THE ABSURDITY OF ORDINATION
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.
— Philippians 1:1-3, ESV
Ordination is a high and holy day in the church. It is the formal recognition and installation of a member of the church to a special office. It is culminated with the “laying on of hands” (ref. 1 Timothy 5:22, 2 Timothy 1:6, Hebrews 6:2). We can find a strong biblical warrant for this ritual, and we can find it all a little bit absurd.
In Roman Catholicism, Ordination is one of the seven sacraments of the church, which must be completed for the participants to escape Hell, avoid much time in Purgatory, and finally arrive in Heaven. It is practiced for “Priests” and “Deacons,” the former of which is only an Old Testament office and the latter originated in the New Testament. Anglicans, Episcopalians, and some Lutherans also ordain priests, which is odd because these churches should know that since the advent of the New Covenant, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (ref. 1 Timothy 2:5). Priests can become Cardinals and Popes, so now you have a trifecta of unauthorized offices for the church. As you can see, there is at least a little absurdity in these ordinations.
Protestants, including Baptists, try to do better but often fail. At least we have the offices right. We ordain our leaders, known synonymously in the New Testament as “Pastors,” “Elders,” and “Overseers/Bishops.” We ordain special servants to wait upon our widows, elderly, and needy members can call them “Deacons.” However, in my observance of churches in our denomination, Pastors are ordained and given great responsibilities with no authority, and Deacons are ordained and given great authority with no responsibility. This, too, is an absurdity of ordination.
Perhaps we would do well to follow the late, great Charles Haddon Spurgeon. “Mr.” Spurgeon never took the title of “Rev.,” since he was never ordained, and would not allow himself to be called “Dr.” as he never accepted nor earned an honorary, mail order (or online, as there was no internet in Spurgeon’s day), or resident degree. His people called him the “Governor,” which is not exactly a New Testament office. Spurgeon considered ordination a vain ritual and never employed it in his churches, although the churches did recognize the proper New Testament offices of Pastor/Elder/Overseer and Deacon. Perhaps this is a little absurd as well.
Today I want to come down both sides of the aisle. I want to ordain, on behalf of the church and the other ordained ministers, as I have many times before, those properly qualified, identified, and certified by the church to lead and serve. However, I want to point out at the same time the absurdity of ordination, insomuch that not a just a few, but all Christians are ordained by God for great blessings and responsibilities in His church.
All Christians are “Saints”
In Catholicism, there are few saints. To be one, you have to be in the upper echelon of the church, live an exemplary Christian life, accomplish some great and enduring ministry, provide at least one post-mortem miracle, and, finally, gain approval from the Pontiff. This is an order taller than the Pope’s hat, and very few climb that high.
Baptists and other Protestants have no such saints. I suppose it is because we are all a bunch of rascals. On the other hand, could it be that all Christians are, in fact, saints?
The word translated “saint” in our text is an common uncommon word in the New Testament. It is common, because it appears 233 times. It is uncommon, because it speaks of a very unique gift, a total transformation, and a persistent characteristic of the uniquely Christian life. The word is better translated “holy” or “holy ones.”
There are only two types of Christians in the membership rolls of churches today: unholy and holy. The unholy may profess faith in Jesus Christ, but they do not possess faith. Sometimes they are nominals, Christians in name only, who are inactive in church and undisciplined in following Christ. We call the worst of them hypocrites, because they are active in church but ungodly in nature and character. They are all simply unholy, having never received the Holy Spirit, never truly revered the Holy word of God, and never understood “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (ref. Hebrews 12:14).
On the other hand, all genuine Christians have been born again and indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God (ref. John 3, etc.). They have been deeply convicted of sin and deeply convinced of the salvation God gives by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They consider responsible church membership and regular Bible study important, significant, holy. Their lives, while not perfect (Jesus alone fit that bill), are characterized by sincere love and persistent obedience. They are the true members of the church, the true citizens of Heaven, the “holy ones,” the “saints.” And, you want to be one.
Most of us know by heart the first stanza of the song made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1936 (although it was written by James Black and Katherine Purvis in 1896):
Oh, when the saints go marching in, Oh, when the saints go marching in, Oh Lord I want to be in that number, When the saints go marching in.
Consider some of the other verses:
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call, Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call …
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride, Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride …
Oh, when the moon turns red with blood, Oh, when the moon turns red with blood …
Oh, when the stars fall from the sky, Oh, when the stars fall from the sky …
Oh yes, you want to be in that number, because when Jesus comes again, you’re either a saint, or you ain’t, getting into Heaven, that is.
All Christians are “Overseers”
Among the “saints” Paul refers to in his opening line to the church at Philippi are the “overseers” and the “deacons.” There is a sense in which all the saints are overseers and deacons, but obviously there is another way in which these offices refer to the few who have been ordained by the many.
Let us learn a thing or two about overseers. The interchangeable names for this office all appear in 1 Peter 5:1-2. There Simon Peter considers himself “a fellow elder,” not a Pope. He calls for elders to “shepherd,” also translated “pastor,” by providing “oversight,” which is the word episcopal, or bishop. All three of these terms speak of a definitive leader, supervisor, manager, with authoritative weight and administrative responsibility.
The church of Jesus Christ is not to be run like a communist country, with all persons being essential equal in status and power (which does not play out well in communism nor church polity). The church is not a democracy, full of inalienable rights to form a majority politic. No, the church is a dynamic family organism with Jesus Christ alone at the Head. Christ mediates His lordship over the church through the Bible and gives responsibility to select church leaders known as “elders” or “pastors” or “bishops” to chain the church to the word of God and move it forward.
Because of the reformed doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, every believer has elder-like, pastoral, bishopric responsibilities. You must govern your own soul, and hold yourself accountable to the gospel and the word of God. And, you must band with your fellow church members to identify and ordain qualified men to serve as your official Elders and Pastors, follow them as they follow Christ, and hold them accountable to the essence of their calling.
Elders and Pastors must be ordained to lead, and then be allowed by you to lead. They should lead without your harassment and hindrance unless they are clearly operating outside the parameters of the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. And, they should lead with love and kindness, like good fathers, who would be foolish to force wife and children to do anything without first convincing them it is right, in their best interests, and for the glory of God.
All Christians are “Deacons"
Just as all Christians are overseers and few are ordained to be overseers, it is the same with the novel New Testament term deacon. It literally means “one who waits on tables,” or waiter, a noble job if there ever was one.
The office finds its origination in Acts 6, as the Christian church took responsibility for the care of its widows, and ostensibly any older or needy member. Food was collected and distributed for them, and the Apostles, who were the first elders/pastors/overseers, needed to concentrate on leading, praying, and preaching. So, the office of deacon was established and continues up to this day.
In Catholicism, deacons are essentially assistant priests or priests in training. This is helpful if not expressly biblical. In Protestantism, especially modern Baptist life, they are little popes, which has proven to be neither helpful nor biblical.
Most people are not aware that Wake Forest University, the smallest school in America with NCAA Division I sports, is a historic Southern Baptist institution. They severed ties in recent history, however, when the SBC decided you must believe the Bible to be kosher in the denomination. The “Demon Deacons” revolted at the notion.
That’s right, “Demon Deacon,” is there chosen mascot, an exaggerated oxymoron. Demons are evil, deacons should be among the righteous. But in the last century, deacons in Baptist churches have abrogated their God-given role and usurped authority over the pastors and members of the church to serve as a self-appointed board of directors. They have fired godly pastors and ruined good churches with this demonic activity. If you find yourself in such a church, flee before the wrath of God finally falls down.
For a good deacon role model, look no further than the Lord Jesus Christ. He served tables with wine, fish, and bread. He washed feet. He sacrificed for love. He is the Suffering Servant who saved our souls. No Christian is a savior, only Christ, but all Christians should be deacons in the sense they are always looking to serve others, particularly those in need.
And, for the need of organization and efficiency in the church, certain persons who meet the expressed biblical qualifications, would be specially ordained as deacons lead the church in serving. God bless the church that employs the concept of deacon in this way.
All Christians are Children of God
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
— Mark 10:13-16
At the end of the day, I think it is best said that all Christians are children of God. We have all been born again, inhabited by the holy, made saints by God. We have been given the freedom, will, and responsibility to lead our lives by the principles and precepts of the word of God. We should all take this short life on earth that we have, give it to God and others, in the service of worship and work for Christ. This is the essence, and the absurdity, of your ordination as a Christian.