WHAT IS ORDINATION
The word ‘ordination’ is not in the Scripture, however, the term is used to identify the ‘setting apart’ ritual described in the NT to consecrate Ministers of the Gospel.
The formal separation of people and things to the exclusive use of God, has been a practice that comes from the beginning of humanity, according to the Bible.
IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Cain and Abel consecrated of their products to God before offering them (Genesis 4:2-3). Even though no consecration ritual is described here, the fact of the setting ‘apart’ from the ‘First born and fat’, was a selective separation done in faith and devotion.
Something more sophisticated happened centuries later when the Tabernacle was consecrated and set apart by Moses (Exodus 40:9).
However, also people were ‘set apart’ for an exclusive function during the times of the Old Testament. Kings were anointed (1Samuel 10:1), and also Priests (Exodus 29:1-9).
Even though this consecration was done through the anointing with oil as a sign of being divinely appointed, also imposition of hands was used in other occasions. Thus, Moses imposed his hands, on Joshua when he selected him as his successor (Numbers 27:23). As the Scripture says, it was a ‘commissioning and passing of authority’ (Numbers 27:19-20). In the same way the priests set their hands on the sacrificial victim offered in atonement for sins, as transmission of the sins of the people onto the animal (Numbers 8:12; Leviticus 4:15-16).
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Being of Jewish extraction, Christianity also adopted the imposition of hands as the formal ritual of consecration, commonly known as ‘ordination’, for her ministers.
Even though the Gospels do not mention Lord Jesus ever putting his holy hands on his Apostles and Seventies, nevertheless they were chosen and consecrated by our Lord’s own words and desire (Matthew 10:1; Luke 10:1).
The Apostles used the ritual of hands imposition to confer authority to the first deacons (Acts 6:6) and the elders they chose (1Timothy 4:14; 5:22). And so, it happened with Paul and Barnabas when they were sent as missionaries or ‘apostles’ (Acts 13:3) by the will of God.
Only when Paul and this same Barnabas established Elders in the churches of modern Turkey, the ritual of imposition of hands is not mentioned. However, this may be presumed as the rest of the consecration ritual were present (Acts 14:23), but it cannot be proven beyond doubt.
Imposition of hands not only was reserved for ordinations, but also for healing (Matthew 16:18), and receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). Indeed, Paul was healed by Ananias by imposition of hands (Acts 9:12, 17-18).
ELEMENTS OF ORDINATION
To impose the hands on someone, is meant to establish connection between two people. In this case, the one receiving the ordination and the one ordaining.
The Ordination has four different characteristics:
1 – CONSECRATION
It is an act of separation of a person for the exclusive service to God (Exodus 30:30; Acts 13:2).
2 – CONFERS AUTHORITY
It constitutes a common Christian officially as a fulltime minister of Jesus’ Gospel, with the commendation to teach, celebrate the sacraments and govern the Christian community as his duty.
(Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9; 1Timothy 4:14)
3 – DONE BY SOMEONE WITH AUTHORITY
If it confers authority, it is understood that it must be done by somebody with an already existing authority.
This can be from a person already ordained (Acts 14:26; 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:4) or by imposition of hands of the whole community accepting a person as their own Elder (Numbers 8:10-11; Acts 13:1-3).
4 – IT MUST BE SOMEONE TAKEN FROM OR ACCEPTED BY THE COMMUNITY
The Biblical model is of a free community of independent city churches (Revelation 1-3), separated by ‘houses’ (Romans 16:5), united in a common essential faith, and mutual recognition (Ephesians 4:5).
The ministers should be either chosen or approved by the community where they will serve originally, before being ordained (Acts 6:3; Titus 1:5-6); however, once ordained, their position must be acknowledged in all the churches in communion with one another (Romans 16:1) and should be able to work in any of these congregations prior local approval of that congregation.
IT IS NECESSARY APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION?
A call to God’s service is done by Lord Jesus Himself to the person who desires to be one (Ephesians 4:11; Acts 20:28).
Nevertheless, a ministry must be confirmed and accepted by the community of believers, to received official approval (Galatians 1:18; 2:9), but it does not depend on it. Paul himself bouts that he received his called by Lord Jesus Himself, and preached the gospel for 3 years before he went to seek official recognition from the Apostles (Galatians 1:18-24). It is the recognition of the authorities already existing or the acceptance of the people which confirms a call to the ministry.
The authority is transferred from the Holy Spirit through the community of believers to the new minister. Nowhere in the Scripture there is the necessity of historical linear succession in imposition of hands as necessary for the validity of a minister’s role. The cases where Paul, Barnabas and Titus or Timothy were ‘sent’ to ordain Elders, it’s because it was critic in new communities of the time which depended wholly on the apostles, to learn from example the whole system which they ignored.
The doctrine of ‘apostolic succession’ as an historical necessity is a later invention that ties the control of the Christian ministry to a determined system of government, which is totally strange to the Scripture.
IS IMPOSSITION OF HANDS NECESSARY?
It is a ritual, and not essential to the ministry. What is essential is recognition of the Christian community, including the existing leaders. The form or mechanics is secondary.
Imposition of hands is a Jewish ritual, practiced by the apostles and the Christians since the birth of the Church that symbolizes continuity, but it seems that it was not always done that way (Mark 3:14-15; John 15:16; Luke 10:1-11; Acts 14:26). Christianity is not about rituals, but about a true faith and perseverance in obedience to Jesus (Romans 14:17), however, the approval is necessary, and imposing hands was the ‘norm’ for the apostles (Hebrews 6:1-2). This is the reason why we see it done in the book of Acts, but it is never taught as doctrine in any of the other books.
It is God, through Lord Jesus, whom by the Holy Spirit, elects and calls a man to be a minister of his Gospel, with the authority to teach the Bible, celebrate the sacraments, and administer the Church of God. But this call must be acknowledged and accepted by the Christian community, laymen as well as Presbytery already existing to gain official status.
There are however in the actual Church, many Pastors who are not ordained and recognized officially, and many ordained ‘Pastors’ who were never called to the ministry, in the same way as not all baptized are true born-again believers, and many true believers are not baptized yet.
But we all walked the path of Lord Jesus, until the Church is purified, and we all attain the perfection we long for.
“Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”