The Biblical View of Ordination

The Biblical View of Ordination

Commenting on the work of the ministry a widely used Mennonite evangelist of my boyhood days declared in my hearing that "ministers are not made, ministers are born." But the Apostle Paul declared several times, "I was made a minister" (Colossians 1:23; Ephesians 3:7). The Biblical View would be that ministers are both born and made. God told Jeremiah, "Before I formed thee . . . I ordained thee" (Jeremiah 1:5). God foreknows the kind of home setting into which his ministers can be born, and He also foreknows the personal application and dedication of one whom He can call to this special service for Him.

"I was made a minister" would at least imply that Paul did not consider himself a self-appointed minister. In Hebrews 5:4, with regards to the priestly office, the Scripture says, "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God. . ." This truth is further illustrated with the words, "So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest" (Hebrews 5:5). Christ was not a self-appointed priest. The Biblical View here would be that ordained men are not to be self-appointed men. In Acts 15 the record is given of some self-appointed men that appeared on the church scene who turned out to be trouble-making men. Self-appointed men and office-seeking men are usually trouble-making men.

It is true that Old Testament prophets were at times called through direct personal call and authorization by God, but in the New Testament we have no teaching, nor do we have any example, of men serving in ordained leadership in the church by direct revelation and appointment only. Paul, at the time of his conversion, was told by the Lord that He would send him "far hence unto the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21), but Paul waited until he was called and ordained by the church before he moved into his Gentile missionary endeavors (Acts 13:3). In the New Testament The Biblical View is that ministers are called and placed by God through the church.

The Biblical View is clear that ordination bestows upon a person a special office of spiritual leadership, authority in church administration, and a special responsibility in the proclamation of the Word of God. It is also clear that this office of responsibility is enjoined on one by the laying on of hands and the giving of a charge by the already authorized leadership of the church (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; Acts 6:6; 13:3; Titus 1:5).

In the Old Testament, ordination was specifically by anointings. The terms ordination and anointing appear to be synonymous terms. The priests were said to be both anointed and ordained. Our Lord was also said to be both anointed and ordained. Prophets, priests, and kings were anointed to serve in their respective spheres for the remainder of their lives. In the New Testament, ordination is taken for granted to be a lifetime appointment. The Biblical View, therefore, is that ordination enjoins upon one a lifetime office of special responsibility. It is, however, a sobering possibility that the office of the ordained can be forfeited as was the case of Judas. The work of the ordained may also be retired from in the event of physical or mental weakness or disability, in which case the retiring person would retain his office.

The triple-office pattern of ordained leadership is found many times over throughout the Bible. An Old Testament example would be found in Moses as the moderator of Israel, Aaron as the high priest, and Aaron's sons as the priests. In the New Testament early church, we have apostles, elders, and deacons. Today we continue the triple office pattern with bishops, ministers, and deacons. The Biblical View of the triple office ministry, with each office possessing specifically defined areas of responsibility, contributes to effective and harmonious working relationships in the church. Each person in his respective office should seek to fulfill his specific roll and carefully guard against intruding into other office responsibilities. King Saul and Uzziah both are examples of the tragic results of over-stepping areas of responsibility.

The Biblical View of a plurality of ministers and deacons for a given church setting comes into focus again and again in the New Testament. Jesus did not ordain only one apostle to be with Him but twelve. In Acts 6, the apostles ordained seven helpers (deacons) for the church at Jerusalem at one time. They also ordained elders (plural) in every church (Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5). To give proper balance and challenge to the church, there needs to be a plurality of ordained leadership wherever and whenever possible. When the single ministry is adopted as a policy, we have departed from the Biblical plural ministry principle.

In keeping the church provided with ordained leadership, The Biblical View is that the spiritual life and activities of the church should be of such a nature that she is perpetually able to find and ordain leadership from among her own ranks. In Acts 6, the apostles' word was, "Look ye out among you" men of integrity and ability. (See also Acts 1:21, Exodus 18:21, Deuteronomy 17:15.) In Ephesians 4:11, 12, we are told that our Lord gave certain officials to the church "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry." That is, the leaders are to seek to perfect the saints and prepare them for a service ministry.

Since the ordained men are to be continuously building qualities that go into leadership, and since we are to look for new leaders on the basis of integrity and ability, it is not at all surprising that when ordinations are planned for, usually there are more persons nominated for the work than are needed. In such cases The Biblical View is to seek the Lord's calling through the use of the lot. In Biblical history, the lot was commonly used to receive the Lord's revelation or answer to a given need. We can search the Scriptures in vain to find one single failure in the use of the lot. When more men are nominated than needed, the lot "parteth between the mighty"—or we might say "between the faithful and qualified" (Proverbs 18:18; Acts 1:23-26), and that "the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). We believe we cannot improve on the Biblical method of using the lot when it is necessary to ascertain God's will.

The Biblical View is that "men" fill the ranks of ordained leadership. Since this is being denied and disobeyed in the larger Mennonite bodies today, we herewith reemphasize that the Bible teaches the use of men for church leadership. The plain teaching of the New Testament is that women are not to usurp authority over men nor enter into a teaching ministry to men (1 Timothy 2:12). The example of the New Testament is just as plain—there were no women apostles and no ordained women who were elders or deacons. Besides, one of the qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3 for both the elder and the deacon is that he must be the husband of one good wife. When a minister is born and made, some woman is the qualified mother of that minister, but no woman can fulfill the qualification of being "the husband of one wife."

The Biblical View of the propagation of faithful ordained leadership is for the older ordained leaders to sense the need for replacing themselves, while they are yet functional, with younger faithful leaders to carry on the work. Paul said to Timothy, "The things that thou hast heard of me . . . the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). Moses replaced himself with Joshua (Numbers 27:12-23). Elijah replaced himself with Elisha (1 Kings 19:16). Jesus replaced Himself with the apostles, and the apostles ordained elders in all the churches. The Apostle Paul gave Titus and Timothy each a specific charge to take up the work that he himself was laying down (Titus 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:1-8).

The flaming torch of the Gospel must continue to be handed to the next runners in the race—on, on, and on to the final goal. That goal is to keep the faith in a pure church fellowship unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to be able then to present every member perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28).

Aaron M. Shank

Myerstown, PA

January 1987