We are a liturgical church, in keeping with our Dutch Reformed tradition. In this post we continue our series of blog entries providing commentary on the United Reformed Church’s liturgical forms contained in our Book of Forms and Prayers. All of these forms, including the form for the Ordination (or Installation) of Ministers of Word and Sacrament, can be found online at formsandprayers.com.
Ordination of Ministers is an essential work of the church, and this liturgical form, though infrequently used, contains a rich vein of instruction for Christ’s church. It is a valuable practice for the congregation to read through this form before an ordination service, that they might benefit all the more from the instruction they will received during the ordination service.
Congregation of Jesus Christ, the Council has made known to you the name of our brother _________, who is now to be ordained to the ministry of the Word and sacraments (or: installed in the ministry to which he has been called).
The form begins by naming the “brother” to be ordained, because the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA), in keeping with the teaching of the word of God and the ancient practice of the Christian church, ordain only men to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament. This is far from a universal practice today, and definitely founded upon counter-cultural claims God’s work makes about the very nature of God’s creation and our humanity. God’s word clearly teaches that we are created “in the image of God,” “male and female.” Men and women thus equally reflect the image of God, and share in an equality of nature (Genesis 1:26 – 27), but not without a diversity of callings and roles that is taught throughout scripture.
It is far outside the scope of this blog post to fully address the many issues related to gender, but it is important to reflect on how these issues are reflected in a church’s practice and teaching about ordination. It is important to note that the biblical teaching about the ordination of ministers throughout teaches that men are uniquely called to this office, and the bible furthermore teaches that this diversity of callings within the church is grounded in the creation order itself (1 Timothy 2:8 – 15). While many women played a crucial role ministering to the Lord during his earthly ministry (Mark 15:41) and served as the first witnesses to the resurrection (Mark 16:7), Christ called twelve men to serve as his Apostles (Mark 3:13 – 14). Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy clarifies that this is not merely due to the cultural biases of his time, but is grounded in the creation order itself.
While many in our age may disagree strongly with our practice, we are convinced that we must submit to the clear teaching of the Word of God on this matter. Furthermore, we should not abandon lightly this teaching of Christ and the Apostles which has been the longstanding practice of the church.
Note that a minister is only “ordained” once. When he takes up the office of Minister in a new church, he is “installed” in that office. This form is used for both of those services.
The Holy Scriptures teach us that Christ Jesus gathers, protects, and preserves for Himself a church out of the corrupt race of men for life eternal and gives to His church such teaching and care that she may grow in faith, love, and service. For this work, Christ, by a particular grace, uses men, appointing them to the preaching of the gospel and for the building up of His body. The apostle Paul solemnly charged Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2), and our Lord Jesus charged His disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20). The apostle Paul declares that the Lord Jesus Christ has given “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12). For this reason, the church has recognized the distinct office of the minister of the Word.
The work of ordination is the work of Christ himself. It is his work of growing and building the church, which is uniquely the place of his saving activity in this fallen world. So our understanding of ordination is first grounded upon our understanding of the church itself. For a fuller appreciation of what we confess about the church, see our Belgic Confession, Articles 27 – 35).
A man may not and cannot set himself apart to this work. Because ordination is Christ’s work, it is not merely the work or credential of the man being ordained. Rather, Christ is through the church making a “solemn approval of and attestation to a man’s inward call, his gifts, and his calling by the church” (Book of Order, XX.2, Orthodox Presbyterian Church).
The URCNA, along with most Reformed churches which had their roots in continental Europe, understand the Minister of the Word to be a distinct office from Elder, as opposed to a “Teaching Elder” that is a subset of this office. While this is not a major difference, it is reflected in our form.
The minister of the Word is called by the command of God to preach the gospel of His kingdom. This preaching has the twofold object of calling sinners to reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ and nurturing believers in the faith and life of the kingdom of God. Ministers are called “ambassadors for Christ,” as though He were pleading by them, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). Therefore, this preaching must be addressed to all people. The preaching of the gospel must especially be addressed to the gathered congregation for the nurturing of Christian faith and life and for strengthening them against all error. Paul charged Timothy “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus …: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:1–2). And he charged Titus that a minister “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). The minister of the Word is called to administer the sacraments which the Lord has instituted as signs and seals of His grace. Christ gave this charge to His apostles, and through them to all ministers of the Word, when He commanded them to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), and when He said of the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24 – 25). The minister of the Word is called to the service of prayer. In speaking of their calling, the apostles say, “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). So, too, it is the calling of all God’s ministers to lead the people of God in “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings … for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1 – 2).
The first calling of the minister is to preach to gospel of the Kingdom, which has a twofold object. The minister must address sinners outside the church, calling them to faith in Christ and reconciliation with God. Further, the minister must nurture believers In their faith and life in the Kingdom.
As suggested by the title of this office, “Minister of Word and Sacrament,” the minister is also called to administer the sacraments. The Apostles were commanded to baptize, and to “do this in remembrance of me” with regard to the Lord’s Supper. John Calvin called the sacraments “a visible word,” and their administration is the special charge of the minister because the sacraments depend upon the preaching of the word. They cannot be celebrated apart from the ministry of the word, and the proper celebration of the sacraments entails the instruction of the Word. They are Christ’s sacraments, and therefore, to be administered by his ministers.
Finally, the minister is called to prayer. This includes both prayer for God’s people, and the leading of prayer with God’s people. The pastoral prayer, though sadly a fading practice in the Christian church, is a crucial ministry of Christ among his people here at Christ Reformed Church.
The minister of the Word is called, together with the elders, to shepherd the people of God in their Christian life, giving guidance and counsel in all that they need, exhorting them to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and keeping the church of God in good order and discipline. They are pastors, appointed to shepherd the church of Christ, which He purchased with His own blood, in keeping with the Lord’s command: “Feed my lambs.… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15, 17). They, together with the elders, watch over the house of God for the right and fruitful ordering of the faith and life and worship of the people of God. In their exercise of the keys of the kingdom, what they “bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” and what they “loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).
While all believers have a duty and obligation to care for one another in the church, the body of Christ, ministers along with elders have a special obligation to do so. They must know their sheep, their needs, their burdens, their weaknesses, so they may care for them faithfully. They also exercise the keys of the kingdom, with discipline being one of the marks of the church (Belgic Confession, Article 29). When the minster spreads the Lord’s table for a member of Christ’s church, he is publicly affirming that this individual believer is, according to their known doctrine and life, a child of God and a member of the body of Christ.
At this point, the Ordination Form provides different paragraphs for different offices unto which ministers may be ordained:
- As a pastor of an established congregation
- A foreign missionary
- A home missionary (or church planter)
- A teacher of theology (in a theological school or seminary)
- Someone called to another task, such as a chaplaincy
Here we will look at the portion of the form dealing with a man called to pastor an established congregation.
We now proceed to ordain [or: install] brother _______ as a minister of the Word and sacraments in this congregation. We rejoice that the Lord Jesus, in His faithful love, has provided a minister to serve as pastor and teacher to this people, and also as their leader in the missionary calling of this church. We receive this servant of our Lord from the hand and heart of the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We are grateful that our Savior has committed preaching, teaching, and pastoral care to the office of the minister of the Word, and that He will continue to use sinful men for such high and holy purposes until the day of His return.
No one is able to fulfill this holy ministry in his own strength; therefore, we set our hope on Jesus Christ our Lord, who said: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
I love how we are reminded yet again that the minister is received “from the hand and heart of the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” Furthermore, ministers are sinful men. Their ordination does not reflect superhuman piety, or gifting. They are members of the body of Christ, like every other believer, but they have been called and set apart for a special task. Ministers are like the Levites in the Old Testament, who didn’t receive an inheritance in the land — that is, a common calling of farming and laboring in the world — but rather were set apart to guard and keep the temple and worship of the Lord.
Now, in order that it may appear that you, ______, are willing to accept this office, you are requested to stand, and in the presence of God and His church give your answer to the following questions:
1. Do you believe that in the call of this congregation you are called by God Himself to this holy ministry?
2. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and do you reject every doctrine in conflict with them?
3. Do you promise to discharge the duties of your office faithfully, to conduct yourself worthily of this calling, and to submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church?
Answer: I do so believe and promise, God helping me.
The ordinand here publicly testifies of their personal agreement with the call of God in and through the call of the congregation. In speaking of the call to ministry, we distinguish between the subjective call and the objective call. A minister’s call isn’t merely a feeling he has of a personal purpose and opinion of his own gifts. Indeed, a call isn’t real until it is received “in the call of the congregation.”
Furthermore, the ordinand indicates their agreement with God’s word and rejects all doctrines in conflict with them. URCNA Church Order Article 6 makes clear that at this point in the service, “before the laying on of hands,” the ordinand is to sign the Form of Subscription. Those who sign the Form of Subscription not only commit to teach and defend the doctrine of Scripture and the confessions, they also commit themselves to rejecting all errors that militate against it. This includes admitting to one’s elders any disagreements with the church’s doctrine which may arise at any time, and submitting honestly to the review of the church.
The officiating minister shall then say (in the case of ordination: with the ceremony of the laying on of hands, other ministers present participating):
May God, our heavenly Father, who has called you to this holy office, enlighten you with His Spirit, strengthen you with His hand, and so govern you in your ministry that you may be engaged in it faithfully and fruitfully, to the glory of His name and the coming of the kingdom of His Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The laying on of hands is not a magical act that transfers power from one individual to another. It is an apostolic practice which symbolizes that the ordination comes not from Christ through his ministers (Acts 6:6, 13:3, 1 Timothy 4:14, 5:12). Christ’s servants, the ministers in the church, express their agreement and approval of this call, and the qualifications and gifting necessary to fulfill the call. This is why Paul instructs us to “not be hasty” in this act. Furthermore, it reflects the fact that Christ himself is calling this man to ministry through the entirety of the visible church, especially when visiting ministers and elders from other churches are able to participate in the act.
The officiating minister shall address the congregation:
Dear people of God and members of this church, since this solemn act involves obligations also on your part, I ask you before God:
1. Do you, in the name of the Lord, welcome this brother as your pastor?
2. Do you promise to receive the Word of God proclaimed by him and to encourage him in the discharge of his duty?
3. Will you pray that he may, in the power of the Spirit, equip you in the work of advancing God’s kingdom for the honor of Christ our Lord, the building up of His church, and the salvation of men?
To these questions, what is your answer?
Answer: We do, God helping us.
The local congregation has a role to play in the ordination of the minister as well, and takes vows to fulfill this work. They will welcome him as their pastor, receive God’s word proclaimed by him, encourage him, and pray for him. Our Church Order stipulates that the Council of the local church can only call a man after having received the advice of the congregation, who therefore plays a crucial role in the selection of their pastor. Classis, the regional body, also plays a role, having examined those who become candidates for a call.
After the completion of the vows, an elder or minister issues a charge to the minister:
Beloved brother and fellow servant in Christ, take heed to yourself and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you a guardian, to feed the church of the Lord which He obtained with His own blood. Love Christ and feed His sheep, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, not for shameful gain, but eagerly, and not domineering over those in your charge, but humbly serving all. Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Attend to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have. Take heed to your teaching. Be patient in all trials. Be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.
The ordination service is not only a milestone in the life of the church, it is a milestone in the life of the minister. It is his ministerial birthday. The charge impresses the significance of the call of Christ upon the new minister, echoing much of the language we see in Paul’s letter’s to Timothy.
It is followed by a corresponding charge to the congregation:
And you, beloved Christians, receive your minister in the Lord with all joy, and hold him in honor. Remember that through him God Himself speaks to you. Receive the Word that he, according to the Scripture, shall preach to you, not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God. Let the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, and bring the good news, be beautiful and pleasant to you. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). If you do these things, the God of peace shall enter your homes. You who receive this man in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward, and through faith in Jesus Christ, the inheritance of eternal life.
Moderns Christians, and particularly Modern American Christians, are rugged individualists. We don’t take well to authority. The charge reminds us that, while Christ’s yoke is easy, and his burden is light — it is still a yoke. The Heidelberg Catechism’s teaching on the fifth commandment reminds us that we are to bear patiently with the failings of those God puts in authority over us (Heidelberg Catechism, 104).
Finally, the form closes by calling on God in prayer, which includes a congregational recitation of the Lord’s prayer.
No man is of himself sufficient for these things. Let us call upon the name of God:
Merciful Father, we are thankful that it pleases You by the ministry of men to gather Your church out of the lost human race to life eternal. We acknowledge the gift of this, Your servant, sent to this people as a messenger of Your peace. Send now the Holy Spirit upon him. Enlighten his mind to know the truth of Your Word. Give him the ability to make known the mystery of the gospel with boldness. Grant him the wisdom to care for and guide the people over whom he is placed. Through his ministry, build up Your holy church, and grant her increase in number and in virtue. Give Your servant courage through Your Spirit to fulfill his calling against every difficulty and to be steadfast to the end. We pray that this people will receive him as having been sent by You. May they receive his teaching and exhortation with all reverence, and believing in Christ through his word become partakers of eternal life. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Your dear Son, in whose name we pray:
The congregation shall say:
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Almost all of our liturgical forms close in prayer. Many believers today don’t appreciate the value of form prayers, but they are an important part of our Reformed tradition, and our book of forms and prayers is full of them. There are prayers for use in corporate worship and for personal use in the home. I commend these prayers to you, as they are a rich vein of instruction, and using them with regularity can deepen and strengthen our own prayer life, not to mention serve as excellent training for when we are called upon to pray in public.
Congratulations if you are still reading! The Form for the Ordination of a Minister is not a brief or an insignificant affair. I like to think of our liturgical forms as topical sermons, and it is wise to preach a shorter sermon on this occasion which merely complements the material contained in the form.
The form’s length and the instruction contained in it reflects the centrality of the church and the ministry of word and sacrament in the Reformed tradition. The ordination of a man to this ministry is a great celebration in the life of the church, and a momentous occasion in the life of the minister. It is not to be taken lightly.