Is Ordination Outdated?

An “ordained” minister means someone is designated by a given religious body as approved for ministry: they have been examined, discernment has occurred, and they are then consecrated to perform the duties of ministry. In some groups this means the “ordained” minister can distribute the sacraments; in some it means they can be called “pastor” or “priest”; in some groups pastors, elders and deacons are “ordained.”

Do you think ordination is outdated? 

This means some gifts are recognized in special ways making such gifts “offices” in the church. The consecration occurs by the “laying on of hands,” sometimes called “cheirotonia” (Greek term). It is reasonable to recognize that only an already-consecrated person can “lay on hands” – but this implies a “first” and who was that? Jesus? And this opens up the belief in the “apostolic succession.”

Or is there another way? Yes, in fact, there is. Some think ordination occurs by the congregation, not a bishop or an already-consecrated person. In other words, the designation is for the body and not a person.

Enter Everett Ferguson’s article, “Ordination according to Acts [Acts 6:1-6],” in his book The Early Church and Today, volume1.

The way to look at this is simple: If laying on hands is the act of consecration, who lays on hands in the New Testament?

In Acts 6:1-6 differentiation of callings is the driving issue, instructions were needed (so a list is given: good reputation, full of the Spirit, full of wisdom), people in the congregation were selected, and the congregation chose. The selected were set before the apostles – so there is something “formal” at work. Either the apostles or the congregation laid on hands. Ferguson, ever the congregationalist, thinks even if the apostles laid on hands they did so representatives of the congregation. The apostles laid on hands, so I think, but it needs to be observed that they are only recognizing/consecrating/blessing whom the church has chosen.

What then about other texts with “laying on of hands”?

Ferguson thinks laying on hands goes back to Genesis 48:14, a gesture of blessing. Laying on hands is an acted prayer and marks the person out for God’s favor. Jesus laid on hands to bless children (Mark 10:13-16). Laying on hands occurs in healings (Acts 28:8), in church office appointments (1 Tim 4:14), and in imparting the Spirit (Acts 8:14-24; 19:6). (He observes this idea was common in the early church fathers; in Syriac the words used denote a blessing.)

In Acts similar events involve the congregation: Acts 1:15-26; 13:1-3; 14:23.

Ferguson concludes that ordination was public and involved the whole congregation. The act of ordination is an act of prayer and blessings. I think he minimizes the role played by the apostles and other leaders. The congregation does not lay on hands; leaders lay on hands. Blessing is surely at work, but the question arises if this is also a “passing on” of charismatic giftedness and status?

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  • I don’t have only one voice in my head while thinking about this issue.

    On the one hand I like churches where every committed member (ideally regardless of her sex) can preach after having proven their love for the Lord and fellow humans.
    This possibility for everyone to preach is extremely enriching and can foster many hearers in their spiritual journey.

    On the other hands, consecration is beautiful and avoids excesses and the chaos one sees in some free churches.

    Lovely greetings from France and Germany.
    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • Kent Anderson

    In one respect ordination also provides an essential component – accountability to the ordaining group. This may become even more importnant in the days ahead.

  • The accountability argument is definitely one that needs serious consideration in any discussion on this topic (whatever the other results of such a discussion might turn out to be).

  • Tertullian2009

    The main question IMO is who determines who goes to seminary–the individual, the congregation, or both? In my experience it has been the individual who decides to go to seminary following some Isaianic or Jermemiac “call” and only then does the congregation “get behind it..”

  • Rick

    But is seminary required?
    And cannot one go to seminary without the goal of pastoring a church?

  • dougchaplin

    Obviously using the pastoral epistles brings added complications of when and by whom they were written, and what relationship they have with Paul, but surely 2 Tim 1:6 has its own fairly clear answer to your last question: “the *gift of God* which is in you through the laying on of *my* hands”

  • Tertullian2009

    No, not required, but it is unlikely IMO that a person is capable of structuring their own learning situation to be as comprehensive as seminary is. And certainly, one doesn’t need to have the end goal of pastoring a church to attend seminary. Many a graduate student have chosen “the academy” as the best way to serve the church.

  • It would be helpful for me to see the argument FOR ordination.

  • Steven W. De Bernardi

    I think it is a local congregation issue only. “Ordination” to a particular “office”/function and accountability to those who have called out the individual for special service. If the one ordained no longer performs the function the ordination is revoked. No limit on how many times one person can be installed in a ministry position. And, in the USA there are tax considerations/perks and professional staure that also come into play.

  • Eddy Hall

    It seems to me that to answer this question thoughtfully, we would need to tease apart several strands that have become conflated in our culture.
    1. Does the New Testament guide us to continue the clergy/laity distinction that is found in the Old Testament, or is that distinction done away with in the church era? If it is, then “ordination” as it is practiced in many churches today would be outdated.
    2. Is the practice of laying on of hands to be equated with ordination of clergy? Or does it have much broader application than that? When it was used in the first century church, did it or did it not imply a clergy/laity distinction?

    I am not an academic, but my understanding is that the clergy/laity distinction did not appear in the church until the 2nd century. If that is the case, the practice of laying on of hands in the 1st century church would not have carried with the the meaning of ordination to clergy, but rather commissioning for a particular ministry role. In my congregation, for example, we lay on hands whenever a person assumes a new leadership role in the church as a ministry team leader or a house church shepherd.

  • Jeremy B.

    Yeah, but is that descriptive of that situation or prescriptive of how churches were founded? I think that’s a description of a particular case as Paul is greeting someone he personally sent out. There’s no indication that this was always the case.