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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Ordination

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The act of conferring holy orders, or of initiating a person into the priesthood by prayer and the laying on of hands. Among the dissenters, ordination is the public setting apart of a minister to his work, or over the people whose call he has accepted. In the church of England, ordination has always been esteemed the principal prerogative of bishops, and they still retain the function as a mark or their spiritual sovereignty in their diocess. Without ordination no person can receive any benefice, parsonage, vicarage, &c. A person must be twenty-three years of age, or near it, before he can be ordained deacon, or have any share in the ministry; and full twenty-four before he can be ordained priest, and by that means be permitted to administer the holy communion. A bishop, on the ordination of clergymen, is to examine them in the presence of the ministers, who in the ordination of priests, but not of deacons, assist him at the imposition of hands; but this is only done as a mark of assent, not because it is thought necessary.

In case any crime, as drunkenness, perjury, forgery, &c. is alleged against any one that is to be ordained either priest or deacon, the bishop ought to desist from ordaining him. The person to be ordained is to bring a testimonial of his life and doctrine to the bishop, and to give account of his faith in Latin; and both priests and deacons are obliged to subscribe to the thirty-nine articles. In the ancient discipline there was no such thing as a vague and absolute ordination; but every one was to have a church, whereof he was to be ordained clerk or priest. In the twelfth century they grew more remiss, and ordained without any title or benefice. The council of Trent, however, restored the ancient discipline, and appointed that none should be ordained but those who were provided with a benefice; which practice still obtains in England. The times of ordination are the four Sundays immediately following the Ember weeks; being the second Sunday in Lent, Trinity Sunday, and the Sundays following the first Wednesday after September 14 and December 13. These are the stated times; but ordination may take place at any other time, according to the discretion of the bishop, or circumstances of the case. Among Seceders or Dissenters, ordinations vary. In the establishment of Scotland, where there are no bishops, the power of ordination is lodged in the presbytery. Among the Calvinistic Methodists, ordination is performed by the sanction and assistance of their own ministers.

Among the Independents and Baptists, the power of ordination lies in the suffrage of the people. The qualifications of the candidates are first known, tried, and approved by the church. After which trial, the church proceeds to give him a call to be their minister; which he accepting, the public acknowledgment thereof is signified by ordination, the mode of which is so well known, as not to need recital here. According to the former opinion, it is argued that the word ordain was originally equal to choose or appoint; so that if twenty Christians nominated a man to instruct them once, the man was appointed or ordained a preacher for the time. The essence of ordination lies in the voluntary choice and call of the people, and in the voluntary acceptance of that call by the person chosen and called; for this affair must be by mutual consent and agreement, which joins them together as pastor and people. And this is to be done among themselves; and public ordination, so called, is not other than a declaration of that. Election and ordination are spoken of as the same; the latter is expressed and explained by the former. It is said of Christ, that he ordained twelve, Mark 3:14 . that is, he chose them to the office of apostleship, as he himself explains it, John 6:70 .

Paul and Barnabas are said to ordain elders in every church (Acts 14:1-28; Acts 15:1-41; Acts 16:1-40; Acts 17:1-34; Acts 18:1-28; Acts 19:1-41; Acts 20:1-38; Acts 21:1-40; Acts 22:1-30; Acts 23:1-35; Acts 24:1-27; Acts 25:1-27; Acts 26:1-32; Acts 27:1-44; Acts 28:1-23 .) or to choose them; that is, they gave orders and directions to every church as to the choice of elders over them: for sometimes persons are said to do that which they give orders and directions for doing; as Moses and Solomon, with respect to building the tabernacle and temple, though done by others; and Moses particularly is said to choose the judges, Exodus 18:25 . the choice being made under his direction and guidance. The word that is used in Acts 14:23 . is translated chosen in Cor. 2: 8, 19. where the apostle speaks of a brother, who was chosen of the churches to travel with us, and is so rendered when ascribed to God, Acts 10:41 . This choice and ordination, in primitive times, was made two ways; by casting lots and giving votes, signified by stretching out of hands. Matthias was chosen and ordained to be an apostle in the room of Judas by casting lots: that being an extraordinary office, required an immediate interposition of the Divine Being, a lot being nothing more nor less than an appeal to God for the decision of an affair. But ordinary officers, as elders and pastors of churches, were chosen and ordained by the votes of the people, expressed by stretching out their hands; thus it is said of the apostles, Acts 14:23 .

When they had ordained them elders in every church, by taking the suffrages and votes of the members of the churches, shown by the stretching out of their hands, as the word signifies; and which they directed them to, and upon it declared the elders duly elected and ordained. Some, however, on this side of the question, do not go so far as to say, that the essence of ordination lies in the choice of the people, but in the solemn and public separation to office by prayer: still, however, they think that ordination by either bishops, presbyters, or any superior character, cannot be necessary to make a minister or ordain a pastor in any particular church; for Jesus Christ, say they, would never leave the subsistence of his churches, or the efficacy of his word and sacraments, to depend on the uninterrupted succession of any office or officer: for then it would be impossible for any church to know whether they ever have had any authentic minister; for we could never be assured that such ordinations had been rightly transmitted through 1700 years. A whole nation might be corrupted, and every bishop and elder therein might have apostatized from the faith, as it was in England in the days of popery. To say, therefore, that the right of ordaining lies in men who are already in office, would drive us to hold the above-mentioned untenable position of uninterrupted succession. On the other side it is observed, that, although Christians have the liberty of choosing their own pastor, yet they have no power or right to confer the office itself. Scripture represents ordination to be the setting apart of a person to the holy ministry, by the authority of Jesus himself acting by the medium of men in office; and this solemn investing act is necessary to his being lawfully accounted a minister of Christ.

The original word, Acts 6:3 . which according to Scapula, and the best writers on the sacred language, signifies to put one in rule, or to give him authority. Now did this power lodge in the people, how happens it that in all the epistles, not a single word is to be found giving them any directions about constituting ministers? On the other hand, in the epistles to timothy and Titus, who were persons in office, we find particular instructions given them to lay hands suddenly on no man, to examine his qualifications before they ordain him, and to take care that they commit the office only to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also, Titus 1:5 . 2 Timothy 4:14 . Acts 14:23 . Besides, it is said, the primitive Christians evidently viewed this matter in the same light. There is scarcely a simple ecclesiastical writer that does not expressly mention ordination as the work of the elders, and as being regarded as a distinct thing from the choice of the people, and subsequent to it. Most of the foregoing remarks apply chiefly to the supposition, that a person cannot be ordained in any other way than as a pastor over a church.

But here, also, we find a difference of opinion. On the one side it is said, that there is no Scripture authority whatever for a person being ordained without being chosen or nominated to the office of a minister by a church. Elders and bishops were ordained in every church, not without any church. To ordain a man originally, says Dr. Campbell, was nothing else but in a solemn manner to assign him a pastoral charge. To give him no charge, and not to ordain him, were perfectly identical. On the other side it is contended, that from these words, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." it is evident that missionaries and itinerants must be employed in the important work of the ministry; that, as such cannot be ordaining them for the church universal. Allowing that they have all those talents, gifts, and grace, that constitute a minister in the sight of God, who will dare say they should not be designated by their brethren for the administration of those ordinances Christ has appointed in the church?

Without allowing this, how many thousands would be destitute of these ordinances? Besides, these are the very men whom God in general honours as the first instruments in raising churches, over which stated pastors are afterwards fixed. The separation of Saul and Barnabas, say they, was an ordination to missionary work, including the administration of sacraments to the converted Heathen, as well as public instruction, Acts 13:1; Acts 13:3 . So timothy was ordained, 1 Timothy 4:14 . Acts 16:3 . and there is equal reason, by analogy, to suppose that Titus and other companions of Paul were similarly ordained, without any of them having a particular church to take under his pastoral care. So that they appear to have been ordained to the work of the Christian ministry at large. On reviewing the whole of this controversy, I would say with Dr. Watts, "that since there are some texts in the New Testament, wherein single persons, either apostles, as Paul and Barnabas, ordained ministers in the churches; or evangelists, as Timothy and Titus; and since other missions or ordinations are intimated to be performed by several persons, viz. prophets, teachers, elders, or a presbytery, as in Acts 13:1 . and 1 Timothy 4:14; since there is sometimes mention made of the imposition of hands in the mission of a minister, and sometimes no mention of it; and since it is evident that in some cases popular ordinations are and must be valid without any bishop or elder; I think none of these differences should be made a matter of violent contest among Christians; nor ought any words to be pronounced against each other by those of the episcopal, presbyterian, or independent way.

Surely, all may agree thus far, that various forms or modes, seeming to be used in the mission or ordination of ministers in primitive times, may give a reasonable occasion or colour for sincere and honest searchers after truth to follow different opinions on this head, and do therefore demand our candid and charitable sentiments concerning those who differ from us."

See articles EPISCOPACY, IMPOSITION OF HANDS, INDEPENDENTS, and MINISTERIAL CALL, in this work; James Owen's Plea for Scripture Ordination; Doddridge's Tracts, 5: 2: p. 253-257; Dr. Owen's True Nature of a Gospel Church, p. 78, 83; Brekell's Essay on Ordination; Watts' Rational foundation of a Christian Church, sec. 3; Dr. Campbell's Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, vol. 1: p. 345; Gill's Body of Divinity, p. 246. vol. 3: 8 vo.ed. Theological Magazine for 1802, p. 33, 90, 167; Ewing's Remarks on Dick's Sermon, preached before the Edinburgh Missionary Society, in 1801.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Ordination'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/o/ordination.html. 1802.

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