So You're Up For Ordination!

WHAT is the significance of ministerial ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Is it the church's recognition of a divine call to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2), or is it simply a recognition of faithful service? Should a man who is not a full-time preacher be ordained to preach? Should we ordain institutional workers, teachers, doctors, departmental men, and conference officers whose primary work is not preaching?

-Chairman, department of religion, Southeast Asia Union College, and pastor of the college church, Singapore at time this article was written

WHAT is the significance of ministerial ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Is it the church's recognition of a divine call to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2), or is it simply a recognition of faithful service? Should a man who is not a full-time preacher be ordained to preach? Should we ordain institutional workers, teachers, doctors, departmental men, and conference officers whose primary work is not preaching?

Is it not true that we are ordaining almost any dedicated man who gives his life to the work of the church? By ordination we recognize his dedication and his ability in his post, whatever that post may be. Sometimes we ordain a man not because he is called to preach, but because we want to give him more prestige and we need someone who can baptize people as he travels through the field.

The messenger of the Lord tells us that the ordination of Paul and Barnabas "was a public recognition of their divine appointment to bear to the Gentiles the glad tidings of the gospel" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 161). When Jesus sent out His disciples, He commanded them, "As ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 10:7). "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops" (verse 27). Their work was to proclaim the gospel publicly.

Ellen G. White has some clear '', instructions on the examination that should be conducted before a man is ordained to the gospel ministry. She wrote: "Ministers should be examined especially to see if they have an intelligent understanding of the truth for this time, so that they can give a connected discourse upon the prophecies or upon practical subjects. If they cannot clearly present Bible subjects they need to be hearers and learners still."--Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 407. Here again we find an emphasis on the public proclamation of the Word.

As we consider our present practice in the light of these statements, we know that some thing is wrong, but we find it hard to reverse a drift. We are bound by precedents. We say, "We can not very well refuse to ordain Brother History Teacher this year, because we ordained Brother Auditor last year. Both of them exert a good spiritual influence; they are active in their churches, and they have brought several souls to Christ."

Is a "good spiritual influence" a sufficient reason for ordaining , a man to the ministry? Is soul-winning ability, of itself, proof of a call to preach publicly? (If so, then we ought to ordain some of our lay preachers who win more souls than some of our regular preachers.)

What is the answer, then?

Some would say, "Let's go back to the practice of the early church. If it's not in the Bible, don't do it." But the problem is not solved so easily. The twentieth century is not the first. The Holy Spirit has been leading in the development of the complex organization we have today. We have officers and departments that were not necessary in the first century.

Nevertheless, the record of the early church can certainly give us principles that can stop our drift and perhaps point us in a new direction. If we do not com pare our practice with Bible principles, how shall we know whether the Holy Spirit is still leading us?

The early church began with a very simple organization. The only leaders were the twelve apostles ordained by Christ Himself. As it grew, the church found that it needed more leaders, especially to care for its welfare department (Acts 6). The food distribution program aroused complaints that the poor Jewish Christians were being favored over the poor Greek Christians.

The apostles did not try to answer the complaints or settle the problem themselves. They recognized that it needed attention, but they would not be diverted from preaching the word of God (Acts 6:2). They saw their primary duty as giving themselves "to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (verse 4).

The apostles' suggestion was that the church appoint seven dedicated men to take charge of the welfare program. They were "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (verse 3). Thus they were well qualified to do the trouble shooting and administration that was needed.

The business of the church Was cared for by these seven .men who were chosen for the purpose, and the apostles continued their preaching. As a result, "The word of God in creased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly" (verse 7).

Two of these new officers, Stephen and Philip, showed remarkable ability as preachers as well as administrators (Acts 6:8-10; 8:5-8, 26-40). They were ordained as businessmen, as administrators, but this did not prevent them from preaching. Philip did not limit his work to the Jerusalem church. He had authority beyond the local level (chap. 8:5, 26). Furthermore, he exercised the right of baptizing a new convert (verses 39, 40). It seems clear that these men had authority and influence in the church far beyond that of their modern descendants in our church.

Can we find any principles in Acts 6 that might guide us today? I think we can.

It is apparent that by the time of Acts 6 there were two kinds of leaders and two types of ordination. There were the apostles who were ordained to pray and preach, and there were the deacons, who were ordained to administer the business of the church.

Both groups had wide authority, both were soul winners, both were equally filled with the Holy Spirit, but their primary duties were different. The apostles gave themselves to prayer and preaching; the seven cared for the business.

In our church today we have only one kind of ordination above the level of the local church. In effect, we are using our ministerial ordination to give recognition to both apostles and deacons on the conference level. In other words, we are ordaining as preachers men who would have been deacons in the early church.

Perhaps the early-church pattern would help solve our problem. If we had a category of ordination on the conference level corresponding to that of the seven in the early church, we could give official church authorization to all the dedicated workers who are not called to preach. At the same time, we could reserve ministerial ordination for those who are called to preach, and thus preserve the meaning of that ordination.

Under such a plan, a man ordained as one of the "seven" on the conference level would not be barred from preaching if he had the ability. He could be authorized to perform baptisms, as Philip was. His salary could be audited on a par with those of his ministerial brethren.

But if such a man had no training for preaching and felt inadequate when asked to preach, then he could stick to his primary duties without apology. Neither his abilities nor his dedication would need to be called in question at all. He would have been ordained for business, not for preaching.

We have our elders and deacons in the local church, but even there we do not often use our deacons for the real business of the church. We allow them to serve as mere ushers, while the pastor himself serves as general trouble-shooter and chairman of all the committees.

If we followed the pattern of Acts 6 on the local level, the ordained preacher would remain a preacher and spiritual leader. He would not be diverted from his praying and preaching. He would recruit and ordain other dedicated men to take care of the other things.

If we followed this pattern on the conference level, we would have to recognize some kind of conference deacon with wide authority. His ordination would not have to be "higher" or "lower" than a minister's. It would simply be an ordination for different responsibilities. This would allow us to preserve the high offices of both the ministry and the diaconate.

Utopian? Perhaps. A break with precedent? Certainly. But does not Acts 6 point the way? And if the result should be an increase in preaching the word of God and a growth in church member ship, then let us make the break. Let our responsible committees give study to it.


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-Chairman, department of religion, Southeast Asia Union College, and pastor of the college church, Singapore at time this article was written

July 1973

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