Ordination: The neglected dimension

This pastor says, “All baptized members are ordained at the time of baptism to a lifetime of mission and ministry.” Do you agree?

Dan Serns, MA, serves as lead pastor at Richardson Seventh-day Adventist Church, Richardson, Texas, United States, and English
evangelism coordinator for Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in Alvarado, Texas, United States

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Anytown has just reached 500 baptized members. To carry out their mission effectively, how many ordained ministers should they have?
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Whatever the conference decides
  5. Depends on their tithe
  6. Depends on location: city, suburb, or rural area
  7. 500

My answer is 500, not because more paid ministers are needed there, but because all baptized members are ordained at the time of baptism to a lifetime of mission and ministry. This ordination of all believers at the time of baptism is often overlooked or devalued.

Ellen White described it as, “All who are ordained unto the life of Christ are ordained to work for the salvation of their fellow men. Their hearts will throb in unison with the heart of Christ. The same longing for souls that He has felt will be manifest in them. Not all can fill the same place in the work, but there is a place and a work for all.”2

“We are to be consecrated chan­nels, through which the heavenly life is to flow to others. The Holy Spirit is to animate and pervade the whole church, purifying and cementing hearts. Those who have been buried with Christ in baptism are to rise to newness of life, giving a living representation of the life of Christ. The commission has been given to us. Upon us is laid a sacred charge. Go then, Christ says to them. Make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. ‘And, lo,’ he declares, ‘I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’ You are dedicated to the work of making known the gospel of salvation.”3

Jesus’ baptism signaled His official ordination to ministry. Throughout the New Testament, baptism is linked frequently with discussions of using spiritual gifts in ministry. For example, Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that baptism is the initiation process for becoming part of the body and using one’s spiritual gifts in minis­try (see v. 13). He later explains in Ephesians 4 that certain equipping gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers, v. 11) are given to some individuals so all God’s people who have been baptized (v. 5) can be prepared “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (v. 12, NIV). Just after Peter has emphasized the importance of baptism (1 Pet. 3:21), he talks about the importance of each member using the gifts God has given in ministry (1 Pet. 4:10).

This biblical truth—that all believ­ers, at their baptism, are ordained to a lifetime of ministry—was lost during the great apostasy but rediscovered in the Dark Ages by the Anabaptists, who called it the priesthood of all believers. They said that baptism was not sprinkling water on babies before they knew what was happening to them. Instead, they believed that baptism should take place when a person is old enough to repent, surrender his life to Jesus Christ, be taught the basic principles of the Bible, and be ready to minister to the needs of others in service and outreach. As the candidate for baptism was standing in the water, the pastor would not raise his hand toward heaven, as is often the case now, but would instead place his hand on the head, signifying an ordination to a lifetime of ministry.4 Being baptized “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” was recognized as God giving the candidate power to live a godly life, which included service to God and others.

General ordination versus specific ordinations

In addition to the general ordina­tion all believers receive at baptism, some receive a more specific ordina­tion. They are set apart and/or have hands laid on them to serve as deacons(Acts 6:1–7), local elders (Titus 1:5–9), missionaries (Acts 13:1–3), and those who are designated to ordain other leaders (1 Tim. 4:14; Titus 1:5).

None of these ordinations, general or specific, impart special grace to the receiver. Each is intended to allow the church body, in a visual and concrete way, through its leaders, to affirm what God is doing in the lives and hearts of the individuals being ordained, and what God has called them to do in the future. When done properly, this results in “a uniting influence upon the entire flock.”6

The special ordination of Paul and Barnabas gives us insight into the distinction between what all baptized members are called to do and what those with special ordination to “gospel ministry” are authorized to do. “God had abundantly blessed the labors of Paul and Barnabas during the year they remained with the believers in Antioch. But neither of them had as yet been formally ordained to the gospel ministry. They had now reached a point in their Christian experience when God was about to entrust them with the carry­ing forward of a difficult missionary enterprise, in the prosecution of which they would need every advantage that could be obtained through the agency of the church. . . .

 “. . . Before being sent forth as mis­sionaries to the heathen world, these apostles were solemnly dedicated to God by fasting and prayer and the laying on of hands. Thus they were authorized by the church, not only to teach the truth, but to perform the rite of baptism and to organize churches, being invested with full ecclesiastical authority.”7

Recognizing this distinction between the general ordination of all believers at baptism and the more specific ordination that some receive based on need and biblical criteria can keep us from undervaluing the respective roles of church members and church leaders.8 This distinction can also help members, pastors, and the world church become far more effective and united in their collective mission of taking the Adventist message to all the world in this generation. It keeps us from overlooking vital truths while discussing important truths.

Church members: “Going to church” (important) versus “being the church” (vital)

For church members, the focus shifts from “going to church,” which is important, especially in the last days (Heb. 10:25), to “being the church,” which is absolutely vital in the last days. No longer is the church a building where we go for perhaps two and a half hours a week. Instead, we recognize that we are the church 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

When I went to the Ukraine to hold evangelistic meetings in the early 1990s, I tried to learn to read and pro­nounce the Cyrillic alphabet. On my first Sabbath there I looked at the sign beside the door of the church building.

“Moh leet vun ee dome,” I attempted. “Does that mean church?”

“No,” said my translator. “It means ‘House of Prayer.’ 

“So, isn’t the House of Prayer the church?”


“What’s the difference?” I asked.

Then someone explained. “You and I are the church. Wherever we go, we represent Jesus, His Word, and His message. Sometimes we are good representatives and sometimes we aren’t. But on Sabbath we gather at the House of Prayer to pray and study and worship together.”

Evidently the San Francisco and Oakland churches in the early 1900s understood this as well. Ellen White describes a long list of minis­tries being carried out primarily by church members rather than by paid employees:

“During the past few years the ‘bee­hive’ in San Francisco has been indeed a busy one. Many lines of Christian effort have been carried forward by our brethren and sisters there. These included visiting the sick and destitute, finding homes for orphans and work for the unemployed, nursing the sick, and teaching the truth from house to house, distributing literature, and conducting classes on healthful living and the care of the sick. A school for the children has been conducted in the basement of the Laguna Street meetinghouse. For a time, a workingmen’s home and medical mission was maintained. On Market Street, near the city hall, there were treatment rooms, operated as a branch of the St. Helena Sanitarium. In the same locality was a health-food store. Nearer the center of the city, not far from the Call building, was conducted a vegetarian cafe, which was open six days in the week and entirely closed on the Sabbath. Along the water front, ship mission work was carried on. At various times, our ministers [pastors] conducted meetings in large halls in the city. Thus the warning message was given by many.”9

Pastors: “Being a minister” (important) versus “training ministers” (vital)

When we recognize the ordination of all believers at baptism, pastors begin to shift their focus from “being a minister,” which is important because of all the needs in the world and the church, to “training ministers,” which is vital if more of the world is to be reached with the healing touch and teaching of Jesus.

When a group of us set up the stu­dent pastor program at Southwestern Adventist University about 20 years ago, we carefully monitored its suc­cess, especially during the first few months. But within four weeks, one of our student pastors dropped out of the program. I went to visit him in his apartment.

“I came to see how you are doing. I hear that you dropped out of the stu­dent pastor program. What happened?”

“Pastor,” he replied, “when I became an Adventist a few years ago I was so on fire for Jesus I wanted to tell the whole world. But I noticed that the only person in the church that felt the same way I did was my pastor. So I thought I’d better become a pastor so I can keep sharing my faith. That’s why I came to Southwestern.”

“So, how did you decide to drop out of the student pastor program?”

“I began to realize that the pas­tor’s job is not to run around giving all the Bible studies and doing all the ministry. It’s his job to train and mentor the members to do that. And since I don’t really like being around people that much, I’ve switched my major to something that will help me become a pharmacist. That way I can help people and share my faith without having to be around people all the time!”

Today, as far as I know, that man is a committed Adventist pharmacist, sharing his love for Jesus. Fortunately, a few weeks in the student pastor program saved him tens of thousands of dollars by showing him that you do not have to become a pastor to share your faith. In fact, all who have been baptized have already been ordained to a lifetime of sharing their faith. And the pastor’s main role is showing people how to carry out their ministry.

Ellen White tells us, “The best help that ministers [pastors] can give the members of our churches is not ser­monizing, but planning work for them. Give each one something to do for others. Help all to see that as receivers of the grace of Christ they are under obligation to work for Him. And let all be taught how to work. Especially should those who are newly come to the faith be educated to become labor­ers together with God.”10

Paul informed Timothy that his work as a pastor should not be measured simply by what he did as a minister, but by how effective he was in taking the things he and others had learned from Paul, his mentor, and passing them on to others, who in turn could teach still others (2 Tim. 2:2). That is four generations of training!

World church: “Specific ordinations of some” (important) versus “general ordination of all” (vital)

At the time I am writing this, our world church is engaged in a worldwide study of the theology of ordination. Various scholarly papers have been pre­sented that are all available online.11 A key point in the discussion is whether it is appropriate to ordain women. When I read papers in support of women’s ordination, I find myself saying, “Good point, good point.”12 But then as I read other papers with concerns about women’s ordination, I also find myself saying “Good point, good point.”13 This whole process of study addresses some very important issues, such as how the Bible is to shape our church’s understanding of truth, the nature of unity, the importance of humility in the church, and leadership roles at each level of the world church.

But it seems to me that the focus has been primarily on the special ordi­nation that some receive, with almost nothing said about the general ordina­tion given to all believers.

What would happen if, as a world church, the focus shifted more fully to the “ordination” of the 18 million mem­bers14 who were ordained for mission and ministry at their baptism? What if every baptized believer determined to use their spiritual gifts in ministry every day? What if every pastor determined to train more lay leaders to win souls to Jesus and His final movement? What if each member recognized the Bible as God’s voice speaking to them; the importance of unity in the local church body for effective ministry; and the role of every man, woman, and child in taking the Adventist message to their entire community and beyond?15

God has given the Seventh-day Adventist Church a tremendous mis­sion. As more members in Anytown and Everytown see what piece of the mission God has given them, we can expect to see new blood flow through the arteries of the church body, and new life in our churches and communities. Pastors will spend more and more of their time empowering and training members. The Adventist message will be expressed in a greater variety of ways through a growing number of members and leaders. And soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior will go to the entire world!


1 The word ordination is not found in the KJV Bible.The words ordained and ordination are used in this article to designate setting someone aside for general or specific ministry through a process that often includes the laying on of hands. For a detailed discussion of the use of the word ordain/ordained in the KJV, see “Theology of Ordination by John McVay,” October 2012, at http:// www.scribd.com/doc/113426840/Theology-of-Ordination-by -John-McVay.

2 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1941), 301.

3 Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 6, (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990); 28. italics supplied.

4 Compare Acts 8:14–20; 19:1–7; Hebrews 6:1, 2. See also Russell Burrill, Revolution in the Church (Fallbrook, CA: Hart Research Center, 1996), chap. 7.

5 While the word deacon does not appear in the Acts 6 passage, it is used throughout the inspired commentary found in Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 87–96.

6 “These men [the seven deacons] were to take their position unitedly on the side of right and to maintain it with firmness and decision. Thus they would have a uniting influence upon the entire flock. “Later in the history of the early church, when in various parts of the world many groups of believers had been formed into churches, the organization of the church was further perfected, so that order and harmonious action might be maintained. Every member was exhorted to act well his part. Each was to make a wise use of the talents entrusted to him. Some were endowed by the Holy Spirit with special gifts—‘first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.’1 Corinthians 12:28. But all these classes of workers were to labor in harmony.” White, The Acts of the Apostles, 91, 92.

7 Ibid., 160, 161; italics supplied.

8 For example, “To neglect or despise those whom God has appointed to bear the responsibilities of leadership in connection with the advancement of the truth, is to reject the means that He has ordained for the help, encouragement, and strength of His people. For any worker in the Lord’s cause to pass these by, and to think that his light must come through no other channel than directly from God, is to place himself in a position where he is liable to be deceived by the enemy and overthrown. The Lord in His wisdom has arranged that by means of the close relationship that should be maintained by all believers, Christian shall be united to Christian and church to church. Thus the human instrumentality will be enabled to co-operate with the divine. Every agency will be subordinate to the Holy Spirit, and all the believers will be united in an organized and well-directed effort to give to the world the glad tidings of the grace of God.” Ibid., 164.

9 Ellen G. White, Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference Ministerial Association, 1995), 117.

10 Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Washington, DC:, Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1947), 69.

11 See Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, 2013–14 GC Theology of Ordination Study Committee Web page, accessed December 22, 2013, http://www.adventistarchives.org/gc-tosc #.UrdXTSijfvw.

12 See, e.g., Jiří Moskala, “Back to Creation: Toward a Consistent Adventist Creation—Fall—Re-Creation Hermeneutic (Biblical-Theological Reflections on Basic Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics Applied to the Ordination of Women),” July 2013, http://www .adventistarchives.org/back-to-creation.pdf; and Carl P. Cosaert, “Paul, Women, and the Ephesian Church: An Examination of 1 Timothy 2:8–15,” July 2013, http://www.adventistarchives.org /paul,-woman,-and-the-ephesian-church.pdf.

13 See, e.g., Ingo Sorke, “Adam, Where Are You? On Gender Relations,” July 2013, http://www.adventistarchives.org /adam,-where-are-you.pdf; and Stephen P. Bohr, “Issues Relating to the Ordination of Women With Special Emphasis on 1 Peter 2:9, 10 and Galatians 3:28,” July 2013, http://www.adventistarchives .org/a-study-of-i-peter-2.9,-10-and-galatians-3.28.pdf.

14 See Mark A. Kellner, “Fast-Growing Denomination Hits New Milestone in 2013’s Third Quarter,” December 2013, http://news .adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2013-12-19/adventist-church -membership-passes-18-million-member-mark/.

15 See White, The Acts of the Apostles, 110, 111.

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Dan Serns, MA, serves as lead pastor at Richardson Seventh-day Adventist Church, Richardson, Texas, United States, and English
evangelism coordinator for Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in Alvarado, Texas, United States

February 2015

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