected; and this is undoubtedly the case with the word in question. It is nowhere used in the New Testament to signify an election by popular suffrage. To say that Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in every church, by simply presiding at a church meeting, and taking the votes of the people, is to say nothing more nor less, than that Paul and Barnabas did not ordain elders at all, but that the churches themselves ordained them by their own election. But this is not the inspired testimony. It is expressly stated, that Paul and Barnabas ordained elders for the people. The same word is used in 2 Corinthians 8:19, in reference to one who was chosen of the churches to travel with Paul, for the purpose of conveying their contributions to the saints in Jerusalem. But here it is very plain, that the apostle designed to indicate the appointing power, rather than the mode by which the appointment was made; and for such a purpose as is here alluded to, undoubtedly, the churches had the appointing power. They could appoint whomsoever they pleased, to accompany Paul to Jerusalem. But this was a very different thing from setting apart men to the work of the ministry. When the act of election or choosing is designed to be indicated, there is another word, which is generally used in the New Testament. This is, eklegomai, "choose," (Acts, 1:24; 6:5.) But no one will dispute that the power of appointing their own pastors belongs to the churches. If a church finds one who has been appointed or ordered in a proper manner to the work of the ministry, they are at liberty to appoint him as their pastor; this is a matter with which the surrounding ministry has nothing to do. But if they choose one for the pastor who has not been ordained as a minister, they must first present him to those to whom the ordaining act belongs, that he may be ordained or set apart to the work of the ministry, according to the divinely sanctioned mode. Now, if inspired precedent is to be our guide, the ordaining act resides with the ministry themselves, and not with the church as a popular assembly. Hence Paul and Barnabas ordained elders for the churches; and Titus ordained elders in all cities of Crete, in accordance
with apostolic directions. Timothy was set apart to the work of the ministry by the laying on of Paul's hands, and the hands of the presbytery; and as he was authorized, by virtue of his office as a minister to ordain others to the ministry in the same way, he was exhorted "to lay hands suddenly on no man." Indeed, the principal directions in the Scriptures, relating to the qualifications of ministers and their introduction into the sacred office, are contained in epistles directed to ministers—to Titus, and especially to Timothy.
But if the ordaining act belongs to ministers, does it follow, that they are to exercise it independently of the church, and that they are at liberty to ordain whomsoever they please? Assuredly not. They are at liberty to ordain no one who has not been chosen and presented by some church. But they are not under obligation to ordain all whom the churches may choose or recommend. They themselves have a distinct responsibility, in a matter of so much importance. They are to examine the candidate for themselves, and judge of his qualifications and of his divine call; if they are not satisfied, the mere election of the church cannot constitute ordination. Such, at least, is the case where there is an existing and authorized ministry. But should a church be raised up in a region of country where there are no ministers, or in the midst of an heretical and corrupt ministry, then this church must, from the necessity of the case, ordain her own minister, and the consecrating hands of private individuals may be laid upon him, to set him apart for his sacred work.
Should any one ask for our authority for this, we reply that the same divine requirement which obliges a church to have a pastor at all, would constitute a sufficient divine authority for such a procedure. The Bible is an all-sufficient book. With this in their hands, private Christians have a divine warrant for organizing themselves into churches, and for supplying themselves with pastors and teachers. As ordination at the hands of ministers does not confer qualifications, but is only a public recognition of those which God confers, therefore, where the aid of Christ's ministers cannot be obtained, churches must content themselves with exercising their own judgment in relation to the evidences of the divine call of one whom they may wish to introduce into the ministry, and their own recognition of him as one called of God to preach the gospel, is all that is necessary to invest him with the sacred office.
But where the ministers of Christ are accessible, no church
is at liberty, as a mere matter of convenience, to dispense with their aid: to do this, would be to despise the inspired precedent, and to trample upon the authority of Christ. So, where the aid of ministers is sought by a church on such an occasion, they are not at liberty to withhold it; and where they become satisfied in relation to the divine call and qualifications of a candidate for the ministry, it then becomes their duty to admit him to a participation in their labors, and to recognize him, by a public act of theirs, as one called of God to preach the gospel. This was done in the primitive church, it seems, by prayer and the laying on of hands. It matters not whence this matter was originally derived, it is sufficient that it constitutes an inspired precedent which we are to follow.
Ordination, it should be remembered, is an appointment on the part of the ministry only in this sense, that it is a public recognition and acknowledgment of what is believed to be the appointment of God. It is, therefore, one of the most solemn and responsible acts in which a minister can possibly engage. It requires the exercise of a careful and impartial judgment; it does not supersede, or dispense with, the judgment of a church, but it presupposes their choice and election; it does not arrogate to man the authority to send forth ministers, it distinctly recognizes this as belonging exclusively to God; it is also the acknowledgment of a solemn duty on the part of the officiating ministers to second and sustain God's appointments, and carefully to protect the churches from sustaining any other.
Ordination is of great utility to the candidate. He receives the advice of men older and wiser than himself, at a most important crisis of his life; and, if sincere in his profession, he has reason to expect and confidently to believe, that the prayer offered while consecrating hands are upon his head, will be heard and answered in his behalf, and that he will receive grace and wisdom from above, to qualify him for his work. In addition to this, although it does not invest him with a character indelibilis, yet a certificate of his ordination will always be evidence, wherever he goes, that he has furnished some church, and some minister or body of ministers, reason to believe, that he was called of God to preach the gospel; and that, therefore, he is one of Christ's own ministers, introduced into his work in Christ's own way. And this is a kind of evidence that no church would be at liberty to despise, so long as he does not nullify it by some defect in his moral and religious character. Ordination to the work of the ministry is an essential pre-requisite to the
pastoral relation; yet it does not necessarily constitute a man the pastor of any particular church. This can be done by the election or choice of the church alone; and this relation exists only by the mutual consent of the church and pastor, and may be dissolved at the will of either, provided the interests of Christ's kingdom require it. But the dissolution of this relation does not deprive the pastor of the character of a minister, which was accorded lo him by his ordination. He is at liberty to enter into the same relation with any other church.
[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, October 1889, pp. 241-246; via the University of Wisconsin – Madison, digitized documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on Baptist Subjects
Baptist History Homepage