Ordination: Housekeeping

I’ve faithfully read your comments, and John’s post, and here are my rejoinders-by-bullet-point:

Ontological Shibboleth: I’ve been accused of creating a straw man in suggesting that denominational ordination tends to grant ontological superiority to those in the clergy caste. I agree that few, if any, denominations believe this to be true. I’m saying that most act like this is true. Even the most liberal progressive trinitarian denomination, begun by congregationalists (!), the United Church of Christ says in their book of doctrine that only ordained clergy may administer communion. While I understand that the point of that is to “protect” the Lord’s Supper, A) it doesn’t, and B) the LS doesn’t need protecting. More on that soon, methinks.

Emergent Superiority:
Here’s a common meme in the comments: “You’re always harping on us denominationalists and saying that Emergent is the greatest version of church ever. Well, emergent has problems, too.” My writings have been, for the most part, descriptive of the emergent movement. I’ve often professed my affinity for emergent versions of church, I have also pointed out many times that I don’t know if it can/will/should last. I think emergent is part of a major ecclesial reformation that is just beginning.

Everyone Should Quit: John wrote, “Tony Jones has made it his mission to convince his readers who are in
denominations to abandon the ordination processes which he considers
worthless.” Actually, I’ve not encouraged everyone to quit, only Adam. And I’m quite sure that Adam will not quit, because we’ve had a public and private (and fun) back-and-forth about this for years. Nor did I say that ordination is “worthless.” I said that it’s often abusive, and the many comments and emails that concur with that sentiment prove my point. But I’m not advocating that everyone should quit.

Too Mean: To the charge that I’m just being mean-spirited, let me say this. I’m sorry. I’m not intending to be mean. I realize that many of you are personally offended (indicted?) by my criticism of a system in which you have been recognized and affirmed. But maybe, just maybe, your loyalty to the system is blinding you to the abuses in your system and thus migitating your ability to reform it. I am a citizen of the U.S., which I consider to be the noblest form of government yet conceived. But when I travel abroad and hear others criticize my homeland for imperialism or torture or the like, I try to take these criticisms in stride and give them the hearing they deserve.

No Solutions: To the charge that I just rail on denominational ordination and offer no solution (other than an online petition), here are some reforms:

  1. Simplify the ordination process: Prune the layers and layers of bureaucratic hoop-jumping that so many commenters have experienced.
  2. Open-source the process: Take it out of the hands of committees and allow everyone who’s known and loved and ministered with a candidate, regardless of their current denominational affiliation, have a say in the candidate’s process.
  3. Provide mentors: Assuming that these processes will not be reformed forthwith, provide every candidate with a wise and politically savvy mentor who will shepherd the ordinand through the process, and will attempt to guard the ordinand’s soul.
  4. Dethrone ordination: Being that so much in our world today is open source and participatory, open the traditionally clergified sacerdotal functions to all people. Let’s all prove Weber’s routinization of the charisma thesis wrong.
  5. Abolish titles: Don’t use appellations “Reverend” and “Pastor” and “Father” anymore. They differentiate; they do not unify.
  6. Rely on seminaries: I often hear seminary professors bemoan the fact that they’ve spent three, four, or five years in close proximity to a student but, other than giving a grade for a course, they’re not consulted on the candidate’s fitness for ministry. The fact is, seminary personnel often know candidates far better that a presbytery/synod/diocese committee 1,000 miles away that meets the candidate once-a-year.
  7. Vet the Ordainers: Put those who run the ordination process through an even more thorough hazing screening process than you do the candidates.

I Must Be Wounded: Some have figured that my diatribe against denominational ordination systems results from a history of rejection by that system. Nope. That’s not my story. I’ve just looked at the system and seen what I think many in the system are unable to see: that it’s outlived its usefuleness and needs to be dramatically reformed before it becomes completely obsolete.

My Petition Is Ridiculous: Yes, of course it is. It’s a fun way for a lot of us to show our support of Adam when the system in which he is involved hasn’t show him much support. But it’s also my way of pointing out (with a wink) that the Internet will inevitably change the way that denominations function.

That’s it for now.  As always, thanks for reading, and I look forward to reading your many thoughtful comments.

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  • Chris

    Well, water has often been misused (water boarding, for example), but I wouldn’t suggest we stop using it … 😉 Or, to use another watery image, I think there is a baby and bathwater issue here.
    If you get rid of ordination, do you get rid of power dynamics in the church? No. I imagine that even if you were to get rid of ordination there would still exist in communities of faith those individuals or groups of people who assume roles of leadership and authority, and who would misuse such authority.
    I agree that some reform both of the ordination process (we call it Candidacy in the ELCA) and the way that ordained ministry is practiced is necessary … But abandoning it? No. The process of accountability and leadership formation in community for ministry is very important and valuable, and – when done well – it serves the proclamation of the Gospel.

  • Tony,
    First, thanks for the clarifications.
    A few more may be in order.
    1) I did not accuse you of creating the ontological shibboleth. I rather noted that you were continuing that meme that perpetuates distrust of non-Protestants and creates confusion for ourselves as we try to think about how ordination and the action of the Holy Spirit may be connected.
    If we could finally get it that pneumatological action is NOT ontological change, and that what the Spirit does here is give gifts for a defined/limited way of life within Christian communities, it might be much clearer to all that through ordination the Spirit does bestow particular authority within the very circumscribed limits of the office to which one is ordained. The Spirit bestowing particular gifts and authority to those ordained as deacon or presbyter or bishop doesn’t give any of these offices total control over the whole church, and it doesn’t make them better than others. But it does establish that these persons do have an authoritative voice– expected to be matched by their way of life– in the limited realms they are given to lead.
    The problem isn’t ordination, then. It’s human greed. It’s trying to “operate beyond one’s pay grade” for some of the ordained, and it’s allowing that to go unchecked by some of those not ordained, that creates and then sustains the sense of “clergy are superior to all others.”
    2) Open Source– In open source software development, it is not the case that everyone’s idea is received as being as good as anyone else’s, or that anyone can go “make their own” and call it good. What makes open source software work isn’t democracy. It’s vetting. The vetting happens at three levels. Core developers develop and continue to vet the core (kernel), and they then vet whatever software developers (the second group) present to make sure it is compatible with the core. If the core developers say it is, then the developers can release what they’ve written to the third group– the world– for testing, debugging, and feedback. Then the developers respond to that, recheck with the core developers, apply any additional patches needed to keep compatibility with the core and then repost for more testing to the world. And so on.
    In short, there are experts who are expert at different things. Core developers care only about improving the core and compatibility with the core. Developers care about software that works. The world wants software that meets their needs. When each of these groups acts on its authority in its realm, the whole thing works smoothly. If a user or developer tries to mess with the core, that creates a “forked project” and you end up with a splitoff that can hurt everyone. Likewise if core developers try to write the software, and not just focus on the core, they overstep their limits and damage the developers, the users, and the whole community. In healthy open source software projects, there is fairly immediate pushback when any group either underplays its role or oversteps its authority.
    So I think open source, based on how open source software projects actually work, is a pretty good way to think about church and ordained ministries. The ordained ministries function as core developers. That doesn’t mean they control everything. It means they are entrusted to be in deepest touch with the heart of Christian teaching and practice and to be able to offer words and examples of correction and blessing for the those who seek to live that out in all the missional settings in which they find themselves. Maturing disciples are thus developers– in Ubuntu “masters of the universe” (hardly a diminutive term!). They are thinking, praying, living, checking in and then trying out what they learn about how to live out and join God’s mission– both from the clergy and from the people with whom they interact, inside and outside the church.
    That’s why we’d continue, even in an open source model, to give sacerdotal authority to ordained presbyters and bishops– because they are known, vetted and trusted to be working on those core issues among us as a Christian community. And when we worship as Christians, enacting our identity as Christ’s body ritually, whom else would we really want to lead (not control, not monopolize, but speak and lead) us there?

  • Alan K

    Thanks for providing suggestions as to improving the process. A few thoughts:
    You suggest the simplifying of the process. The process in many denominations difficult for the sake of the testing of the call. There is a wisdom that is gained through the process. That said, I am sympathetic to what you have said, knowing that denominations (like all bureaucracies) invariably end up having processes for the sake of institutional survival. God has no obligation to make sure our walls stand up.
    Regarding open-sourcing the process, I think most denominations already do this. In the PCUSA, the process begins with the individual, who then has conversation with the local church session. From the local church the process moves to a presbytery committee, the CPM. These committees throughout the denomination are largely made up of people who have been through the process themselves and therefore have a wisdom that is not present in the local congregation. This wisdom is key in determining the validity of call to “ordained” ministry and fitness for the exercise of office.
    The providing of mentors is critical to the whole process. Mentors realize that the process is one that involves mess-up human beings from beginning to end and can advocate as well as call to account the process when it is downright sinful.
    When you say we need to dethrone ordination because the world has changed, you need to ask yourself, “Am I thinking like a liberal?” Hopefully ordination is based in theology, not culture.
    Regarding titles, I personally can’t stand when I am referred to as “reverend” or “the preacher”. That said, I would be wrong to suggest that those titles in no way provide me a space for trust and ministry within a congregation. Good or bad, God uses them.
    Relying on the seminaries is a great suggestion. A good and humble committee will do this.
    I’m all for the vetting of ordainers. The question is: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who guards the guards? Eventually, there has to be a committee or bishop or college of bishops that has authority to say yes or no, right or wrong, true or false, orthodox or heretical.

  • Erik Ullestad

    Good, thought-provoking reflections on what has been a very enlightening few days in the blogosphere. Thanks for your ministry…

  • John D’Elia

    Thanks for this summary to the conversation—I appreciate (in a way that probably wasn’t always evident in the exchange) your wisdom on this. My pushback was focused on three parts of your argument: the rejection of the idea that the processes you dislike might be meaningful to another person, the overall tone of your comments, and the explicit and implicit call to abandon ships.
    That said, and within some unsurprising boundaries, I agree with your proposals for reforming ordination processes within denominations (I’ll pause while everyone gets their breath).
    Clearly the processes need to be simplified, as in fact they have over the last 20 years or so. On the West Coast my youth leaders from Fuller had to uproot and do a year at a PCUSA seminary in order to complete their ordination. That’s no longer the case (mostly because so many PCUSA ministers were coming from Fuller).
    Open-Sourcing is a buzz-term that may not exist next year or next week, but I appreciate the idea of knowledgeable voices participating in the evaluation of candidates. As long as they respect—whether they’re a part of it or not—the tradition the candidate has chosen to work within.
    Mentors are a part of the PCUSA process now, but rarely function in the way they should. Mine were a disaster to an almost comic extent—we regularly laughed about it being called the ‘care process.’ I agree on both the need and the value of having someone steer a candidate through the waters.
    On de-throning, I don’t really think I’ve ever noticed any form of throne beneath me in my role as a pastor. While it’s true that some things are ‘open-source and participatory,’ most of the real world is not. I believe that most people remain hard-wired (not culturally conditioned or duped) to need someone who functions as their priest. Oddly enough, this is far more true outside the organized church than in it. I hope your ears and heart are tuned to that need, too.
    The title issue is sort of pointless to me. I have a role in my church that needs a name—I’m not married to the idea of ‘Rev.’ or ‘Pastor’, but I’m practical enough to know that I ought to be called something. Titles are not the problem—it’s often the people who hold them that are.
    I like the idea of consulting the seminaries. While they might not always understand what a candidate needs to function well within an agreed upon set of organizing principles, they can be enormously helpful in assessing gifts and skills for ministry.
    Vetting and training for gatekeepers is a brilliant suggestion and one that is long, long overdue. As with medical doctors, merely surviving the candidacy process oneself is no guarantee of being able to adequately shepherd someone else. On the other hand, and others may or may not have had the same experience, in the PCUSA it’s rarely the ordained people who make ordination difficult. More often it is the laypeople who have unrealistic expectations, contradictory evaluative measures, and political axes to grind. Training all of them (and removing those who fail to demonstrate excellence at the task) would help the process enormously.
    Thanks again, Tony, for your ministry and for engaging this topic.

  • Your Name

    My understanding is that Westboro is primarily comprised of the close friends and family members of Fred Phelps, which means that it will not be long before the group begins to die out. This is a man who led his church to picket Bob Jones University for turning “liberal” and really is not worth the effort.
    The only people who need to pay attention to Westboro are Christians, who should be utterly embarrassed and humiliated at what this man does in the name of Christ. We simply need to let the public know that this group does not represent the true nature of Christ in any way.

  • Hmmm…begrudgingly, I have to say I agree with you on this post. Damn it.

  • Your Name

    Admittedly, I have not kept up on most of the drama around this particular issue. I do have some thoughts based on what I’ve seen.
    I’ve passed through the ordination process myself. Tony is onto something. First, it can be downright abusive. I had issues in seminary watching people leave their careers, uproot their families, and go into debt becuase they felt a call to the ministry. Thus they entered the inqiry process. When people are ejected from the process, it usually happens at the end. So what happens to that family now? Oh well, I guess that one just didn’t make it. God’s will revealed through “the system” (or some other self-gratifying platitude) *washes off hands*
    Second, I’m sure that at one time the system was something that should have been taken seriously, but in today’s day and age, it really only turns the process of discernment into a joke. Tony has already pointed out that the people making the decision only see the inquirer/candidate once a year. Those who actually know the person and see their potential aren’t really involved in the process.
    I’ll have to leave it at that, because I need to go to work. But I want to say that indeed we are dealing with a baby-bathwater issue here. However, if what we’re looking at floats and it stinks, maybe it’s not the baby.

  • xiananarchist

    Oh, and the above comment is by me. The captcha erased my name.

  • Excellent Tony.
    “Your Name”: and the “members” of Westboro are family member and friends of Phelps – in an “open source” system, such heinous violations of our religion are rejected wholesale except by those abused by their leaders. We ought to speak against such people and attempt to bring healing to those he abuses but people can and will follow such “leaders”. It happens with cult leaders, gurus, and random people on the street. Institutional ordination does not solve that problem.
    … I repeat…. denominational ordination DOES NOT stop abuses. In fact, in my experience, denominations tend to circle the wagons when accusations come against their pastors. Look at the abuse that happened (happens) in the Roman Catholic Church – priests being part of one of the most entrenched and rigid religious institutions did not prevent those abuses.
    That argument just doesn’t hold water.

  • Chad

    Tony, thank you for clarifying your understanding of this ordeal and for offering some constructive ways forward. I think all of those suggestions are worth taking seriously (some denominations already do, as a matter of fact), yet they do not require that we call denominations in and of themselves, “sinful” or abolish them altogether. Perfect they are not. But sinful?
    I still think you are making a straw-man argument for the most part, with or without ontological shibboleth. I think you are highlighting the worst-case scenarios or extremes that denominations are sometimes susceptible while ignoring their many graces. I am sure you would find it ungracious of me to point out all the evils of congregationalists or so-called non-denominationalists and declare them “sinful” because in doing so I would be focusing on the few bad apples that do not define the whole. As such, I would never call your method “sinful” even while naming its many flaws. I’d prefer to see it as an honest attempt by humans to love and honor God with all their heart, soul, body and minds to the best of their ability. Perfect, of course not. But sinful?
    I’m on track for ordination in the UMC. I have a mentor. The board that nurtures me sees me far more than just once a year but at every district pastor’s meeting. Since I am also serving as a student pastor, my Divinity professors as well as the pastor-parish committee of my church fill out annual reports to the district that celebrate my gifts and abilities while encouraging me in areas they see I can grow. I still get cards from ordaining boards that I am not longer associated with that tell me they are praying for me and watching my progress. My experience, and that of many of my friends and colleagues, has been nothing but full of grace and peace. I thank God for those who see it as their calling to pray for, nurture and mentor men and women called of God to be a pastor. Perhaps you could join me in celebrating the myriad of ways God is at work in our less-than-perfect systems, both yours and mine.

  • Thanks for clarifying your thoughts on this subject, Tony. I’ve shared your previous posts with a few friends, and their responses seem to divide along the fault line of denominational ordination: those with chips on the table defend the system, and those lacking the laurel (yet involved in the sacerdotal functions of the church) generally agree with your premise of reform and open-source ordination. I think that’s just natural, and we all defend the respective paradigms we’ve bought into at varying degrees.
    Personally, I’m a minister with the Assemblies of God, which admittedly has a much lower threshold for ordination. This is probably due to a combination of revivalist, turn-of-the-20th-century roots (people were ordained quickly so they could go into the mission field and cultivate the final harvest before Armageddon) and an ethos that favors “qualifying the called,” as opposed to recognizing the highly-qualified. My hunch is that this will effectively change over the course of the next 50-100 years, as the fellowship’s education scales tip in favor of a majority M.Div and D.Min pastors, creating a new precedent for future ministers entering the ordination process.
    I hope the AG is influenced both by the natural tendency toward refinement and competition, which will (hopefully) produce quality clergy work and avoid abuses akin to mail-order ordination, AND the critical deconstruction offered by Emergent, which will keep us honest to an open-source ethic and avoid abuses akin to the formation of a clerical caste system.

  • Dethrone the Bishop and you’ve effectively dethroned Christ.
    The invention of the printing press did not stop the need to preach to the illiterate, in fact, it strengthened it. Likewise the invention of the internet, much as an autistic I like this form of communication, does not negate the need for liturgy and a hierarchy.
    In many ways, we’ve gone too far with this American experiment: we’ve replaced a government of kings under the Church and the overreaching Kingship of Christ, with a government of sycophants under the bankers. I don’t think anybody who lost their retirement in the last 9 months would argue that was a change for the worse. Now you would have us believe that we need to abandon a male priesthood that has withstood from the time of Malchezedek for what exactly? Disorganized heretical preachers who avoid their favorite sins?
    Excuse me if I want to avoid more destructive experiments that damage the species as a whole for the comfort of the minority.

  • Nathan

    I would love to see an honest appraisal of the abuses that inhere in the “congregational”/”free church” traditions…I was raised in it and I went running and screaming from unqualified, untested “mob rule” that was really driven by manipulative personalities in no real official role of leadership.
    This stuff cuts both ways.
    I never hear people on the critical side owning up to the facts that “your way” is just as sinful and creates a chaos that can cripple churches and hurt people just as profoundly, if not worse.
    You need to own that if you want to start raising a harsh critique…it’s helps your credibility.
    My nickel…
    Love to all.

  • Ircel Harrison

    Tony, thanks for your observations. I agree with you on key points:
    1. Ordination does not create a minister; it is the confirmation of a faith community that the candidate exhibits evidence of a calling in her/his life.
    2. “Authority” has nothing to do with it. The minister is set aside for a particular task among believers. If he or she thinks this gives any special “authority,” they are in for a big suprise.
    3. Even in hierarchies, ordination needs to be in the hands of those who know the candidate.

  • Ted Seeber

    Nathan, even in a strong heirarchial church, these things can still happen. I’ve watched, in my 38 years of life, the Roman Catholic Preisthood go from respected leadership to prejudged pedophile (quite literally- one of my good friends was, I believe, wrongly accused- and judged guilty merely for wearing a Roman collar in the courtroom!)
    As the priesthood shrank due to the sins of the few, we saw the flower children and Baby Boomer hippy women take over many of the former roles of the pastor. In some parishes, this is to the point that the only male staff member left is the priest, in at least two parishes I know of they don’t even have that (a circuit riding priest does Sunday Mass, no permanent pastor at all). And it has a tendency to show- due to a minor mistake on my background check form, despite already being registered with the state for my wife’s daycare, I’m forbidden from doing any work with children at church or volunteer in my son’s Sunday School class (hoping to get that cleared up soon, but it shows the level of paranoia an anti-male sentiment brings).

  • Mr. T!

    Sorry… but this resistance to a cry for ordination reform makes me imagine discussing patching the hole in the Titanic from the vantage point of a lifeboat.
    I Googled “denominational ordination process reform” and found these other two voices in the blogosphere:
    “My last blog post looked at the viability of the United Methodist Church’s future as a denomination. That future is by no means certain. With declining numbers in the American church, an anemic sense of evangelism and mission, a lack of commitment to Wesleyan doctrine, and a movement afoot to split the church into regions based on national and regional boundaries, the church is at a crossroads. In addition to that, the stiflingly bureaucratic forms of church government we have adopted are seriously inhibiting our attempts to carry out our primary mission, which is to proclaim and practice the gospel so that we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
    and another:
    “Let there be no doubt, I still believe that I am entangled in a process that is profoundly broken. I believe that if we are honest, we all believe that it’s broken: students, candidates, members of the Board of Ordained Ministry, Bishops, and the ordained. All of us would probably like to tear the whole thing apart and rebuild it in our own image (sound Biblically familiar?) But with that in mind, let me offer up just a few suggestions for reform.
    Let’s work together to make the ordination process less complicated than the US Tax Code. The chief complaint I’ve heard from members of the BOM is that the process is so complicated that they can’t understand all of it. If they were to take the time to read and learn the whole binder full of material they would be neglecting other essential aspects of their own ministries in the churches they serve. Clear, concise objectives in plain language would benefit us all.
    By the time I’m ordained I will have been in the process for seven years – enough time to have gone back to medical school, completed residency, and start a private practice. Or enough time to have gone back to law school, passed the bar, and been in practice for a couple of years. Too many people start the process at an age when they could be considered young clergy, but are too old to be considered such at ordination.”
    Steer the boat well, fix the boat, or let it sink?

  • Your Name

    There are a host of issues that Tony’s suggestions open up. A few are as follows:
    –Would the model of Shepherd/Flock be abandoned as outmoded, or would it somehow continue on an egalitarian, volunteer, perhaps rotating basis among the priesthood of believers? How would the pastoral duties within a congregation be decided?
    –Who would adjudicate abuses of leadership among the Priesthood of All Believers (e.g., breaking of confidences, sexual harrassment, intentional or negligent financial mismanagement, etc.)? How would they arrive at their standards of behavior, and how would these standards be enforced, if indeed there would be such standards at all?
    –Would anyone be paid, and if not, what would be the means of enforcing accountability to get the work of the congregation done, particularly the mundane day-to-day work that might fall under both the pastor’s and administrative assistant’s purview?
    –Would psychological testing, which attempts to select-out those with serious problems before they enter the ordination process, be retained, revised, or abolished? They entail, if serious problems do exist, the means for helping a prospective candidate to address them, rather than being solely a trap door.
    –Would there be any opportunities for professional advancement, such as continuing education, travel, or other experiences that specifically encourage people to grow in their experience of pastoring? Who would be chosen for these opportunities, and on what basis?
    –If only people who have known a candidate for an amount of time are going to be them that decide a candidate’s fitness for ordination, can those people be trusted to be fully open about a candidate’s shortcomings, or have they perhaps gotten used to behaviors that should be addressed and perhaps modified, e.g., addiction problems, unsavory comments in church settings, a penchant for not holding confidences, etc. We all have our shady behavior, but who can we count on calling it?
    Although denominational bodies are not perfect in addressing them, one comfort that I do take in the denominational process is that they are at least well-mapped out and thought through, if not always executed gracefully and fairly.

  • Tony, why the disconnect between your argument and your solutions? You present a very basic and cogent argument against ordination, and then propose a tepid reform of it. You miss your own point! Are you so much a product of the church system that rebel in horror at what you present?
    See my comment on your earlier post for an alternative.

  • It is important to remember is that all human beings are social animals. All social animals build social worlds with structures. Living without some kind of implicit or explicit organizational structure is the same as saying that one is not a normal human. Those who negotiate with the sinful are not complicit with sin, even Jesus had dinner with sinners and washed their feet. For if we are all sinners, we are all complicit since we are all social animals and must function together as a people. Running from one sinful human organization will lead you into the bosom of another, even if that organization of people intentionally eschews as organizational identity. The polity in the end does matter. What matters is that those in that polity strive to make their form follow their function which is to serve the Kingdom of God which is revealed through all of those who proclaim Christ as Lord.

  • As far as UMs go, Tony, you are correct that we don’t claim an ontological difference between clergy and laity. But you are also correct that many or our practices seem predicated on such a view. One perverse side effect is keeping “laity” out of ministry. Another perverse side effect is the assumption that all “clergy” are alike, functionally interchangeable.
    An idea that occurs to me is that a group will tend to argue more strongly for control of who become clergy in direct proportion to how much STUFF they think they have to defend.

  • Eric Pone

    I am excited by your comments. I don’t think that there will be a big change though until an implosion occurs within a major communion. It could be the coming wave of retirements and young people shunning seminary for nondenominational settings. It could be the graying of the denominations period. Whatever it is there is a day of reckoning coming where a revisiting of this process will have to occur. It is not that Ordination isn’t important. It is. However, it has been used to build a leadership hedge.
    But lets be clear. The nondenominational approach to leadership is just as flawed. The dictatorial leadership that many major ministries have is shameful at best, illegal at worst. It is as well an unsustainable system.
    So what to do? There are several generations now present that shun hierarchal systems and do everything in their power to not be a part of them. You can’t make 20 and 30 somethings play ball. So at some point this will change simply by the fact that the current models are simply unsustainable for much longer with young people infusing the church again. Personally, I think denominations need to create new congregations with a new model for church that is more communally based and let them develop separately from more ‘traditional’ churches. Let the conservatives and progressives wring their hands and just get on with doing the mission out there with less focus on what is going on in the structure itself.

  • Nathan

    I totally agree with you. That’s why I wrote that it “cuts both ways”…
    It’s just that I only hear this kind of anti-ordination stridency from folks from congregationalist settings and the reality is that if you’re ire is raised by “abusive” “sinful” systems the “free church” ecclesiology is rife with such abuses and sinfulness…
    We may have an inherent mistrust of authority going on–assuming pride, control issues, etc. on the part of the one in the position.
    My point is that such issues are just as prevalent and crazy in a congregational setting.
    It would be nice for “free churchers” to admit that simple, undeniable fact.
    Personally, I’d rather deal with the occasional authoritarian jerk in a church leadership position. If push comes to shove, I can leave.
    In a congregational system you have the rancor and chaos and abuse of the majority…who, many times, out of an assumed fear of control by the “pastor”, abuse their leaders.
    My point is that Tony and those who agree with him don’t have the moral highground when it comes to their ecclesiology.
    Peace and love to all…

  • Sherry M

    I do not agree at all with the comment of “Rely on seminaries”. So you are saying the only folks that should be in the ministry are folks who can afford to go to seminary? I’ve know many many folks who have served the Lord and their church members that never spent a day in college. Should we rely on the calling not the college?

  • Thank you. God Bless you!

  • Your Name


  • Ok; I’m coming to this a little late, but feel compelled to comment.
    Coming originally from a Plymouth Brethren perspective (but having belonged to Baptist and Anglican communities in my time), I’ve always found the notion of ordination a little, well, odd. It seems evident that the churches of the New Testament had quite a variety of organizational structures, and I’d tend to assume that we’d find a similar variety today.
    Having a local fellowship commission someone with the laying on of hands for ministry in their own locality – or for mission elsewhere – seems both biblically and pastorally appropriate. Saying that doing this makes that person into some kind of special person, licenced forever to do things that other ordinary christians are not, just doesn’t seem to add up. Why would you do that? Well, of course, the main reason is often in order to allow for supra-local recognition of that person’s ministry, by a group of churches – large or small. But I see no particular reason why it has to be that way. If someone comes among us who has a gift of teaching, then let that person teach, by all means, but do so on the basis of the gift, not the laying on of hands of some other group of elders.
    If we recognise someone’s gift in administration, or hospitality, or even healing, do we ordain them to that role across a whole group of churches?
    The use of titles is the oddest thing of all, perhaps. Which part of
    “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Messiah.”
    wasn’t clear? Sure, I’ll respect the one who teaches; I’ll submit to those whom the congregation, under the Holy Spirit’s authority, have tasked with leadership; but affording them magesterial titles seems quite counter-productive.

  • “LS doesn’t need protecting. More on that soon, methinks.”
    I’ve been hoping for this, bro. Eucharist. Bring it on.