Is Ordination Outdated?

Is Ordination Outdated? September 9, 2013

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Do you think ordination is outdated?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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