December 18, 2008

The Laying on of Hands

Lord willing, I will be ordained this Sunday night. I am humbled and excited by the implications of this occasion.

Different churches (and denominations) obviously take different approaches to ordination. The typical approach in our tiny corner of evangelicalism includes a rigorous series of tests, in which a panel grills a man over his biblical, theological, and pastoral understanding. The process may also involve the candidate preaching an abbreviated sermon to the board of elders, and then answering any questions the board might have for him.

To me, that program seems to duplicate seminary. I agree that a pastor should know his Book and be apt to teach it. He should be able to rightly divide the Word and always ready to preach it. He should stand on solid biblical and theological convictions when evangelizing his neighbors and when equipping the saints. But the ministry is more than academic, and a man’s calling to ministry cannot be confirmed by looking at his transcripts. In my case, I already took tests and wrote papers and passed classes proving that I could regurgitate the information.

Regarding the biblical requirements for elders, Doug Wilson recently wrote:

One of the easiest things in the world for the Church to do is to drift into another set of requirements entirely, never quite noticing that we have replaced what the Bible requires with what we require. Nothing against Hebrew, Greek, or thorough knowledge of the patristics. Good to have, great to have, yay for having them.

I am all about Greek (and working on my Hebrew).1 I love learning and talking about theology.2 But wolves can enjoy those same things and use them to exploit the sheep, not care for them.

Ordination is not an academic issue primarily, nor is it merely a program. A great danger of the interview approach, it seems to me, is that a man may pass the test” without demonstrating any spiritual giftedness. But the call to ministry cannot be determined by a panel or paperwork; it is personal.

In the Pastoral Epistles, the qualifications for pastors/elders/overseers are primarily concerned with persons, their desire for the work, their character, their families, their conduct, and their reputation. To know these things, men must be observed and known, and then affirmed. The objective requirements are affirmed subjectively by other godly and gifted men. The gift,” affirmed during an ordination (1 Timothy 4:14), is observable in action, not just in an interview, however many hours it may last.

That’s why I’m excited to be ordained by this Body of believers and by this group of elders. They know me. They have been a part of my life, my family, and my ministry for seven and a half years. They have treated me with grace as I’ve made progress, and have encouraged me not to neglect my gift.

Being ordained won’t change my role or responsibilities. I’ve been functioning as an elder for some time and the title on my business card includes Pastor. But beyond annual tax benefits and authorization to marry and bury, this event is a spiritual celebration of God’s grace in and through me. I anticipate I will appreciate this benchmark of affirmation the rest of my ministry course, however long God let’s me run it.

  1. John Piper emphasized the need for pastors to know the biblical languages in his biographical message on Martin Luther, in which he concluded that the mother of the Reformation was Greek. I take that to mean Greek is important for the gospel and the church.
  2. Doug Wilson also wrote a fantastic post on the requirement of doctrinal integrity for elders, in which he urged elders not only to study doctrines afresh (cf. Acts 17:11), but also to work through those issues with their fellow church leaders.

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