The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. - Acts 6:5-6 HCSB

It’s amazing to see how many false assumptions Christians have about the process of ordination, seeing as it’s one of the most basic, elementary teachings of the Bible.[1] Ordination is a symbolic recognition of an individual’s giftedness. It does not convey giftedness but rather acknowledges it. An ordination is an acknowledgement on the part of a congregation that they have seen evidence of God’s calling. It’s a way of affirming the person being ordained in that call.

Notice that I said that the source of the ordination was the congregation. Thousands of websites begin their treatment of the subject with “you need to go to seminary.” This is particularly interesting since that requirement is found nowhere in Scripture. As a matter of fact, seminaries were not invented until the Catholic Church came up with them in the 1600s as part of the Counter Reformation!

Aaron and his sons were ordained as priests.[2] The Levites were ordained to be the servants of God.[3] Seventy elders were ordained to assist Moses in bringing justice to the people.[4] Joshua was commissioned as Moses’ successor.[5] In today’s passage, the First Church of Jerusalem ordained deacons to care for the distribution of their funds and later, ordained their first missionaries.[6] This process of prayerfully selecting individuals based on their character, their relationship with God, their fitness[7] and their calling became standard operating procedure in the early church.[8]

This places both huge authority and an enormous burden of responsibility on the local congregation, not only to ordain but also revoke that ordination if necessary.[9] It is not to be entered into lightly and should be well bathed in prayer. There may be grave consequences if the ordination is based solely on popularity or appearances.[10]

The process of ordination is not merely a delegation of authority. In some very real sense, it unlocks potentiality.[11] No one must be ordained to office until his fitness is surely known. Those who would teach by their doctrine must also teach by their life. He who appoints an unfit man to office becomes in a certain sense responsible for that man's sins.[12]

There are many different gifts and the confluence of each can bring help to a given ministry. Therefore, the ordination is not based primarily on the person’s spiritual gift but on the church’s recognition of God’s calling upon that person.[13] The way to recognize that calling is not by viewing a couple of taped sermons and asking a couple of “hot topic” questions. The person being considered should be already serving the Lord in a volunteer capacity. Their calling is so urgent that they would do it even if no one paid them.[14]

[1] Hebrews 6:1-2

[2] Exodus 28-29; Leviticus 8-9

[3] Numbers 8:5-14

[4] Numbers 11:16-17,2425

[5] Numbers 27:18-23

[6] Acts 12:2-3

[7] 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9

[8] Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; 2:2; Titus 1:5

[9] Matthew 16:19; 18:17-20; John 20:23; 1 Timothy 1:3-7,19-20

[10] Joshua 9:14

[11] Numbers 27:18-20 cp Deuteronomy 34:9; 1 Timothy 4:14

[12] 1 Timothy 5:22

[13] Acts 13:2-3; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:6-9

[14] Jeremiah 20:9