Wednesday, 30 September 2009

On baptism and ordination

My ecclesiology class this morning is discussing "Baptism and Vocation". Here's one of the points from my lecture:

Since baptism is itself vocation to discipleship, ordination — or preparation for ordination — can often become a denial of baptism.

  • If you want to be ordained in order to become a really serious and committed disciple of Christ, then you have denied your baptism.
  • If you want to be ordained in order to progress beyond ordinary discipleship, then you have denied your baptism.
  • If you want to be ordained in order to “serve the Lord full-time”, then you have denied your baptism.


kim fabricius said...

"Baptism is [itself] the ordination into the apostolic, charismatic and sacrificial ministry of the Church."

(From "Christ's Ministry and the Ministry of the Church", a document written for the WCC's Department on the Laity as a contribution to the Faith and Order Conference at Montreal in 1963.)

Will Fitzgerald said...


bruce hamill said...

Thanks for this post I have just about completed a paper for our denomination on Ordination to Word and Sacrament. I take this to be the standard referent in ordinary usage of the term 'ordination'. I think your points are great Ben, however if we start using 'ordination' more broadly (as Kim's quote suggests) as an aspect of baptism then does it not simply create semantic confusion. I think the matter's you guys are addressing are crucial, however if we are clearer about the precise character of what ministers of 'word and sacrament' are ordained to, then we will be less concerned to use the same word for the calling and ministry of all the baptised. My concern is that the role of those ordained to 'word and sacramnt' has broadened to the point that we see them as being ordained to a kind of generic 'leadership' which covers all the bases of being a 'professional Christian'

bruce hamill said...

ps: for the sake of my own work I would love to see more of your lecture notes if they are available

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Ben (and Bruce).

Ray Anderson once reminded us that the term ‘set apart’ (aphorizein) can become a dangerous concept for to be ‘set apart’, translated into Aramaic, means ‘a Pharisee’. But, as Barth once suggested that the call to worship is a temptation to idolatry, we cannot stop worshiping on that account.

Anderson's essay, 'Christ’s Ministry Through His Whole Church and its Ministers’, in Theological Foundations for Ministry: Selected Readings for a Theology of the Church in Ministry (Edinburgh/Grand Rapids: T&T Clark/Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 430–57, is also very helpful in this area.

I may post some more thoughts on this.

Fat said...

I believe that the Uniting Church in Australia had the right idea (But let it slip quietly away) of calling every member Minister.

The paid person out the front (ordained) was then to be known as Minister of the word.

This would then have been a call for every member to live out their Baptism in service to others (isn't that the original meaning of minister?)

kim fabricius said...

F&O thinks of baptism as the Christian's general ordination. Specific ordination, viz. to Word and Sacrament, then comes into play. And then we get down to the very different understandings of ministerial/priestly ordination held by Protestants and Catholics.

However, with regard to the whole idea wanting to be ordained: (a) "wanting" has nothing to do with it, and (b) if you "want" to be ordained you should have your head examined.

Anonymous said...

Kim. Regarding your comments on 'wanting' to be ordained: (b), in particular, is simply perfect.

Peter Carey said...

This is thought-provoking, and spot on!

Would you be willing to post your syllabus? (or at least the reading list?) I'd love to read along.



Brad East said...

Amen. Speaking as a member of a tradition in which there is no formal ordination and any are welcome to lead the church in worship, sacrament, service, etc. -- as the community recognizes gift and confers authority -- attending a Methodist seminary, in which this sort of ordination talk is simply assumed by everybody (from nearly all traditions), is an odd experience to say the least. Which is only a long way of letting aloud a resounding Yes! to your class notes.

Lindsay Cullen said...

Answering Bruce - the answer to semantic confusion is not to perpetuate a usage of language (only some are 'ordained') which stands contrary to our fundamental theological presuppositions. And rather than talking about 'generic leadership' why not speak of 'contextual leadership' which ISTM is exactly what we find in the NT.

Tyler Wittman said...


Can you expound on (b)??

I won't deny it, anyone wanting to be ordained should have their head examined, but sometimes that's what really helps them once they get into the pastorate: they're used to crazy.

Then again, there's Paul in 1 Tim 3:1....

Ben Myers said...

Bruce, the lecture notes aren't very detailed (just PowerPoint slides), so not really worth reading. But to respond to your query Peter, the set readings for this week ("Baptism and Vocation") were:

* Samuel Wells, God's Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics (Blackwell), Chapter 5.
* William Stringfellow, "Not to Be a Priest" and "No Priesthood: No Laity", in A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow (Eerdmans).
* Rowan Williams, "Being a People: Reflections on the Concept of the 'Laity'", Religion, State and Society 27:1 (1999), 11-21. (This essay is largely a reflection on Stringfellow's work, so it's closely related to the previous reading.)

I've been meaning to post the full outline for this subject (and my other one on the Holy Spirit), but I haven't yet had time. Sorry! I'll try to get around to it eventually...

kim fabricius said...

Hi Tyler,

One should be a minister only if one cannot not be a minister, only if one has not only opposed every human invitation or pressure but also tried stowing away on a ship to Tarshish.

Or try this: check out the church at Corinth. Ecce ecclesia! Blessed is the minister who does not minister to a church like Corinth. Who in their right mind would do such a thing?

As for I Timothy 3:1, either it's an excellent argument against biblical inerrancy, or the deutero-Paulinist is either spinning a popular saying or having a laugh (as I am - sort of). The moroi dia Xriston of I Corinthians 4:10 is a more accurate text (cf. your "crazy").

Anonymous said...



What if a person (not 'wanting' so much as needing to pursue ordination at risk of receiving a kick in the pants for aviodance) is following the path their infant baptism was precursor to.

What if that person has known of God; of God's call from childhood/teens, but has in adult life aquiesced?

A person who didn't experience a theoretical 'big bang' conversion, but instead has had a steady growing and aware faith over years. (And can still be frustrated by innocent, if not malicious, queries on whether they have a full grasp of being saved by grace.)

Is not that person honouring their baptism?
Accepting what they were baptised for?

Philippians 2; 12,13
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

An Anxious Anglican said...

Great post (as usual), Ben. The question occurs to me, though, as to when ordination or preparation for ordination would ever affirm our baptism under this analysis?

Kim: Your wisdom knows no bounds! "One should be a minister only if one cannot not be a minister, only if one has not only opposed every human invitation or pressure but also tried stowing away on a ship to Tarshish." You should wrestle with this concept a bit in your next book!

Chris said...

The words following "in order to" were all rather, well, distasteful. Surely it would be disastrous for someone to get ordained for the reasons you list. I would see ordination more of a public affirmation of one's call (by God and by the church) rather than as something that conveys any sort of spiritual change.

Is there to be no called, trained, set-apart person designated to walk with a community of Christ, to proclaim the word and administer the sacraments?

George Hunsinger said...

Ben, It's always a good idea to think about questions like this from an ecumenical perspective. It is no longer enough for Protestants to think about theological questions -- and especially ecclesial questions-- as if the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox (roughly 75% of the world's Christians) did not exist.

In my book "The Eucharist and Ecumenism" (Cambridge 2008), I discuss ordination from the standpoint of baptism. I propose that "ordination" should be regarded as a further specification of baptism. It is my hope that an approach like this might have a chance of being received across a range of ecumenical traditions and communions. I sketch a Christ-centered and community-centered context for thinking about the ordination of bishops, presbyters, and deacons (the historic threefold offices as lifted up by BEM).

Your polemic against current misunderstandings of baptism and its relation to ordination, in certain circles, is certainly not misplaced. But left to itself it runs the risk, ecumenically, of becoming what in my book is called "enclave theology."

Rick said...

If you want to be ought to have your head examined.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Ben, as always. But if we think of the church as in some sense, the spiritual hospital, then the ordained are the doctors and physical therapists. Being trained to hear confessions and how to respond to them is something that a lay Christian, completely serious about being a minister to the world in every day life, may not be qualified to do.

In fact, answering questions about difficult issues in faith is something many of the faithful, however well meaning, may get very wrong (as in what happens to someone who commits suicide).

Ideally I'd like to think the serious Christian is one who doesn't think he or she is qualified to do all that an ordained minister is qualified to do.

geoffrey holsclaw said...

Is the confusion not really in people's paltry understand of baptism, and not so much with the term ordination? It seems in this post that you are trying to raise up baptism in significance (rightfully so), but this need not cancel the specificity of ordination.

not all of Israel served in the temple, though they were called to be a holy nation, and a royal priesthood.

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