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HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS ON BAPTIST ORDINATION

A few weeks ago I participated in the ordination of a dear brother, Scott Bowman. As I thought about what that event entailed I realized afresh the scriptural principle that leadership is vital to the people of God. I suppose it was a French-speaking pastor by the name of Jacques Alexanian, who has spent nearly all of his ministry in Quebec and who has been something of a father in Christ to me, who first drilled this into my thinking and convictions.

Right from the very beginning of her existence the Church has had leaders. One thinks, for instance, of the Twelve appointed by our Lord to be witnesses to his life and resurrection. Or consider Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, among the earliest of the New Testament texts.

Moreover, formally or officially recognizing the call of God on a man’s life to be a leader among God’s people is clearly grounded in the Scriptures (see Acts 13:1-3 and 1 Timothy 4:14). And Baptists, convinced that ordination to pastoral ministry was indeed a biblical pattern for the good of the Church, have ordained men since they first emerged in England in the mid-seventeenth century. For example, on February 16, 1769, in a London Baptist congregation, Abraham Booth (1734-1806), just twenty-four at the time, was ordained “to the pastoral office…according to the primitive manner, by prayer and imposition of hands.” [William Clarke, Introductory Discourse in A Charge and Sermon together with an Introductory Discourse and Confession of Faith delivered at the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. Abraham Booth Feb. 16, 1769, in Goodman’s Fields (London: G. Keith et al., 1769), 9].

Or consider the ordination of Thomas Morgan (1776-1857) to the pastoral charge of Cannon Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, England, thirty-three years later in 1802. Morgan was twenty-five or so at the time. A fellow Baptist minister by the name of John Sutcliff (1752-1814), a close friend of William Carey (1761-1834), introduced the occasion. Sutcliff noted that the church was “satisfied that” Morgan possessed “a ministerial talent” and was convinced that Morgan’s “doctrine [was] sound, and his manner of life becoming the gospel.”

The church therefore wished to ordain Morgan as their pastor, an ordination “accompanied with prayer, and the imposition of hands.” Sutcliff was quick to note that the hands to be laid on Morgan were “empty.” The laying-on-of-hands did not convey any ministerial gift. Rather, hands were laid on Morgan as “a solemn and significant rite; a fit sign of his being set apart to a particular office.” [Introductory Discourse in The Difficulties of the Christian Ministry, and the Means of surmounting them; with the Obedience of Churches to their Pastors explained and enforced (Birmingham, 1802), 6-7].

It was a privilege to be involved in such a historic and meaning-laden rite as Scott Bowman was set aside for pastoral ministry.

Michael,

The new look for the blog is great. In terms of ordination, what do you think of the language of "Reverend" that is so common in the English-speaking world? It seems like an unfortunate term, and some Baptists I know reject the biblical concept of ordination because of their objection to this common title. Have Baptists always coupled the title with ordination?

I have often wondered the same thing about the title, “Reverend.” The title can be seen as too ostentatious; this is especially true in the Anglican Church where they add “Very,” “Right,” and “Most” to Reverend. It is, however, a title that sets apart someone who is entitled to respect, both a sense of “fear” and “affection”. Certainly elders of the Church of Jesus Christ are entitled to respect. As far as I can tell, the title is all but nonexistent in most Reformed Baptist circles, no doubt for good reason. I have noticed, however, that the title is disappearing in other evangelical circles. This could be a result of a deteriorated view of the ministry in the broader church.

MAGH:

You opened the comments door!

I am so happy!

Keep posting!!

- Reverend Martin :-)

Nathan and Bilbo:

I guess I side with Spurgeon on the reverend thing. He disliked it intensely. It is really so stuffy and clerical. Baptists historically did not couple this title with ordination, and so held ordinations but did not call those they ordained revs!

So I guess, Paul, it will have oplain Pastor Martin and the use of the Rev will be shortlived.

As far as i think, only God should be revered.

If we do away with the title, must we do away with ordination? Isn't there a biblical precedent to set apart men for the purpose of ministry?

I am so glad that you allow comments now. I have been reading your blog for the last months and it is one of the best in the blogosphere. Thank you!

I guess I side with Spurgeon on the reverend thing. He disliked it intensely. It is really so stuffy and clerical.

Did Spurgeon not also eschew ordination itself (and refuse it for himself), calling it "empty hands on an empty head"?

Spurgeon saw ordination and recognition as something that only the local church could do. It is good for other churches to recognize the calling but their recognition should not be "viewed as needful to the completion of the act itself"

He called the practice a fly in the ointment that needed to be purged lest it lead to "Ritualistic Popery."

You can read it all here:
http://www.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/popery.htm

The authority for ordination should rest primarily upon the local church. That would seem to be the most practical and biblical method. To reject ordination altogether seems over the top. There's nothing wrong with affirming an individual's calling to pastoral ministry. However, in order to affirm that calling you must have had the opportunity to review the man's character and qualifications.

Michael, great to see the comment door opened :)

Ah Michael,

I guess I am glad that you are now allowing us to talk back to you, but I must admit that I was rather taken with the fact that you were demonstrating fearless non-conformity in the face of much pressure

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