Ordination is a term that refers to the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart and elevated from the laity class to the clergy, who are thus then authorized to perform various religious rites and ceremonies.
Ordination is practiced by many Christian denominations, such as Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches. In these traditions, ordination is one of the seven sacraments, also called holy orders or cheirotonia (\”Laying on of Hands\”).
Ordination is based on the concept of apostolic succession, which means that all ordained clergy are ordained by bishops who were ordained by other bishops tracing back to bishops ordained by the Apostles who were ordained by Christ, the great High Priest.
There are three \”degrees\” of ordination: deacon, presbyter (or priest), and bishop. Each degree has a different level of authority and responsibility in the church. Ordination of a bishop is performed by several bishops; ordination of a priest or deacon is performed by a single bishop.
Ordination is a solemn and sacred ceremony that involves the laying of hands of the ordaining minister upon the head of the one being ordained, with prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit and of grace required for the carrying out of the ministry.
Ordination is a way of recognizing and affirming God’s call and gifts for ministry in certain individuals. It is also a way of expressing the church’s unity and continuity in its mission and witness to the world.
Ordination: A Brief History
The word and concept of ordination originated in ancient Rome, where it referred to the installation or induction of a person to a higher rank or class in society, government, or religion. The term came from the Latin word ordo, meaning order, class, or rank.
In the early Christian church, ordination was not a sacrament or a ceremony, but a simple recognition and appointment of those who had the gifts and calling for ministry. The New Testament records several examples of ordination by the laying on of hands and prayer, such as the ordination of the seven deacons (Acts 6:6), Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:3), and Timothy (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). The laying on of hands was a symbolic gesture of blessing, commissioning, and imparting spiritual gifts.
However, as the church grew and faced various challenges and changes, the practice and understanding of ordination also evolved. Influenced by the Roman culture and hierarchy, the church gradually developed a threefold order of clergy: bishops, presbyters (or priests), and deacons. Bishops became the successors of the apostles and the supreme rulers of the church in their regions. Presbyters became the assistants of the bishops and the pastors of local congregations. Deacons became the servants of the bishops and the ministers of charity.
Ordination became a solemn and elaborate rite that conferred sacramental grace and an indelible character upon the ordained person. The ordination service included various prayers, anointings, vestments, and symbols that signified the dignity and authority of the clergy. Ordination also became a requirement for administering certain sacraments, such as baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, and anointing of the sick.
The Protestant Reformation challenged many aspects of the medieval church, including its doctrine and practice of ordination. The reformers rejected the idea that ordination was a sacrament that conferred grace and character. They also rejected the idea that ordination was necessary for administering sacraments or preaching the gospel. They affirmed that all believers were priests before God and had equal access to his grace and gifts.
However, the reformers did not abolish ordination altogether. They recognized that some form of order and discipline was needed in the church. They maintained that ordination was a human institution that acknowledged God’s call and gifts for ministry in certain individuals. They simplified the ordination service to include only the laying on of hands and prayer. They also allowed different forms of church polity and ministry roles according to their theological convictions.
Today, ordination is still practiced by most Christian denominations, but with diverse meanings and methods. Some churches emphasize the continuity and succession of ordained ministry from apostolic times. Some churches emphasize the function and service of ordained ministry in contemporary times. Some churches emphasize the equality and diversity of ordained ministry among all believers. Despite these differences, ordination remains a significant way of expressing God’s call and gifts for ministry in his church.