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Problems With Traditional "Ordination"
Author: Erkel, Darryl

Problems With Traditional "Ordination"

1. Traditional and modern "ordination" concepts are unscriptural. The New Testament knows nothing of "ordaining" one man to an exalted, sacred, and priestly "office" within a church. Neither does it teach that only "ordained" clergymen possess the right to baptize, preach, conduct the Lordís Supper, lead in congregational worship, and pronounce the blessing as if the rest of the believing community is unfit to carry out these functions. And, yet, The American College Dictionary [ed. C.L. Barnhart] (New York: Random House, 1967) reflects the thinking of most Christians when it defines "ordination" as: "to invest with ministerial or sacerdotal functions; confer holy orders upon."

2. The traditional Protestant idea of "ordination" comes dangerously close to a sacerdotal and sacramental view of ordination, which dominates the Roman Catholic Church and other highly liturgical churches. "The insistence among some that only the ordained may administer baptism and conduct the Lordís Supper demonstrates the persistence of the sacramental view of ordination" (Marjorie Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View[Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1982] p.100).

3. Traditional "ordination" concepts contradict the New Testament teaching on the priesthood of all believers (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10). It confers upon one person special and priestly rights which is denied to the rest of the congregational members. Yet, according to the New Testament, the entire Christian church is a ministerial body Ė and in this sense "ordained" Ė with full authority to minister and actively participate during the church meeting (Romans 12:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11,14; 14:26; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

4. The various words translated as "ordain" in some of our English translations carry no special ecclesiastical meaning, but simply means to "appoint." Thus, the New Testament speaks of appointing or laying hands on people for a special task or function, such as serving tables (Acts 6:1-6), evangelism and missionary work (Acts 13:2-5), or eldership (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Leon Morris, one of the most respected Bible commentators of the twentieth century, writes:

Considering the role played by the ministry throughout the history of the church, references to ordination are surprisingly few in the New Testament. Indeed, the word "ordination" does not occur, and the verb "to ordain" in the technical sense does not occur either. A number of verbs are translated "ordain" in [the] Authorized Version, but these all have the meanings like "appoint" (New Bible Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. "Ordination," p.861).

Alfred Plummer, an Anglican clergyman and Bible commentator, similarly writes:

In these passages [Titus 1:5; Mark 3:14; John 15:16; 1 Timothy 2:7; Hebrews 5:1; 8:3] three different Greek words (poieo, tithemi, kathistemi) are used in the original; but not one of them has the special ecclesiastical meaning which we so frequently associate with the word "ordain"; not one of them implies, as "ordain" in such context almost of necessity implies, a rite of ordination, a special ceremonial, such as the laying on of hands. When in English we say, "He ordained twelve," . . . the mind almost inevitably thinks of ordination in the common sense of the word; and this is foisting upon the language of the New Testament a meaning which the words there used do not rightly bear . . . The Greek words used in the passages quoted might equally well be used of the appointment of a magistrate or a steward. And as we should avoid speaking of ordaining a magistrate or a steward, we ought to avoid using "ordain" to translate words which would be thoroughly in place in such a connection. The Greek words for "ordain" and "ordination," in the sense of imposition of hands in order to admit to an ecclesiastical office (cheipotheti, cheipothesia), do not occur in the New Testament at all ("The Pastoral Epistles," in The Expositorís Bible, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll [New York: Armstrong, 1903], Vol.23, pp.219-221).

5. Traditional "ordination" notions help to perpetuate the "clergy-laity" division. It helps to reinforce the idea that some Christians are called to ministry while others are not. Although adhering to traditional clericalism, John Stott sees its inherent dangers:

It is only against the background of the equality and unity of the people of God that the real scandal of clericalism may be seen. What clericalism always does, by concentrating power and privilege in the hands of the clergy, is at least to obscure and at worst to annul the essential oneness of the people of God . . . I do not hesitate to say that to interpret the Church in terms of a privileged clerical caste or hierarchical structure is to destroy the New Testament doctrine of the Church . . . In other words, in revealing the nature and work of the Church, the overwhelming preoccupation of the New Testament is not with the status of the clergy, nor with clergy-laity relations, but with the whole people of God in their relations to Him and to each other, the unique people who have been called by His grace to be His inheritance and His ambassador in the world (One People [New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, Co., 1973] pp.25-26).

Concerning our traditional "clergy-laity" conceptions, Howard Snyder has insightfully noted:

The New Testament simply does not speak in terms of two classes of Christians Ė "minister" and "laymen" Ė as we do today. According to the Bible, the people (laos, "laity") of God comprise all Christians, and all Christians through the exercise of spiritual gifts have some "work of ministry" [Ephesians 4:12]. So if we wish to be biblical, we will have to say that all Christians are laymen (Godís people) and all are ministers. The clergy-laity dichotomy is unbiblical and therefore invalid. It grew up as an accident of church history and actually marked a drift away from biblical faithfulness. A professional, distinct priesthood did exist in Old Testament days. But in the New Testament this priesthood is replaced by two truths: Jesus Christ is our great high priest, and the Church is a kingdom of priests (Hebrews 4:14; 8:1; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and complementary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of the Spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full implications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry-over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principle obstacles to the Church effectively being Godís agent of the Kingdom today because it creates the false idea that only "holy men," namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity (The Community of the King [Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977] pp.94-95).

6. Traditional "ordination," as commonly understood and practiced, attaches an undue emphasis to one man (i.e., "the pastor") at the exclusion of the rest of the believing community. The New Testament not only teaches that the local church is to be pastored by a plurality of godly men (Acts 14:23; 20:17,28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4), but we ought never to make one man alone the focal-point of our church gatherings (as commonly practiced in most "evangelical" churches) Ė "For the body is not one member, but many" (1 Corinthians 12:14).

7. Congregational elders are not appointed to a hierarchical and clerical office (which is modeled after the power-structures of this world), but to a pastoral function. Their primary task is to humbly and sacrificially serve the saints so that they might reach maturity and effectively fulfill Godís purpose for their lives (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:28; Hebrews 6:1). Alexander Strauch, author of the outstanding work on church leadership, Biblical Eldership (Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers/Revised, 1995), writes:

Elders and deacons are not appointed to a special priestly office or holy clerical order. Instead, they are assuming offices of leadership or service among Godís people. We should be careful not to sacralize these positions more than the writers of Scripture do. The New Testament never shrouds the installation of elders in mystery or sacral ritual. There is no holy rite to perform or special ceremony to observe. Appointment to eldership is not a holy sacrament. Appointment confers no special grace or empowerment, nor does one become a priest, cleric, or holy man at the moment of installation. The vocabulary of the New Testament is carefully chosen to communicate certain concepts and beliefs, and its writers chose to express simply appointment to office. Therefore, to speak of ordaining elders or deacons is as confusing as speaking of ordaining judges or politicians (p.285).

8. To assert that every Christian is "ordained" to ministry should not be confused with the mistaken notion that everyone is called to serve as a pastor within a local body of believers. While some Christians are indeed ordained/appointed to church leadership, others are ordained/appointed to different ministries and functions. But, either way, the point remains: Each and every believer has gifts for ministry and, thus, called to serve others for Godís glory and the churchís edification (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 14:12,26; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Peter 4:10-11). According to Hans Kung:

This priesthood of all believers by no means excludes a particular pastoral ministry . . . Those who are empowered to exercise a particular pastoral ministry in the church are not, at least as far as the New Testament tells us, a separate caste of consecrated priests, as they often are in primitive religions. They do not act as mediators between God and the people by means of ritual actions which they alone can perform, representing the people before God in sacrifice, and representing God to the people through oracular statements and law-giving. In the Church of Jesus Christ, who is the only high priest and mediator, all the faithful are priests and clergy (The Church [New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967] p.438).



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