My post, titled “Is It Time To Drop The Requirement,” resulted in several responses, which prompted me to do a little more digging into the subject of ordination. And after extensive reading on the subject I conclude there is absolutely no mention of ordination in the New Testament. By the second part of the second century it is possible to detect a growing clericalization of the Church (i.e., separation between clergy and laity), something not present among the early New Testament Christians.

The first complete description of the Christian ceremony of ordination appears at the beginning of the third century and is found in the Apostolic Tradition, a work attributed to Hippolytus of Rome. In this work, we find a detailed description of early Christian ordinations, complete with a detailed theology of ministry and the liturgy to be followed in the ordination service.

Of course there is the “laying on of hands” in both Old and New Testament but even that is not a consistent practice in giving people a specific ministry task. Both Old and New Testament provide a variety of ways in which someone was appointed to an office or task. Even the original disciples were appointed from a larger group of disciples (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16), but the text does not tell us that Jesus ordained or laid his hands on the Twelve. The selection by the assembly of the seven men to fulfill the responsibilities the apostles were unwilling to fulfill was completed by prayer and the laying on of hands, the first such example of this ceremony in the New Testament (Acts 6:1-6). Barnabas and Paul were also set apart in the same manner for their missionary ministry (Acts 13:1-3). But we have no record that elders were ordained, rather it seems that they were simply appointed (Acts 14:23). Timothy seems to have been ordained by Paul and a group of elders, but we are not told for which ministry (1 Timothy 5; 2 Timothy 1:4). The New Testament is silent on how people in many other forms of ministry such as teachers, pastors, evangelists, were installed into their functions.

From this brief introduction to the history of ordination, I make the following conclusions.

  • It’s clear there were many ways people were set apart for ministry.
  • It’s clear that the early writers had no intent of forming a two-class system – clergy and laity.
  • It’s clear that ordination was not a prerequisite for leadership in the church.
  • It’s clear that ordination is the result of second and third century thinkers.
  • It’s clear that ordination, as practiced today, is not a biblical practice much less mandate that must be followed.
  • It’s clear that ordination has resulted in a two-class cast system and it’s my belief that this is one of the main reasons we hear the following treason today –“I’ve just a layperson.”
  • It’s clear that the concept of ordination came about through an evolutionary process and is not found in the Scriptures. It is a carry over from the Roman view of government and the desire of the second and third century Christian leaders to place religious authority in the hands of the few. It was seen as an elevation of a person to a higher rank in the church.
  • It’s clear that it was everyday, non-ordained Christians who propagated the faith in first century.
  • It’s clear that if we want to return Christianity to the explosive growth of the first century we have to drop the requirement of ordination and return the church to the laity.

I want to address another issue that was raised by one of the responses. “Pastors still need ‘seminary type’ training or theological education regardless of the format. Otherwise we are leaning on our own understanding, instead of the wisdom of others and the vast ways that God can teach us.”

My response is what about Abraham, David, the Apostle Paul, the Apostles? None of them had any form of institutional training. They learned on their own or with a mentor. But more importantly, they received their training from their calling and their relationship with God, not some educational process. Christianity is not about the head; it’s about the heart. Our preoccupation with formal, seminary education is serious problem with modern day Christianity – and it’s crippled the Western church. Christianity is not about what we know but whom we know. In the first and early second century one’s relationship with the apostles or with someone who had been with the apostles was the basis for that person’s influence and authority. For more on this subject see my post Doctrine is Ruining Christianity.