June 17, 2013

Ordaining the Called

            It is the season after Pentecost in the life of the church, which is a most fitting time for ordination.  As Baptists, participating in the larger Body of Christ, it is important that we consider what this practice means.  Our emphasis on the priesthood of all believers is the guide to our understanding.

            The epistle reading is clear on equal standing in Christ: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).

            In baptism, all Christians receive the identity of new life in the community gathered by Christ.  The church commissions all of them to bear witness to the resurrecting power of Jesus, into whose life they have been plunged.  So what does a service of ordination confer beyond the acknowledgement of equality in Christ and without diminishing it?

            Ordination is a special occasion of blessing.  Although all Christians have experienced the “laying on of hands” in their baptism and have been thereby blessed, when this occurs in ordination it is a recognition of how a person is uniquely prepared by God for particular ministry, especially one who will serve as an equipper of other ministers, as Ephesians 4: 12 states.  As the visible expression of Christ’s body, we join our hands with God in blessing the minister.

            When a Baptist congregation ordains an individual, it is a service of commissioning to a particular task.  Yesterday, Journey Community Church, housed at Central, had the honor of ordaining one deeply invested in God’s redemptive mission in the world. In the case of Dr. Thawesak Mahachavaroj, the “Barnabas of Thailand,” the church is saying that it affirms his calling to proclaim the Gospel as a faithful worldwide evangel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

            The time-honored ritual of “setting apart” to the work of the Lord is also an empowerment for ministry.  It “stirs into flame” the gifts God has granted for ministry.  Through prayer and the laying on of hands, the church confirms and further empowers the one whom God is beckoning to expanded horizons in ministry.

            The gathered community, a distinctive Baptist sense of identity, reveals the power of joining its “yes” to the “yes” of God in acknowledging personal calling.  By recognizing that God has not ceased to supply for the church the leadership that is needs, all Christians participate in ordaining the called.

            Molly T. Marshall

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