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CHURCH POLITY

CHAPTER XIII
ORDINATION

It is the practice of all societies, ecclesiastical as well as civil, to induct persons into office by a solemn and formal inauguration. In reference to the officers of a Church, this ceremony is called ordination; although the word properly implies the whole of the transaction by which an individual is authorized to discharge official duties. To render it complete, two things are necessary, the choice of the Church, and the imposition of the hands of the Presbytery, with prayer and fasting. It has already been proved that a Church possesses the right to elect its own officers; and from this principle it has been inferred by some, that election is equivalent to ordination, and comprehends all that is included in that ceremony. The act of the Presbytery is therefore superfluous. If this were the case, and ordination were complete without the intervention of the Presbytery, there would have been no propriety in affirming, as the Scriptures do, that Paul and Barnabas "ordained elders in every church," &c.162 In the efforts which have been made to sustain this position, great stress has been laid upon the term ordain, which signifies simply to appoint;163 but from the mere use of the term, nothing definite can be inferred, since it may relate to one kind of appointment as well as another. What we are inquiring after is the thing?the entire transaction which is included in the ceremony to which the term ordination is applied. This embraces the act of the Presbytery, as well as the act of the Church. Upon no other supposition can the different accounts which are given of the ceremony in the New Testament, be harmonized. In some cases the Church is said to ordain, or appoint, its officers; in others, the Apostles are represented as doing the same thing. All this is in accordance with an obvious figure of speech, by which a part is put for the whole; the initiatory or the consummating act, in this case, being employed to designate the entire transaction. The same rhetorical figure is used by the sacred writers on other subjects. Thus, the Lord?s Supper is called breaking of bread;164 we are said to be justified by the blood of Christ, by his righteousness, by faith, by grace. The use of one of these terms does not exclude the others; in each case a part is put for the whole. On a subject of such importance as this, I am happy to avail myself of the concurrence of Dr. Howell, in the following observations, which are equally philosophical and scriptural. "In the government of states, whatever its form, checks and balances between the several departments are, by experience, found to be necessary to secure the interests of the parties concerned. They have, accordingly, been adopted by all civilized nations. In the Church of Christ they are instituted by divine authority. We have now before us a striking example. The ministry have no right to ordain any man to the Deaconship, not previously elected by the Church to that office. The consent of the Church is positively necessary, otherwise he would be a deacon "at large," having no place in which to exercise his functions. On the other hand, though brethren may be elected by the Church, they are still, unless ordained by the ministry, not deacons. There must be a concurrence between the Church and the ministry to create the officer. True, they do commonly concur, but not always, nor is it by any means a matter of course. Similar checks and balances exist with regard to the ordination of pastors and evangelists, and the baptism of candidates for membership in the Church. [That is, the minister may baptize, but the Church is not on that account bound to receive the candidate to membership.] Thus a double guard is thrown around all the most important interests of the kingdom of the Messiah."165

The imposition of hands is a very ancient custom, and was practised for various purposes. It was symbolical of benediction, consecration, healing, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Its import, when employed in ordination, may best be learned from the case of the Levites, noticed in Num. 8: 10. It is well known that the tribe of Levi was consecrated to "the service of the Lord," in the place of the first born of all the children of Israel. To indicate this consecration, the following ceremony was commanded, "Thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord, and the children of Israel shall put their bands upon the Levites. And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord." A similar practice was observed when any thing was dedicated or consecrated to the Lord. There is nothing mysterious or magical in this ceremony. The children of Israel put their hands upon the Levites, to indicate by this symbolical act, that they gave them to the Lord. Such is its import in ordination. The laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, in the case of a person who has been chosen to office by the suffrages of the Church, means nothing more than that his brethren have set him apart to a specific service. It is a public and authentic declaration of the fact. As such, it was observed by the primitive Churches. When the deacons were appointed, the Apostles prayed and laid hands on them, thus ordaining or appointing them to the office.166 If employed in the ordination of deacons, it certainly must have been in that of elders; and the Scriptures furnish sufficiently clear indications that this was the case. 1 Tim. 4: 14; 5: 22. As the Apostle in the latter passage is speaking of elders, it is plain that he alludes to their appointment.

"It is evident," says Haldane, "that laying on of hands was used in separating men to the ministry in the primitive Apostolic Churches. It was not confined to occasions on which the Holy Ghost was conferred. It was used in ordaining elders and deacons who required only the ordinary gifts. There is nothing in the word of God setting aside this usage. It ought, therefore, to be observed where this can be done, according to the example given us in Scripture."167

The abettors of prelacy, dividing the ministry into three grades, restrict the power of ordination to the highest?the episcopal. But the Scriptures, as I have before proved, furnish no authority for such grades. With them, bishop and elder, or presbyter, are only different designations of the same officer; and therefore no provision is made for the possession of this power by one class of ministers, to the exclusion of the rest. As to the notion that some mysterious virtue?some magic fluid?is transmitted in ordination, that the Holy Ghost is conferred upon the subject of it, to be conveyed by him to his fellowmen by means of the sacraments, it is utterly unscriptural and absurd; and can subserve no other purpose except the exaltation of the priesthood, and the tyranny of ecclesiastical domination.168

 
 
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