What is Ordination?

According to the teaching of the New Testament, ordination is the recognition by local church of a member’s call of God to the gospel ministry. The recognition consists of the candidate’s conversion to Christ, his call to the ministry, and his conviction of beliefs. Ordination does not confer any ecclesiastical power, it gives no authority, nor does it confer status to the ordained member of the church.

Ordination involves four aspects:

  1. Recognition of God’s call to a full-time responsibility to serve the Lord as an overseer of souls
  2. Identification. In ordination, the church publicly identifies itself with the man. It is an acknowledgment that the church believes in his conversion, call, convictions, and commends him for public leadership and ministry.
  3. It further represents the church’s judgment that the candidate has the ability to perform the duties of the gospel ministry.
  4. Ordination also meets certain legal requirements in the performance of wedding ceremonies, serving as chaplain, and the like.

Since ordination does involve other churches and the candidate’s future ministry, the ordaining church has responsibility not to lay hands suddenly or lightly on any man. There should be a very careful and prayerful searching inquiry made into the candidate’s experience of grace, the reality of his conversion, his call, his character, the worthiness of his concept of his call and his loyalty to Christ and the church. After all, he will be the representative of the church which ordains him.

Must the Pastor Be Ordained?

The simple answer is no.

Ordination is not a requirement that must be met in order to preach.

Dr. H. A. Ironside would not compromise his conscientious convictions regarding “ordination by man.” He pastored the great Moody Memorial Church in Chicago and was never ordained.

Dwight L. Moody, the great American evangelist of the latter half of the nineteenth century, was never ordained. We have been told that when he inquired about becoming ordained he was told he did not have enough education. Yet Moody was a man of great spiritual power and was used in bringing many souls to Christ.

Charles H. Spurgeon, famous pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, never received ordination. He revolted against Anglican, sacerdotalism which seemed to hold that in the imposition of hands in ordination, divine grace trickled down through a bishop’s fingertips.

There is a scriptural basis for ordination. The Lord Jesus chose a select group of men whom He “ordained” or “appointed” to be his special representatives (John 15:16; Mark 3:14). There was evidently an ordination service of some sort held at the church at Antioch for Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2, 3). Paul and Barnabas also ordained elders in the churches (Acts 14:23). Paul commanded Titus to ordain elders or pastors (Titus 1:5). Thus there is a scriptural basis for ordination. As a rule, ordination should not take place until a man has been called to a definite place of service and has had time to prove himself.

It should be concluded that:

  1. The Lord calls his servants and appoints them to the work He has qualified them for.
  2. Other Preachers upon examination and with the consent of the church will recognize the call of the Lord.
  3. From what the Scripture says, the person was examined as to his fitness to be ordained.
  4. The requirements for a pastor and deacons are set forth in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

These qualifications should be used in examining a candidate for the gospel ministry. Sometimes these qualifications are ignored or bypassed. God will not call one who cannot qualify. He does not act contrary to his Word.

The custom of examining and “setting apart” those whom God called by the “laying on of hands” seems to have been established In the first century (Acts 13:3; I Timothy 4:14; 5:22; II Timothy 1:6; also Acts 6:6, which likely refers to deacons).

Who Should Be Ordained?

The Scripture is plain that it should be a man (I Timothy 3:1 says, “if a man…”), never a woman. Only a man could meet the standards set forth in the list of qualifications in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

The Bible nowhere sets forth the qualifications for a woman pastor or preacher. It is wrong to try to twist the Scriptures to allow a woman to be ordained to the gospel ministry. The ministry of preaching the gospel is a man’s job, and God qualifies those whom He calls to this very important task. It is a very serious mistake for a church even to consider one who cannot qualify for ordination. There are certain scriptural standards which can be used to determine whether one is qualified for ordination.

A Call from God

The New Testament teaches that God’s ministers are called (Hebrews 5:4). The person to be ordained must have a burning conviction that God has called and he must preach. The apostle Paul had such a conviction. He said: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

Paul did not teach that the act of the church at Antioch in ordaining him constituted him an apostle (Galatians 1:1). Ordination does not make the preacher. Unless he is called of God, ordination means nothing. Ordination is simply saying that men believe God has called the man to the ministry. Ordination is an outward act of approval rather than an indispensable channel of grace for the work of the ministry.

The call of God must not be minimized. Sometimes the call has been minimized as of not much importance or of no necessity, and as a result men not called of God have gone into the ministry. Men who preach contrary to the Bible obviously have not been called of God. It is interesting to note that most false teachers do not claim a God-called ministry. They furnish the proof in the message they preach.

The lack of conviction of a call from God is no doubt the reason many men leave the ministry. The man called of God will not find it easy to leave the ministry and start selling insurance or automobiles. Note Jeremiah, for an example: “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay (Jeremiah 20:9).”

Are there ways besides the man’s own say-so to determine whether he has a call to preach? Yes, there are, and we will set forth some guidelines which can be used to determine whether the man should be ordained.


The examination process for ordination should involve the ordination council’s request for the candidate to express his own convictions in the matter of the importance for his being ordained. An ordination council can pretty well tell by the manner in which he states his convictions whether he recognizes the importance of being ordained. A standard question asked by the council is: “If you are not ordained, what will you do?”

The candidate should respond: “I will preach; God has called me to preach and I must preach!” It should be recognized that it is not a council that puts the “preach” into a man; it is God who does that. Paul could state his convictions in no uncertain terms and he did (I Corinthians 9:16; I Timothy 1:12); so can any man called of God. Good advice is: “If you can be happy doing anything else then God has not called you to preach.” Strong emphasis should be placed upon a man’s call and his doctrinal position.

The Man’s Ability

Most Fundamentalists believe that the man should have been in the work long enough for his ability to be tested before he is ordained. There are exceptions, to be sure, but they should be few.

If a man does not have the ability to preach, certainly God has not called him. Ephesians 4:11 teaches that those God has called are “teaching pastors.” One of the named qualifications in I Timothy 3:2 is that he be “apt to teach.” This means that he has the ability to teach; God gives him that ability if he does not possess it naturally.

Certainly it is recognized that education has a place in preparing the man for his ministry; a call to preach is a call to prepare. Some individuals question the importance of education by citing D. L. Moody’s example. However, those who use him as an example of an uneducated preacher either do not know or are willfully ignorant of the fact that Moody was a serious student of the Word. He rose early in the morning and spent hours studying the Word every day.

Why do you suppose Paul chose Timothy as a helper in the gospel ministry? There is no doubt that the Lord led him. I believe it was also because Timothy had a good reputation (Acts 16:1-3). He had the ability to do the -work; he had proven himself. A man doing the work of the ministry, preaching and teaching, winning converts, establishing Christians, building up the church is a good candidate for ordination.

The fact that Timothy had been ordained must be what Paul meant by “the laying on of hands by the presbytery” (I Timothy 4:14). What gift was imparted to him? We are not told; however, it was some spiritual gift, and this should be true of every ordination and likely is if it be of God. From what the Scriptures tell us, Timothy already had natural gifts of preaching and teaching, as well as the call from God and this was evident from the good word the brethren gave him.

The Church’s Call for the Ordination of Its Pastor

The church experiencing the benefits of the ministry is of the conviction that he is God’s man and meets the standards of I Timothy 3:2-7. A man should not ask to be ordained, but rather his church should request it to be done. Who can better know a man’s ability and his qualifications than the church he serves as pastor? The church itself being convinced that the man is called of God and having seen his ability to do the work of the ministry, should then call for an ordination council.

Now who determines whom to ordain? The Scofield Reference Bible has a helpful note here. In his notes on Titus 1:5, Dr. Scofield has the following words: “It is not at all a question of the presence in the assembly of persons having the qualifications of elders, made overseers by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28); that such persons were in the churches of Crete is assumed; the question is altogether one of the appointment of such persons.

These assemblies were not destitute of elders; but were ‘wanting,’ in that they were not duly appointed … At first they were ordained (Greek ‘Cheirotoneo’…, ‘to designate with the hand’) by an Apostle (Acts 14:23) … ; but in Titus and I Timothy the qualifications of an elder become part of the Scriptures for the guidance of the churches in such appointment (I Timothy 3:1-7).”

Can a local church ordain a man without consulting anyone else? The answer is yes, it can, and be entirely scriptural. It is being done by the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, and by other independent Baptist churches throughout the country. It is not the function of a college, seminary or Bible Institute but of a local church. It is not the function of an ordination council; they are only advisory, advising the church of the candidate’s acceptability. The church may overrule the recommendation of the council. It is the sole right and authority of a local church to ordain one of its members to the public ministry. No church has any authority over a non-member.

How does the Ordination Take Place?

In light of our statement that man should be a pastor or associate before being ordained, the following would be in order. The church where the man is pastor should start the proceedings, not the man himself. This church should write his home church where he is still a member. It would be well for a man not to move his membership to the church he is pastoring until after his ordination. The letter will request that the home church ordain their pastor. Sometimes the pastor of the home church, being convinced of the member’s call to the ministry and having observed his ability to do the work, will initiate the proceedings:

  • The pastor will place the matter before the church during a business meeting.
  • The church will vote on whether to proceed with the process of ordination.
  • The pastor will then call pastors to assist as a council.
  • The pastor will contact a number of pastors of local churches to assist in the service.

The pastors will meet and form a council, electing a moderator and clerk. A list of the pastors and the churches they represent is made up. The men are then ready to conduct the actual examination of the candidate. One man usually leads out in the questioning; however, any man on the council may ask any question he wishes to ask. Sometimes the examination is conducted in private with just the council members and the candidate present. At other times the examination is public, before the church. The advantage of a public examination is that it can be a wonderful teaching in the matters of doctrine and church policy.

The examination is usually conducted on three points:

  1. the candidate’s personal salvation experience
  2. his call to the ministry
  3. his doctrinal beliefs

The questions should and usually do relate definitely to his views of fundamental doctrines and his qualifications as a preacher of the word of God.

After the examination the council will go into private session and decide whether or not to recommend the candidate to the church for ordination. Sometimes the recommendation is not to ordain. The church then decides whether or not to accept the recommendation of the council. It is the church that ordains, not a council, a group of preachers, or a denomination.

The actual ordination service consists of the following items:

  • A charge to the church
  • A charge to the preacher
  • An ordination sermon

The Presentation of a Bible

The Bible can be provided by the man’s home church or by the church of which he is a pastor. Last on the program agenda is the laying on of hands. This is simply an endorsement or acknowledgment of the man’s call; no spiritual gift is thus imparted to the individual.

After the ordination service is concluded, the candidate and his wife, together with any Sunday School teachers or other Christian workers who have had part in his developing Christian experience, stand at the front of the church. Then have the congregation come by and shake hands with them and express their prayerful support for the man and his ministry.

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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