Edward Hiscox's New Directory For Baptist Churches

14 Ordination

Ordination, in its popular sense, is that form of service by which men are admitted to the ranks of the Christian ministry, and to the exercise of its functions. So important a relation does this service sustain to the character of the men who fill their pulpits and become the instructors and guides of the churches, that ritualistic communions hold it as a sacrament. While ordination is but one of the avenues by which worthy men can be admitted to, and unworthy men excluded from, the sacred office, yet it is one, and should be sedulously guarded by watchful churches and conscientious Councils and Presbyteries—that the ministry be kept pure and true to its high calling. For, while neither churches nor Councils can prevent a man from preaching, if he desires to do it, and can secure hearers, they can refuse him recognition and fellowship in such a course, and ought to do it, if they believe him unfit or unworthy.

Ordination, therefore, as the act by which men are admitted to the rank and functions of religious teachers among our people, and pastors of the flock of Christ, becomes a matter of serious moment, and should be well considered. Its motive, its purpose and its effect should be clearly understood.

To do this in the light of Baptist Church polity, the following questions must be asked and answered:

I. What is ordination? 2. By whom is ordination? 3. What is the effect of ordination? 4. Is ordination to be repeated?

Primary Propositions.

The discussion which follows will maintain, and it is believed will establish, the following propositions:

Prop. I. That the ordination of the New Testament was an election, or appointment, to the ministerial office, and not a ceremonial setting apart, or consecration to that office.

Prop. II. That there is no proof in the New Testament that persons chosen to the office of elder, pastor or bishop in the apostolic churches were designated for, or inducted into, that office by any formal service or ceremony whatever.

Prop. III. That, though the laying on of hands was common on many occasions, as an ancient Oriental Jewish and early Christian form of blessing, especially in the bestowment of the gifts of the Spirit, yet there is neither precept nor precedent in the New Testament to require its use in the ordination of Christian ministers.

Prop. IV. That, while some public service of inauguration and designation for one who first enters the ministry, or at any subsequent entrance upon a new field of labor, would be very appropriate and becoming as expressing the approval and fellowship of other ministers and the churches, yet such service is not of divine authority, and cannot be made obligatory or essential, either to the lawfulness of ministerial standing or to the validity of ministerial acts.

Prop. V. That if such ordination or recognition services be held, their form and order are matters of liberty and choice with those concerned in them, since they are prescribed by no Scriptural authority.

Prop. VI. That, since all ecclesiastical authority resides in the local, visible Church according to the New Testament polity, therefore the right to set apart, as well as to elect, belongs to the Church alone, and the only sphere of Council or Presbytery action is that of advice to, and cooperation with, the Church, being in no sense authoritative or essential.

Prop. VII. That while, for the sake of order and propriety it is becoming for accredited ministers to conduct all public religious services on ordinary occasions, yet ceremonial ordination is not essential to the ministry of the Word, nor to the administration of the ordinances; therefore, a Church without an ordained minister may, with the strictest propriety, direct a private member to administer the ordinances, conduct its services, and preside in its assemblies; and, indeed, this should be done for the edification of the body.

Prop. VIII. That reordination, in the case of ministers who come to us from other evangelical denominations, is a matter of Christian liberty, optional with those concerned, but cannot be made essential to ministerial character or the validity of ministerial acts, though it may with propriety be made to conform to prevailing custom, for the sake of uniformity in usage.

Our space will admit of little more than a statement of positions deemed true and tenable; while many of the arguments, and most of the authorities by which these positions are maintained must be omitted.

I. What is Ordination?

This question, to be clearly answered, needs definition and limitation. Ordination means different things to different minds, and according to different ecclesiastical standards.

It is defined to be the act and form of setting one apart to the work of the Christian ministry; or induction into the sacred office. Or, in a little more formal and churchly language it is “the act of conferring holy orders, with prayer, and the imposition of hands.” If, however, a more comprehensible explanation be desired, as to both the form and substance of it, we must keep in mind the point of view from which it is contemplated.

First, there is the ordination of present usage as held and practised by the various Christian denominations, with great diversity of subjective import and ceremonial observance.

Second, there is the ordination of history which found its highest conception and most complete expression in the mediaeval Latin and Greek churches, which held it as a sacrament, invested it with the sanctity of inspiration and surrounded it with the pageantry of an imposing ritualism.

Third, there is the ordination of the New Testament, which differs from both the others, and which alone need command the regard or research of those churches who claim to draw both the form and spirit of all life from that sacred fountain of ecclesiastical order and authority.

Our inquiry, then, is narrowed to this question, What is the “ordination” of the New Testament? The English words ordain and ordained, are used with some frequency in the sacred writings, and render several Greek words, but constitute, as every careful reader knows, no argument for ceremonial ordination, as now or formerly practised.

In Mark 3:14 it is said Jesus “ordained (epoieese) twelve, that they should be with Him.” It implies no “setting apart,” but simply an appointment, a choice.

In Luke 10:1 it is said, “the Lord appointed (anedeixen) other seventy also.” The word means to point out, to declare, to appoint. Has no reference to formal induction into office.

In I Tim. 2:7, Paul says, “Whereunto I am ordained (etetheen) a preacher, and an apostle.” Here the word means to set, to constitute, to appoint, and has no reference to ceremonial ordination.

In Acts 1:22 Peter declares that one must be ordained (genesthai) to be a witness of the resurrection of Jesus, to fill the place of Judas. Here the word means to select, elect, appoint, to bring about, cause to be.

In Acts 14:23 it is said of Paul and Barnabas, “when they had ordained (cheirotoneesantes) them elders in every city,” etc. This much quoted word, which has been relied on to prove a ritualistic ordination, by the “laying on of hands,” the best scholarship decides to mean the stretching out of the hand or the lifting up of the hand as in voting. The meaning of which here is, that the Apostles secured the election of elders by the vote of the churches, with no reference to ceremonial induction into office.

[This word, Cheirotoneoo, Robinson, in his N. T. Lexicon, defines, “to stretch out the hand, to hold up the hand, as in voting; hence to vote; to give one’s vote. In N. T. to choose by vote, to appoint.” Green, in his N. T. Lexicon, defines it, “to stretch out the hand; to constitute by voting; to appoint.” Donnegan, in his Greek Lexicon, defines, “to stretch forth the hand; to vote in an assembly by extending the hand; to elect, to choose.” The only places where this word is used in the N. T. are that already named, Acts 14:23, and 2 Cor. 8:19, where Paul speaks of the brother “who was chosen (Cheirotoneetheis) of the churches to travel with us.” Here the choice or appointment of the brother is the only thing indicated.]

The word used in Titus 1:5, “ordain elders in every city,” is katasteesees, which means to set, to place, to constitute, to set over. And which Robinson defines, “to constitute, to make;” and Green, “to place, constitute, set, appoint.”

1. The Testimony of Scholars.

Dr. Dexter, with reference to these cases, says:

“There being no hint in either case of any thing of a character like what is commonly called ordination in our time.” “Fairly translated, and unmodified by any coloring from subsequent unscriptural ecclesiastical usage, these texts would never have suggested any such act as that which is called “ordination” by the common speech of men.” Congregationalism, pp. 138, 139.

Dean Alford says:

“The word (Cheirotoneesantes) will not bear Jerome’s and Chrysostom’s sense of ‘laying on of hands,’ adopted by Roman Catholic expositors. Nor is there any reason for departing from the usual meaning of electing by show of hands.—Comments on Acts14:23.

Dr. Hackett renders the phrase:

“Now having appointed for them elders in every Church,” which he interprets thus; “having appointed for them by their outstretched hand.” Comment in loco.

Dean Alford renders the passage, Titus 1:5,

“And mightest appoint, city by city, elders.” He sees no ceremonial ordination in it.

Conybeare renders it:

“Mightest appoint presbyters in every city.” Com. in loco.

Bloomfield says:

“There is indeed no point on which the most learned have been so much agreed, as this, that Cheirotoneesantes here simply denotes having selected, constituted, appointed.” Com. on Acts 14:23.

Dr. Lyman Coleman says:

“This conclusion is sustained by the most approved authorities. According to Suicer, the primary and appropriate signification of the term is to denote an election made by the uplifted hand, and particularly denotes the election of a bishop by vote.” “In this sense it continued for a long time to be used in the Church, denoting not an ordination or consecration, but an election. Grotius, Meyer, and De Wette so interpret the passage, to say nothing of Beza, Bohmer, Rothe, and others.” Prim. Christ., p. 64.

Matthew Tindale says:

“We read only of the Apostles constituting elders by the suffrages of the people. Acts 14:23, which is the genuine signification of the Greek word, Cheirotoneesantes, so it is accordingly interpreted by Erasmus, Beza, Diodoti, and those who translated the Swiss, French, Italian, Belgic, and even English Bibles, till the Episcopal correction, which leaves out the words, ‘by election,’ as well as the marginal notes which affirm that the Apostles did not thrust pastors into the churches through a lordly superiority, but chose and placed them there by the voice of the congregation.” Rights of a Christian Church, p. 358.

Dr. Victor Lechler (in Lange), says:

“Cheirotonein signifies to raise the hands, to vote, to elect by stretching out the hands. The expression, accordingly, suggests the thought that the Apostles may have appointed and superintended a congregational election. And this view is supported by the circumstances related in chap. 6:2, when the Twelve directed that the election of the Seven should be held.” Com. on Acts 14:23.

Dr. Gill says:

“The election and call of them [pastors] with their acceptance, is ordination. Election and ordination are spoken of as the same.” “Though there was a stretching out of the hands, there was no imposition of hands in ordination.” “No instance can be given of hands being laid on any ordinary minister, pastor, or elder at his ordination.” Body of Divinity, pp. 525-6. Phil. Ed., 1810.

A want of space forbids further citation of authorities. Nor is it needful. New Testament ordination was an election, an appointment to office, and had no reference whatever to any formal induction into office; did not imply any ceremonial investiture, or setting apart to the functions of that office. The New Testament calls an election to office, ordination; we call the setting apart of those Selected, ordination. Those who are jealous for New Testament models, should correct their phraseologies by the New Testament standard.

It may be fairly asked—admitting that ordination in the New Testament sense was an election, an appointment—Were not those, thus elected, set apart by formal ceremonies to the discharge of their official duties? This we can neither affirm nor deny. We simply do not know. There is neither precept, example, nor manifest inference to decide the question. It has usually been taken for granted that the primitive ministry was inducted into office by formal services, and that “prayer with the laying on of hands,” was the essential part of such ordination. But this has been accepted as scriptural, not because it is found in the Scriptures, but because Prelatical and Presbyterial authorities have interpreted the Scriptures by their own ecclesiastical usages, rather than adjusted their usages to the New Testament teaching. They have seen Episcopal and Presbyterian ordination in the New Testament because they saw it in their Church standards and practices. Their scholars have largely so interpreted the text, and Baptists have accepted their conclusions without even their justification.

2. The Laying on of Hands.

But does not Paul expressly declare to Timothy that he was ordained and set apart to the work of the ministry by the laying on of his hands and the hands of the Presbytery? No; he makes no such declaration. Does he not enjoin Timothy not to ordain any man hastily by suddenly laying hands on him? No; he makes no such declaration, as we shall see.

The subject of “the laying on of hands” must be treated very briefly in this place. It was an old / Jewish and common Oriental custom, by which benedictions were conferred or invoked, and other symbolical acts performed. Our Lord laid His hands on the sick to heal them; on the little children to bless them. The Apostles did the same. But in the apostolic church this act was chiefly associated with the special impartation of the Holy Spirit. The Charismata was thus conferred. Peter and John laid hands on the converts at Samaria, and they received the Holy Ghost. So did Paul on the twelve disciples at Ephesus. Ananias laid his hands on Saul at Damascus that he might receive his sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Jesus, after the resurrection, conferred the Holy Ghost by breathing on His disciples. And His farewell blessing, when He ascended, was conferred by the lifting up of His hands.

Now, the apostolic precedents relied on to enforce ceremonial ordination by the laying on of hands, are the following:

1. The ordination of the Seven as related in Acts 6:1-6. The true ordination, i. e., the election in this case was by the “whole multitude,” “the multitude of the disciples.”

But this case is not in point, and constitutes no argument; since this setting apart was to a secular office and not to a spiritual ministry; to the serving of tables and not to preaching of the Word. An induction into the Diaconate and not into the Episcopate. Moreover, this act was by inspired Apostles, who have no successors. Neither the Diaconate, the Episcopate, nor the Presbyterate can claim to be the official successors of the Apostolate. Presumably this act was for their especial endowment by the Charismata. It has no authority unless it be in the ordination of deacons.

2. The next precedent relied on is the case of Barnabas and Saul, sent forth to the Gentiles by the Church at Antioch, Acts 13:1-3.

But this was not an ordination in any technical sense. Both these men had been engaged in the active work of the ministry for years—not less than eight or nine, possibly twelve, according to the best chronological data. They were not here inducted into the ministry, but designated to a new field of work. Moreover, this designation was by the special and express dictation of the Holy Ghost, showing that it was not a common and customary, but an extraordinary and wholly exceptional thing, and therefore not an imitable example. Also, it is wholly undetermined who laid hands on them, whether the prophets, the elders, or the disciples generally.

Dr. Hackett says:

“Paul was already a minister and an Apostle, and by thit service he and Barnabas were now merely set apart for the accomplishment of a specific work.” Com. in loco.

3. The next case usually quoted to the same end, is Paul’s injunctions to Timothy; “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.”—1 Tim. 4:14. Also, “Wherefore, I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands.”—2 Tim.1:6.

These passages are held to prove primitive ordination by the laying on of hands. This inferential reasoning is quite of a piece with that which proves primitive infant baptisms from the fact of household baptisms. The fact is, the Apostle makes not the least allusion to ordination in these citations. He speaks expressly and only of “the gift of God” (to Charisma tou Theou), which had been bestowed by the laying on of hands. It would do no more violence to the text to infer that Paul laid his hands on the disciples to ordain them, or that Peter laid his hands on the converts at Samaria for the same purpose, than to say that the above texts refer to Timothy’s ordination.

Dr. Van Oosterzee, in Lange, says:

“There is here absolutely no mention of ordination in the later hierarchical sense.” Com. on 2 Tim. 1:6.

Dr. Ebrard, the continuator of Olshausen, says:

“Ordination, in its later sense, is in no way referred to.” Com. on 2 Tim. 1:6.

Dr. Olshausen says:

“In these passages, indeed, it is the laying on of hands for the communication of the Spirit that is spoken of, not, however, for a definite sphere of duty or a special calling, but for the general calling of the Christian.” Com. on 1 Tim. 4:14.

Dr. Van Oosterzee, in Lange, says:

“Laying on of hands. This was of old a symbol of the communication of the Holy Spirit.” Com. 1 Tim. 4:14.

Dr. Whitby says:

“The Charisma, or gift here mentioned, being the gift of the Holy Ghost, was usually conferred by the laying on of the hands of an Apostle.” Com. on 2 Tim. 1:6.

Dr. Gill says:

“And since gifts have ceased being conveyed this way, the rite of laying on of hands in ordination seems useless and of no avail.” Com. on 1 Tim. 4:14.

Dr. Conybeare says:

“The grace of God required for any particular office in the early Church was conferred after prayer and the laying on of hands. This imposition of hands was repeated whenever one was appointed to a new office or commission.”—Com. on 2 Tim. 1:6, Note 6.

To say the very most for those who insist that these passages refer to ordination, it must be confessed the foundation is too slender and uncertain to allow of resting on them any doctrine, or imposing any ceremony that shall be regarded as essential to the validity of ministerial acts. It is not strange that many interpreters, looking at these passages through their own standards and usages, should see ordination recognized where the Apostle seemed to see nothing but extraordinary spiritual gifts imparted by the imposition of hands.

4. We come lastly to mention the text much relied on to prove ceremonial ordination as existing in the apostolic Church; and while it fails to substantiate that doctrine, it is undoubtedly the strongest citation for that purpose that can be made from the New Testament. It is 1 Tim. 5:22—“Lay hands suddenly on no man.” This is interpreted to mean, “do not ordain and put into the ministry any man, hastily.” If it does refer to ordination, the inference would be strong—though not conclusive—that a custom prevailed, of inducting men into the sacred office by the imposition of hands. But does it refer to ordination? It has generally been so interpreted. But we learn to distrust the scholarship which interprets the word of God under the bias of ecclesiastical prepossession.

This passage stands near the end of a chapter composed of a variety of preceptive injunctions, in which Timothy is advised how he shall conduct the various matters referred to among the churches. The injunction immediately preceding is, “Do nothing through partiality.” That immediately following is, “Neither be partakers of other men’s sins.” The connection gives us no clew to its proper application.

Dean Alford, while he believes that it refers to ordination, cites DeWette, Wiesenger, Huther, Hammond and Ellicott, who interpret it of receiving back into the Church excommunicated persons, as from the later testimony of Cyprian, the Nicene Council, and other sources, is proved to have been the early practice; except as Luther regards it as simply a form of expressing an ecclesiastical benediction.

Dr. Ebrard says:

“It should be understood of receiving into the Christian fellowship in general, or of restoring to this fellowship those that had fallen.” He adds, “I prefer the latter view, with DeWette, from regard to v. 20.” “Baur explains the passage principally of the restoration of heretics, of which he adduces examples from a later period.” This is also his opinion, though he does not regard the evidence as decisive. Com. in loco.

Dr. Hammond says:

“This belongs to the laying on of bishop’s hands in absolving penitents.” Com. in loco.

Dr. Van Oosterzee, in Lange, while he does not feel sure as to the interpretation and application of the words, says:

“But the question is, ‘To what laying on of hands does the Apostle here refer?’ According to DeWette he means the admission of such as had been excluded from the Church fellowship. Without doubt the connection favors this opinion. And already, at an early day, the laying on of hands was practiced as a sign of absolution for excommunicated or heretical persons, restored into the pale of the Church.” Com., 1 Tim. 5:22.

Dr. Ellicott says:

“The preceding warning, however, and still more the decided language of the following clause, appears to point so very clearly to some disciplinary functions, that it seems best, with Hammond (so also DeWette and Wiesenger) to refer these words to the Cheirothesia, on the absolution of penitents and their readmission to Church fellowship.” Comment. 1 Tim. 5:22.

McKnight says:

“Lay hands suddenly on no man. Appoint no one to any sacred office, hastily, without inquiry into his character and qualifications.” Com. in loco.

Dr. Wm. B. Johnson, one of the most honored of American Baptists, says:

“As there is not a solitary case in the New Testament of ordination to the ministry by imposition of hands, I cannot suppose that the direction of Paul to Timothy, to lay hands suddenly on no man, does refer to imposition of hands in ordination.” The Gospel Developed, pp. 155, 156.

Dr. J. B. Jeter, a man acute, discriminating and conservative, says:

“In the primitive age very little stress was laid on the ceremonies attending the induction into office. The Apostles laid on their hands several times to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost; but never in confirmation of an appointment to office—except in the case of the Seven.” “There is no scriptural proof that any elder or bishop of any Church was ordained by the laying on of the hands of an Apostle, or of any Christian minister.” “In the apostolic times ordination was simply an appointment to office.” “A formal ordination service is not essential to the performance of ministerial duties; but it is eminently becoming and useful. The appointment of a Church is the essence of ordination.”—Religious Herald, editorial of May 25, 1876.

An attempt to extort apostolic authority for a ceremony deemed important, if not absolutely essential, from a text so variously understood, in which, with its contexts, Schleiermacher found “an extraordinary confusion,” and which the best scholars find it difficult to construe with satisfaction, would be something more than absurd.

Note 1.—Ordination, therefore, by the laying on of hands, since not taught in the New Testament, by either precept, example, or clear inference, is not essential nor obligatory.

Note 2.—While, however, it is not a matter of obligation, it is also not contrary to the letter or spirit of the Scriptures, and as a matter of Christian liberty, is permissible.

Note 3.—As a matter of liberty, also, the form and manner of induction into the ministerial office is optional with the churches and candidates for orders.

Note 4.—Uniformity in order among the churches is desirable. But if uniformity be demanded as essential to orthodoxy, or to validity, in any thing not clearly taught in the New Testament, then the demand should be resisted. Christ is the only lawgiver for the churches.

3. Its Place among the Churches.

Our most orthodox Baptist churches formerly practiced the laying on of hands upon persons baptized. Some still practise it; not a few believe it of apostolic origin. Dr. David Benedict, the historian, declares, “This was a practice of high authority in our denomination in other countries, and in this country it formerly prevailed much more extensively than at the present time.” When the Philadelphia Association adopted the London Baptist Confession of 1689, they added, Sept. 15, 1742, an article (the 35th) beginning, “We believe that laying on hands with prayer, upon baptized believers, is an ordinance of Christ, and ought to be submitted unto by all such persons that are admitted to partake of the Lord’s supper.” This article, however, was afterward omitted.

In the modern Roman Church imposition of hands is deemed essential in the sacraments of ordination, confirmation, and baptism. Also in the Anglican and other Episcopal churches it is similarly used. In other Protestant churches, our own included, it retains its place only in ordination, in all of which it is insisted on with a tendency to sacramental effect.

Ordination, therefore, by public prayer and the imposition of hands by other ministers, is not essential to the genuineness of ministerial character or the validity of ministerial acts. It does not make a minister any more than inauguration makes the president. He is president, de jure and de facto, by virtue of his election, with all the rights, powers and privileges which belong to the office, with or without an inauguration. Such is the relation of ordination to the ministry. It is their inauguration, making public the election, with the approval and commendation of those who take part in the services. And this only.

The fathers of New England orthodoxy took this view of the matter; even the rigid leaders of the Standing Order.

Cotton Mather said:

“Our fathers reckoned ordination not to be essential unto the vocation of a minister, any more than coronation to the being of a king; but that it is only a consequent and convenient adjunct of his vocation, and a solemn acknowledgment of it, with a useful and proper benediction of him in it.” Magnalia, Vol. III., pp. 242-3.

Thomas Hooker said:

“It is plain that ordination presupposes an office constituted; does not constitute. Therefore it is not an act of power, but of order.” Right and Power of Ordination.

The Cambridge Platform says:

“Ordination we account nothing else but the solemnly putting a man into his place and office in the Church, whereto he had right before by his election; being like the installing of a magistrate in the commonwealth.” Chapter 9, secs. 2,4.

Isaac Backus, clarum et venerabile nomen among Baptists, said:

“And ordination of ministers is no more than swearing them to be faithful in that office. Their being furnished with grace and gifts for it is the most essential thing in the affair.”—Hist. N. E. Churches, p. iii. Phil., ed., 1853.

Dr. Knapp says:

“That a religious teacher should be solemnly consecrated to his office, or ordained, is indeed useful, both to the teacher himself and to the Church. But in itself considered it is not a matter juris divino. It is nowhere expressly commanded of God, and contributes nothing, considered as an external ceremony, to efficiency and activity in the sacred office.” Christ. Theol., p. 477, 21st Am. ed.

To induct a minister into the sacred office to which he has been chosen by some public service, though required by no scriptural authority, is therefore, nevertheless, becoming, appropriate and impressive. The kind of service and the form of the ceremony may well be left to those directly interested to decide.

[It would be difficult to conceive of a more impressive ordination service than that of the celebrated Robert Hall, by the Church of which he was a member, and of which his father was pastor, at Arnsby, England. Of this we have an account in his memoirs by Dr. Olinthus Gregory, copied from the Church records. After a careful examination of the candidate by his father and the Church, and an appropriate sermon preached by his father, the Church set him apart “by lifting up their right hands, and solemn prayer.”—Hall’s Works, Vol. III., p. 8.]

II. By Whom Is Ordination?

Admitting that, for the sake of order, ceremonial ordination should be continued, where resides the right and the power to set men apart to this service? Is it in a Church, or in a Council or Presbytery? The answer is brief, and should be conclusive. The right of ordination is inherent in the Church; and in no other body of men whatever. This conclusion is inevitable to those who hold to Church independency, and repudiate sacramental ordination and hierarchical assumptions, as Baptists do. The contrary claim, that the right inheres in a Council or Presbytery, and that the ceremony must be performed by those who have had hands laid on them, in order to be valid, is so preposterous, that no man should make it unless he be prepared to defend holy orders by Episcopal hands as a sacrament, with an uninterrupted apostolical succession. For to that he must be finally driven.

That the right of ordination resides in the local, visible Church—though ministers may be called upon to advise in the matter, and to perform the public services—will be evident from the following considerations:

1. Because all ecclesiastical authority resides in the local Church. This is the only organic form of Christian life divinely appointed. Christ instituted no society but the Church, and to it He committed authority to administer His laws. This is the Baptist doctrine, held, taught and defended, always and everywhere. Councils and Presbyteries, as organized bodies, are of human, not of divine origin or authority, and cannot be essential to, much less supersede, the Church in the performance of any ecclesiastical functions.

Dr. Francis Wayland says: 

“While we believe that men are to be set apart for the duties of the ministry, in whom we see the evidence of ministerial gifts, yet, that it is the Church itself—by which I mean, not the clergy, but the whole body of Christians which sets them apart; and that when thus appointed to this work, they are, by this act, rendered no better or holier than their brethren.” Principles and Practices, p.131.

A Council is created by the Church which convenes it. Now to suppose that a Church has not power to ordain, while a Council has, is to suppose that the body created has more power than that which created it. Moreover, the Council has no inherent power, and possesses only what the Church which called it has conferred upon it. It is, therefore absurd to suppose the Council can do more than the Church.

And further, Christ gave to the churches pastors and teachers. But if Councils hold the right to ordain, the churches cannot enjoy these most important gifts of ministerial service divinely bestowed, without the consent of a Council, a body of men for which the great Head of the Church made no provision.

2. Because a Church is a body complete in itself as to authority, though without officers. It has power to create officers out of its own members, and set them apart to the service for which they may be chosen, by any form or ceremony it may choose, or without any ceremony, at its option. The right to choose and enjoy the ministry of its own religious teachers, without let or hindrance from any, is one of the primary rights with which Christ has invested His churches. [See chapter on Councils.]

Haynes says:

“The Church is competent to make her own ministers, as far as man can make them, and this she always does among the Baptists. She authorizes him to preach by her own license, which is granted or withheld, as she thinks best. The essential act in ordination is her election of him for the purpose, and he may become a minister or a pastor without the agency of the Presbytery.” Baptist Denomination, p.250.

3. Because that in the primitive churches, though there was an apostleship and a discipleship, there was no such division into clergy and laity as afterward sprang up and now prevails. There was no official caste or class, save as the Holy Spirit, working in each, developed certain gracious capabilities, which the churches used for the edification of the body. It was neither cleric nor laic, but a common discipleship. All alike constituted a holy priesthood, ordained to offer spiritual sacrifices unto God. And the churches selected and elected teachers and leaders, as the fitting qualifications were developed which commended the individuals.

Dean Stanley said:

“The Church, the Christian society, existed in those faithful followers, even from the beginning, and will doubtless last unto the end.” “But even for years after the Lord’s departure such a society existed without a separate order of clergy.”—Christ. Institutions, p. 179. [See chapters on the Ministry for other authorities.]

It is indisputable that after the primitive age the common discipleship was divided by this class-distinction into clergy and laity. Then developed the hierarchical tendency to wrest ecclesiastical authority from the churches and vest it in an ambitious clergy. Especially did this tendency show itself in the claim that the right of ordination belonged exclusively to the clergy. For in no other way could they so effectually dominate the churches as by holding in their own hands the exclusive right to consecrate and invest their pastors. This right conceded, the churches were powerless in the grasp of their despotic spiritual rulers. The demand now for an exclusive clerical ordination has this same hierarchical tendency for its germ and life. 

Dr. Crowell said:

“It is evident that the right to consecrate is involved in the right to elect; and this right, as we have seen, the Lord Jesus Christ has vested in each Church.” “The choice or election of a man to the ministry is a greater act than that of consecration or induction into office. Consequently, the Church, which is competent to do the greater, must possess in itself the power essential to the valid performance of the less.” Ch. Members’ Manual, pp. 106-7.

Dr. Dexter says:

“If ordination is the mere solemn installing of a functionary, previously appointed, in the place to which he has been chosen, since the putting in the place is a lesser act than the electing to the place, and since the Church has done the greater, it must follow that the power must rest with it to do the less. So that, if a Church may elect its pastor, it may ordain him—which is but the carrying out of that election to its full completion and result.” Congregationalism, p. 141.

Dr. Wm. B. Johnson said:

“The sole power of ordaining to the pastorate or bishopric is lodged with the churches.” Gospel Developed, pp. 133, 144.

Dr. Strong says:

“It is always to be remembered, however, that the power to ordain rests with the Church; and that the Church may proceed without a Council, or even against the decisions of a Council. Such ordination, of course, would give authority only within the bounds of the individual Church.”—Systematic Theology, p. 314.

Dr. Wellman said:

“It should not only be understood, but it should be more distinctly and formally acknowledged than it usually is, both by the ordaining Council and the members of the Church, that the ordaining power is vested in the Church, and not in the Council.” Church Polity of the Pilgrims, p. 114. Cited by Dexter, p. 61, note.

4. Because the claim made by some, that while a Church may have the right to ordain or set apart a minister for themselves, ordination by a Council makes one a minister for the whole denomination, is false, illogical and absurd. A Church cannot, indeed, make a man a minister to any but themselves. The fact that they had chosen him and approved, his ministry, would to that extent give him credit with other churches. Nor yet can a Council do any more than give a man the credit of their approval and commendation. They cannot make him a minister for any Church save that one which asked their advice and cooperation in his ordination.

It is preposterous to claim that a Council can assure the confidence and fellowship of the entire denomination to any man on whom they may lay their hands. What is the denomination? It is not an organic entity; it has no corporate existence; it is not an ecclesiastical body; it has neither organization, laws nor officers, and has no means of expressing approval or dissent. It is a mere conception of the aggregate of all the churches. The ministers who lead and direct its activities are not the denomination; the journals that speak to and for it are not the denomination; and in the sense in which it is so often appealed to, or spoken for, it is a fiction. 

When, therefore, did the denomination authorize a Council or Presbytery to ordain a man into its ministry, or give him the credit of its fellowship throughout the land? What havoc it makes with our theory of Church life, to claim that a Council sitting in Maine or Vermont can make a man an accredited minister for all the churches in Mississippi or Texas or Montana; or that a Presbytery acting in New York can give a man the fellowship of the churches in Chicago, St. Louis or San Francisco, and elsewhere and everywhere.

And since it is by this same theory claimed that a Council is necessary to depose an unworthy man, because a Church can neither make nor unmake a minister, we have such inconsistency and confusion as this. A Council in Massachusetts ordains a man and makes a minister of him for the whole denomination, it is said; while a Council in Virginia, for cause, deposes him, and thereby unmakes a minister of him for the whole denomination! And neither Council knew what the other had done, or that it existed; and the denomination—that mythical something—was ignorant of what both had done, while trading on its credit and acting without its authority. This whole theory of Council authority, is false, untenable and pernicious. There is no such discrimination to be made in favor of the power of a Council, and against the power of a Church in the ordination and deposition of ministers. All that a Council can do is to examine, advise and assist a Church when called upon to do so.

It is right, however, for the sake of order, courtesy, and prudence, that the churches consult and cooperate with each other. But if this be insisted upon as a matter of necessity, then we protest, and fall back on what the fathers called “the power of the keys,” committed by Christ to the churches. Uniformity in order is greatly desirable. But when uniformity is made compulsory by making it essential in things not vital, then nonconformity becomes a virtue and is to be commended.

John Cotton said:

“The warrant by which each particular Church doth depute some of their own body, though not presbyters, to lay their hands on those whom they have chosen to be their presbyters, is grounded upon ‘the power of the keys’ which the Lord Jesus Christ hath given to the churches.” Way of the Churches, p. 43.

John Robinson, John Davenport, Thomas Hooker, Samuel Mather, and the other fathers of New England Congregationalism, held the same opinion. Usually, and orderly, of course, they held that the elders, when present, or easily accessible, should perform this service, just as when present they should conduct other religious services; but their presence and assistance was not imperative. The power was in the churches.

The Cambridge Platform, their standard of Church order, says:

“In such churches where there are no elders, imposition of hands may be performed by some of the brethren, orderly chosen by the Church thereto. For if the people may elect officers, which is the greater, and wherein the substance of the office consists, they may much more (occasion and need so requiring), impose hands in ordination, which is less, and but the accomplishment of the other.”

Dr. Francis Wayland, on methods of admitting to the ministry, says:

“I believe that our mode is not only as good as any other, but that it is more nearly than any other conformed to the principles of the New Testament. Let our churches, then, never surrender the authority to single ministers, or to Councils, or to any other organization whatever. I believe that Christ has placed it in their hands, and they have no right to delegate it. Let them use it in the manner required by the Master, and it can be placed in no safer hands.” Principles and Prac. of Bapt. Chs., p. l00.

III. What is the Effect of Ordination?

What does ordination do for a man? What is he different after it, from what he was before? Does it impart any new rights, powers, privileges or qualifications to him?

It is not usually claimed—certainly not among Baptists—that ordination endows the candidate with any intellectual, moral, or spiritual grace which he did not before possess. To claim that it did would place them in the ranks of sacramentarians, who see, in the imposition of hands, the pledge of special spiritual gifts, as in apostolic times. But this question is answered by prevailing custom and current Christian sentiment thus: the ordained minister can lawfully solemnize marriage, administer the ordinances, and lay hands on others, which the unordained cannot lawfully do. Is this true?

Marriage is held by law to be a civil contract, and its conditions prescribed by statute. The various classes of persons permitted to take the acknowledgments of the contracting parties, are specified. Among these are accredited clergymen of the various denominations, so recognized by the usages of their own churches. An unordained person, in the eyes of the law, is not a clergyman, and therefore is not legally qualified to solemnize marriage, although the marriage contract is not invalidated by such defect, when so performed; but who marries the parties, being thus disqualified, is subject to complaint and fine. A licentiate is not, in a legal sense, a qualified minister.

As to imposition of hands in the ordination of ministers, any one whom the Church may select is competent for this service. It is customary and proper for ministers to do it, if such be present, just as it is proper for them to read the Scriptures, give out the hymns, and make the addresses. But as to its validity and lawfulness, the one is just as good as the other.

This question then remains, Is it right and proper for an unordained man to administer the ordinances? The prevailing opinion is, that he has no such right until the hands of the Presbytery have been laid on him—an opinion that finds no warrant in the New Testament. It is every way proper and becoming for an accredited minister to baptize, and preside at the observance of the Lord’s Supper, just as it is proper for him to preside at any other religious service. But it is a notable inconsistency that current religious opinion will welcome almost any man into the pulpit, who can talk, even though his talk be little more than a travesty of Gospel preaching, and yet insist that the administration of the ordinances is too holy a service for any unordained man to perform.

Paul made it a strong point that he did not baptize, except in a very few cases. [1 Cor. 1:14,15.] His call was to the higher office of preaching the Gospel. The ordinances were committed to the disciples. And this arose from no depreciation of the ordinances, but from the fact that higher spiritual qualifications had been imparted to him, as an ambassador of Christ, for the work of the ministry. Any of the “royal priesthood” of the discipleship could baptize converts, and break the loaf and fill the cup at the Supper; preaching the Gospel was a higher function.

There is no evidence in the New Testament that any Apostle presided at the “breaking of bread,” and scanty evidence that they baptized converts—beyond the few baptized by Paul. They may have done it, but if so, we lack the evidence. The beauty and impressiveness of these sacred symbols do not depend on the administration—only so that they be decently and reverently served—but on the inherent sanctity of the ordinances themselves. Many small and feeble churches go without the ordinances for months, or years, because no ordained minister is accessible to serve them. This is all wrong. Let them select some deacon, or private member to serve in this capacity, as they would choose one to lead a prayer-meeting. The ordinances were committed to the churches; and Christ’s institutions should not be neglected. The neglect of these by the pastorless churches is one cause of their long-continued weakness and decline.

Tertullian said:

“In itself considered, the laity also have also the right to administer the sacraments, and to teach in the community. The Word of God and the sacraments were communicated to all, and may therefore be communicated by all Christians, as instruments of Divine grace.” “If we look at the order necessary to be maintained in the Church, the laity are to exercise their priestly rights of administering the sacraments only when the time and the circumstances require it.” Baptism, chap. 17. Cited by Neander, Ch. Hist., Vol. I., p. 796.

Mosheim says:

“At first, all who were engaged in propagating Christianity, administered this ordinance [baptism] nor can it be called in question that whoever persuaded any person to embrace Christianity, could baptize his own disciple.” Eccl. Hist., Cent. I., part II., chap. 4, sec. 8.

Dr. Jacobs says :

“There are positively no sacred rites or acts which it is declared in the New Testament must be administered by men ordained or in any way separated from the general body of Christians. The two sacraments are justly considered the most solemn of Christian ordinances. But even of them such administration is nowhere commanded.” Eccl. Polity of the New Testament, p. 144.

Dr. Pressense declares:

“That the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians imply that all Christians might break the bread and bless the cup at the Lord’s Supper, and not an officiating minister only. For he says: ‘The bread which we break, and the cup of blessing which we bless.'” Vol. II, p. 224.

Prof. Curtis says:

“Originally every Church member, as such, was an evangelist wherever he could be. As Neander has shown, and all Church history proves, the distinction between the clergy and laity was much less marked at first. In regard to the administration of baptism, this was quite as much the case as in teaching. It belonged to the original priesthood of all, at first, or was, at least, committed to them, except as limited by the Church.” Prog. Bap. Principles, pp. 298-99.

Dr. Charles Hodge, while he believes that the common and orderly way of serving the ordinances is by an ordained minister, yet says:

“If baptism be a washing with water, in the name of the Holy Ghost to signify and seal the ingrafting into Christ, does it cease to do this, if not administered by an ordained minister? Does not the man thus baptized make a profession of his faith?” “Can it therefore be any more invalid than the Gospel preached by a layman?” Systematic Theology, Vol. III., p. 523. Ed. 1875.

Dr. Davidson says:

“Thus when a Church has no elders, the members may legitimately partake of the Supper. An elder’s presence is not essential to the validity of it. It is desirable, because the presumption is, that such an one is better qualified to lead the devotions of the brethren than an individual selected from among themselves.” “But it is certainly unnecessary to send for the elders of another Church; for such an one bears no official relation to any society except his own.” “When a Church, therefore, is without an elder or pastor, let them by all means partake of the Supper. It is their duty and privilege to do so. To neglect it is culpable.” “A deacon selected by the brethren may preside.” “There is no one passage in the New Testament which proves that it is the exclusive right of the elders to baptize. And yet the notion is tenaciously held. Coming as it does from the Church of Rome, and received from that source by the Protestant Episcopal Church, it has taken hold of other denominations.” Eccl. Polity of the N. T., p. 280, 283-90.

Dr. Lyman Coleman says:

“The duty of administering the ordinance [baptism] does not appear to have been restricted to any office in the Church.” “Lay baptism, of which frequent mention is made in the early history of the Church, was undoubtedly treated as valid by the laws and usages of the ancient Church.” Of the Supper he says: “Nothing is said in the New Testament respecting the person whose prerogative it is to administer this sacrament.” Ancient Christ. Exemp., pp. 390, 2-427.

Dr. Henry M. Dexter says:

“The supposed need in the case of evangelists and missionaries grows out of the assumption that only an ordained person has the right to administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But that assumption is a legacy of Popery which Congregationalism will do well to decline; since the Bible does neither affirm nor endorse it. Scripturally one of the deacons, or any brother of the Church whom it may authorize for the purpose, is competent—in the absence of the pastor to baptize, or preside at the remembrance of Christ at the Lord’s Supper.” Congregationalism, pp. 155-57.

Dr. Leonard Bacon says:

“I have found nothing in the Bible, and nothing in what I have seen of the earliest Christian writers, which implies that it was the peculiar duty, or the peculiar honor of this or that officer, to administer baptism.” Manual of Ch. Polity, P. 58.

Dr. Daniel Curry, than whom there has been no abler man in the Methodist Episcopal Church, says:

“The sum of the whole matter is, that whosoever is called of God is thereby invested with all the essential characteristics and prerogatives of a Gospel minister; and whether inducted by one form or another, or without any form, and acknowledged by no fellow-minister, he has an indefeasible right, de jure divino, to administer the sacraments and ordinances, and feed the flock of Christ. And if occasion requires, he may recognize other ministers by solemn forms, and appropriate ceremonies.” Editorial, Christian Advocate, Nov. 11, 1875.

Andrew Fuller said:

“It appears to me that every approved teacher of God’s Word, whether ordained the pastor of a particular Church or not, is authorized to baptize.” “I see nothing objectionable, if, when a Church is destitute of a pastor, it [the Supper] was administered by a deacon, or an aged brother. I know of no Scripture authority for confining it to ministers. Nay, I do not recall any mention in the Scriptures of a minister being employed in it, unless we reckon our Lord one.” Works, Vol. III., p. 494. Phil. Ed., 1845.

Dr. Francis Wayland says:

“I know that we restrict to the ministry the administration of the ordinances; and to this rule I think there can be no objection. But we all know that for this restriction we have no example in the New Testament.” Sermons to the Churches, p. 35. Ed. 1858.

Dr. Richard Fuller, while he approves the present usage, yet says:

“Suppose, however, there is a Church that has no ordained pastor; I grieve to say that there is so much popery among us that some churches in remote places go without the Supper for years because they cannot get a Baptist priest to consecrate the elements.” “As to the abstract question whether an ordained minister is necessary for the ordinances, I answer, no. Andrew Fuller, Robert Hall, and all our eminent men were of one sentiment here.” Autograph letter to the author, Sept. 12, 1876.

Dr. Howard Malcom says:

“I cannot see that baptism can only be rightly performed by an ordained minister. It would be just as valid if done by any private member. The qualification belongs only to the candidate. Hence, a Church without a pastor may designate any member to baptize, or break bread at the Lord’s Supper.” Autograph letter to the author, Sept. 7, 1876.

Dr. Galusha Anderson says:

“There is not a scrap of evidence in the New Testament that either baptism or the Lord’s Supper was administered by the elders, or bishops, or pastors of the churches. That they did administer the ordinances I think quite probable, but there is no record of it in the Scriptures.” “Churches may not only authorize unordained persons to administer the ordinances, but I think they are bound so to do, rather than suffer them to be neglected. The idea that the humblest band of believers cannot baptize converts to Christ, nor remember their Savior by breaking bread, is, to a New Testament student, absurd.” Autograph letter to the author, dated Feb. 16, 1877.

The Baptist Confession of Faith, issued in London, 1643, by seven congregations, as a vindication against the aspersions of their enemies, says:

“The person designed by Christ to dispense baptism, the Scripture holds forth to be a disciple, it being nowhere tied to a particular Church officer, or person extraordinarily sent, the commission enjoining the administration being given to them as considered disciples, being men able to preach the Gospel.” Article 41. See Neal’s Hist. Puritans, Ap., and Cutting’s Hist. Vindications.

More need not be said on this point. Ordination does this for a man—this, and nothing more—it accredits him to the churches and the public by the moral force which the approval and commendation of the men engaged in the ordination service carries with it. Their certificate is a testimonial to the Church and to the religious community. Nor do I think much of the claim that Councils protect the churches against unworthy men, who otherwise would force themselves into the ministry. I do not see but Councils are about as easily deceived by impostors as are the churches themselves. Probably all the clerical cheats and rascals who deceive and destroy the churches have successfully passed the examination of Councils, received their commendation, had hands laid upon their heads, and gone out with their letters of credit in their pockets. Presbyteries are a bulwark of gossamer against the inroads of wolves in sheep’s clothing intent to prey upon the flock. Councils usually do what they are asked to do. Churches should themselves be more wary and cautious, and, perhaps, would be if they had no Council upon whom to throw the responsibility which they themselves should bear.

IV. Is Ordination to be Repeated?

There is but this other question that needs here to be considered, viz., Is the effect of ordination permanent or transient?

Does it confer an indelible ministerial character? Or, does it need to be repeated? If the minister should lapse from the faith, be deposed, or leave the sacred for a secular calling, and be restored, or return, would ordination need to be repeated? Or, if he pass from one denomination to another, is he to be reordained by new forms? or will his old investiture be deemed sufficient and accepted as valid? The former aspects of the question, as to the character indelibilis, have occupied a large place in the polemical disputations of past centuries. In these, however, we have small interest, and on them we need not dwell. The only aspect of the case with which we have much concern is that of reordination or recognition.

Should a minister, who comes among us from another denomination, be ordained, or simply recognized? Do we accept his former ordination, if among evangelical Churches, or do we not? To this, Baptist sentiment answers Yes, and No. Some do; others do not. And it is perfectly immaterial which side of the question one accepts and defends. Both are equally orthodox, and whichever the candidate, and the Church of which he is to be pastor, should prefer would be safe to adopt. Just at present the tide sets rather in favor of reordination; and perhaps this, on the whole, is the wiser course, since each Christian communion has its own method of induction into office. Baptists may well make theirs uniform in all cases of men set apart to the ministry among them. It can be no reflection on the sanctity of methods in other churches for us to pursue our own.

The difference between ordination and recognition lies mainly in this, that in the former there is an examination of the candidate, and the imposition of hands; in the latter these are omitted. But if a Council be called, there is no good reason why they should not examine the candidate sufficiently to satisfy them of his fitness for the ministry—and, indeed, for the Baptist ministry. And the imposition of hands would be quite as appropriate in this as in any other case, and would be sanctioned by the setting apart of Barnabas and Saul at Antioch, on whom hands were laid after having been many years in the ministry; they were thus sent forth to a new field of labor with fraternal benedictions.
Let the question, therefore, be answered as follows:

1. Reordination is not necessary. For the substance of the first ordination —if it were to an evangelical ministry—was to recognize a divine call to, and a fitness for, that ministry, and to send the man forthwith commendation to the work. His “setting apart” was not, presumably, to a ministry of denominational specialties, but to a dispensation of the word first; the other followed, of consequence, from his position. To insist that ordination is essential, is to insist that he was not set apart to an evangelical service. Moreover, to demand reordination on the ground that it makes him an accredited and lawful minister to the whole denomination, proceeds on the assumption that a Council called by one Church can give a minister credit with all other churches, an assumption somewhat too lofty for the characteristic modesty of Baptists. That assumption has already been discussed.

2. Reordination, or recognition, whichever the Church and the candidate may prefer, is equally effective, and a matter of indifference. The purpose and the effect of both are the same. Some public service would be appropriate; and an examination of the candidate, on points which distinguished his former ecclesiastical relations from those which he has now assumed, would perhaps be needful. Otherwise they could not give him their fellowship and commendation in his new position.

3. To insist on the invalidity of all except denominational ordination is to enter the list for a defense of sacramentarianism, and to stand challenged before the Christian world for the proof of an unbroken succession of sacred orders. This would be as impossible to prove, as it would be useless if proven. We cannot accept the baptism of other denominations because it is not baptism, but sprinkling. It is defective both in substance and in form. It is quite otherwise with ordination, since both the form and the substance in the various communions are virtually the same. And if they be not, there is no authoritative Scriptural standard by which to be guided, as in the case of baptism.

4. Whether ordination be supposed to represent the verity of a divine call, or the validity of ministerial acts, in either case recognition and ordination stand on the same ground. The one is as effectual in ascertaining his call, and declaring his authority, as the other, if what has heretofore been shown is to be accepted, since ordination is not to empower, but to approve.

5. The claim that the action of a Council or a Presbytery can accredit a minister to the whole denomination is to be emphatically denied. With other denominations, which consist of a confederation of churches, or societies, bound together in one general ecclesiastical system, represented and controlled by a central legislative body, with Church judicatories, it is different. They put men into the ministry by established laws and usages, which are authoritative to all, and command the recognition of all the churches. No central body is empowered to act for our denomination in anything. Common usage is to be respected, but is not authoritative.

6. In the absence of special and weighty reasons in favor of recognition it would, perhaps, on the whole, be wise and prudent to reordain ministers who come to us from other denominations, and thus, so far as may be, unify the order of our Churches. This course would probably harmonize with the current drift of sentiment on this subject, while no valid objection could ordinarily be urged against it.

Edward Hiscox (1814-1901) was an American Baptist pastor and theologian. He was converted to Christ in 1834 and began to preach the gospel four years later. He served as the pastor for several congregations, including the Stanton Street Baptist Church, New York (1852). He is best known for authoring the “Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” (1890) and the “New Directory for Baptist Churches” (1894).