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Is Ordination To Be Practiced In
The Church?


Neil Armstrong B.A., M.Div.

Most people make the assumption that ordination is to be practiced in the church. Perhaps the best example is the debate over the ordination of women in a number of denominations, most notably the Catholic church. When the subject is raised almost no one questions whether the practice of ordination should exist in the church in the first place.

Before we begin looking at the Scriptures we need to define the term, ordination. Ordination is the act of setting apart to an office, the state of being ordained, appointed. Ordination has five different aspects; 1. A Selection Process (education and training), 2. Confirmation Ceremony (laying on of hands), 3. Title (Priest, Reverend etc.), 4. Position (priest, minister or pastor) and 5. Responsibility (preaching, teaching etc.). All five of these aspects are present when ordination is performed.

Any discussion of ordination must take into consideration the overall composition of the Bible. The theological framework of the Bible is built around the covenants. They are the basis of God's revelation of Himself to man and the only means whereby a man is able to have a relationship with God. Integral to the covenants are the concepts of sacrifice, priesthood and forgiveness. It is at this point in our understanding of the Bible where ordination enters the picture.

The first reference to the practice of ordination is found in Exodus 28:41. N.I.V. The context is the establishment of the Mosaic covenant which is often simply referred to as the Law. Exodus 24:8; Matthew 7:12 Moses is being given instructions by the Lord so that Aaron and his sons may be ordained. Ordination is an essential component of the Old Testament sacrificial system and temple worship. Only priests who were ordained and met all the requirements of the Law, could offer sacrifices to the Lord on behalf of the people.

In the New Testament, the Lord, Jesus Christ, is the High Priest of a new covenant. Hebrews 9:15 Jesus Christ secures this covenant by offering himself as a sacrifice and entering the Most Holy Place in the heavenly temple by His own blood and then sitting down at the right hand of the Father. Hebrews 9:11-15; Acts 2:33-34

What happens to the old Mosaic covenant after Jesus establishes the new covenant? The exciting news is the old covenant with its laws and regulations is fulfilled by Jesus Christ and is ended. Romans 10:4; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:13-15 When the old covenant of the law ends, ordination also ends. There is no longer any need for priests to offer sacrifices because Jesus is now the only High Priest which is needed.

Why would ordination be re-established in the church when Jesus brought an end to the Mosaic covenant? Furthermore, in Galatians 3:9-11 we are told that, "all who rely on observing the law are under a curse." Ordination is part of the law! Why would anyone who is living under the new covenant of grace want to continue the old practice of ordination?

Those who support ordination in the church point to the Greek word which is most often translated 'appointed'. "He appointed twelve designating them apostles - that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach." Mark 3:14 "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you." Titus 1:5 They say this shows that ordination was practiced in the church.

There is another way to understand the meaning of the word 'appoint'. For example, in Crete Titus is given the task of appointing elders in every town. Titus 1:4-5 The qualifications for an elder are in the next few verses. Titus 1:6-9 Are these the qualifications for ordination or is Titus simply appointing the best leaders he can find in the communities where there are newly planted churches? This is the most likely explanation when one considers the urgency of the task. The challenge for those who are promoting ordination is that the examples they use are all circumstantial. The meaning of the word 'appoint' is debatable and there is no clear teaching on ordination in the New Testament.

However, the main theological concern with ordination has little to do the meaning of the word appoint and everything to do with the change in the covenants. In the Old Testament we clearly see the practice of ordination. Why is this one practice being carried over into the New Testament church when everything else in the Law is ended? Even circumcision is discontinued! Romans 2:28-30 Does not the appointment of Jesus Christ as High Priest remove all need for ordination? Is He not the one who is set apart to ministry as the Mediator for all believers? 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 8:6-7

Anyone trying to re-introduce ordination into the Christian church needs to explain why Jesus ministry is insufficient. Leadership in the church must be precisely defined so that it does not intrude into His ongoing priestly ministry. If this is not done the focus shifts from Jesus as Intercessor and Mediator of the New Covenant to the leadership in the church! Romans 8:33-35; Hebrews 12:2 This is not a trivial matter because Jesus ministry is at the very heart of Christian theology and how the church functions spiritually.

Now in the church there is another reality which is called the "priesthood of all believers". Revelation 5:10; Revelation 5:10 Believers become priests only because Jesus Christ, the High Priest, comes to dwell within them by His Spirit. This new priesthood does not remove the need for qualified leadership in the church. Now everyone, leaders and people, are encouraged to share the wonderful message of forgiveness and reconciliation which is found in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 Ministry is no longer restricted to a few ordained men who are the only ones able to serve God in the temple. The door is now open to everyone who knows Jesus Christ to be a servant of God.

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