This week is an important week in my life and in the life of our church. On Friday, Calvary Baptist Church will be hosting an ordination council and an ordination service for me. I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity by offering some explanation of the meaning and significance of ordination, at least from a Baptist perspective.
Ordination is a recognition, on the part of a church, that a given man has been set apart for the ministry of the gospel. The basic idea is reflected in Acts 13:2–3: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” We see in this passage that specific people in the church were designated by the Holy Spirit to specific tasks in ministry. The church’s obligation, then, was to set them apart and send them into this ministry.
A key difference between this passage and our day is that the Spirit no longer speaks in such a direct and unmediated way (a topic for another article sometime). Instead, the pursuit of ministry often begins with a desire: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). But the desire alone is insufficient; someone might insist that he has the desire to be a pastor, but the Bible not only speaks of desire, but qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Peter 5:1–4).
Who is to say whether someone with the desire meets the qualifications? It is the local church itself that is authorized to appoint its deacons (Acts 6:2–4; this is another office with qualifications), and the church has the authority to dismiss members (1 Corinthians 5:4–5). In the same way then, we maintain that the task of judging whether a man meets these qualifications falls to the church. The church ordains.
If you look at the list of qualifications in the passages I cited, most of them have to do with the character of the pastor. This is important, because it means then that the church needs to know their pastor well enough to be able to say that he has this kind of character. In addition to these character qualifications, however, the pastor must be able to teach and must be sound in doctrine. In many cases, the local church simply isn’t fully qualified to assess whether a potential pastor is sound doctrinally. This is the place of the council, in which other ordained, likeminded pastors are brought in to examine the candidate’s theology. The council does not do the ordaining; they simply pass along a recommendation to the church to ordain (or not ordain) based on their examination.
We must take the issue of leadership in the church seriously, because Paul warns us that bad leadership is a dire threat to the church (Acts 20:29–30).
The council will be held at Calvary Baptist Church from 1:00–4:00pm. We will have dinner at 5:00pm, and the ordination service will be at 7:00pm. All are welcome.