Ordination—from the Latin word ordinare—means, “to set in order,” “to arrange,” “to organize” (Elwell 1984, 869). This is not exactly how we understand the word when we think about ordination in terms of a pastor. But Elwell says, “In later Latin [ordain and ordination] came to mean ‘to appoint to office” (ibid.). Criswell defines ordination today as, “the setting aside of a God-called preacher for a particular office, it may be that of a pastor, or of a chaplain, or of a staff assignment, or of an evangelist, or of some other specified assignment in the church or in the denomination” (Criswell 1980, 219). Some, having seen an ordination ceremony, might think it nothing more than a public ceremony; others claim ordination is something more than that. The question for this post, however, is if ordination as we see it today is scriptural. It is if we see it not as a title but an attitude toward a person and ministry.

Although ordination is found in both the Old and New Testaments, the best understanding of the concept for pastors is found in the New Testament. In Mark 3:13-19, Jesus choose and appointed (epoieson in the Greek) twelve men to do a number of tasks including preaching and casting out demons. Eventually most of these twelve also became the leaders of the Church as Apostles. In this instance, it is seen that Jesus, that is, God incarnate, “called to him those whom he desired” (Mark 3:13, ESV). In today’s vernacular, pastors often feel called by God in to ministry. What is not seen in the account recorded in Mark is any kind of public ceremony, likely because there was not one.

In Acts chapter 6, seven men were chosen to serve the Church as deacons. Once they were selected, they were presented to the Apostles. The Apostles then “prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6, ESV). In this instance, there is a lying on of hands associated with the ordination of the deacons. Another event recorded in Acts shows that after worshiping and fasting, the Apostles were instructed by the Holy Spirit to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2, ESV). Here, God called and set apart two men for his appointed task. The Acts 13 passage continues, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hand on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3, ESV). This event of ordination demonstrates both calling at a public ceremony of sorts. Note, there is first prayer and fasting after God’s call. On the matter of prayer and fasting in nearly every case of ordination, Grudem states that it is “perhaps in connection with the process of selection of elders (Grudem 1994, 918). Calvin says, “It is certain, that when the apostles appointed anyone to the ministry, they used no other ceremony than the laying on of hands. This form was derived, I think, from the custom of the Jews, who, by the laying on of hands, in a manner presented to God whatever they wished to be blessed and consecrated” (Calvin 2008, 708). Therefore, it seems that the ordination is first God’s choice and calling, followed by the public acceptance of God's calling which is often little more than a public announcement and conformation of God’s will.

Paul, in instructing Timothy, outlines the qualifications for selecting elders and deacons. First Paul says, “If any one aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task,” suggesting that the desire should be present, likely a calling from God (1 Timothy 3:1, ESV). However, there is also a list of criteria, indicating that the selection, possibly like the duel nature of scripture, is also inclusive of man’s actions and choices. It is probably that the selection is influenced and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul also told Timothy that he should not be “hasty in the laying of on of hands,” indicating that the selection, public announcement, and conformation of God’s called one should not be done without serious prayer, fasting, consideration, and contemplation (1 Timothy 5:22, ESV).

In conclusion, given even the brief treatment of Scripture here, it is clear that ordination as seen as a setting apart for the purpose of ministry is not only biblical, it is necessary and should be conducted in accordance with the Word of God. An elder-pastor (and even deacons) should be installed to office only after prayer and fasting, in order to know and work in conjunction with God’s calling upon his people. It is not a suggestion of Scripture; it is a direction.

Calvin, Jean. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids,
Mich: Baker Academic, 2001.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester,
England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

* Photo by Niall McAuley is registered under a creative commons license.