The Ordination of Pastors in Ephesians, Part 1
Over the weekend I was honored to take part in the ordination council and service for a wonderful young man who ministered for several years in the church I pastored, while earning his Master of Divinity degree. In the ordinary fashion among Baptist churches, I and other ordained pastors formally convened to hear this candidate’s testimony of salvation and call to the ministry, as well as his wife’s testimony of salvation. Then, as the candidate read his doctrinal statement section by section, we listened and asked him probing questions, pushed back against his statement, and challenged him on matters of sound doctrine. Satisfied that his beliefs were orthodox according to the Scriptures and that he was able to defend sound doctrine, we recommended to his church that they ordain him.
Why does the church ordain men for pastoral ministry? Why go through such a tedious process? In my next few posts, I would like to probe the dynamic of formal ordination.
There are many places in the New Testament that are used to argue for the process of formally ordaining men whom God has chosen for ministry in the church (e.g., Acts 13:1–4; 14:23; 20:18; 2 Cor 8:19; 1 Tim 3:1–16; 4:11; 5:22; Titus 1:5–9). But the foundation for ordination is much more profound than the common list of proof texts offered for its defense. Such a foundation is discovered only when we step back to look at the larger view of what God is doing through the church to unite his people with their shepherds.
We find such a big-picture view in the theology of Ephesians. In Eph 1:9–10, Paul sets forth God’s ultimate plan for the ages. He writes that God has made know to us “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
The expression “to unite all things” (anakephalaioō) is a verb that means “to sum up” or “to gather together” or “to collect into a unified whole.” In other words, God our Creator has purposed to bring back together the pieces of this broken universe, shattered by the fall, and to unite all together in Christ. That is his plan for the ages.
For before the fall, humanity in harmony with God and all of creation enjoyed perfect oneness, harmony, wholeness. The statement at the end of Genesis chapter 2, which says, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25) is not merely an observation about their transparency in marriage. It is the crowning statement of the creation chapters, expressing the complete openness and fellowship that the first humans enjoyed with God and with one another in a perfect world.
But Genesis chapter 3 then opens with the words, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Gen 3:1). When this cunning serpent deceived Eve and she fell into sin, and Adam willingly followed, our first parents fell out of fellowship with God and out of fellowship with one another. The brokenness between humanity can be seen immediately in the fact that Adam does not step out and take responsibility. Instead, when God confronts Adam about his sin, this man, who had sworn his devotion and fidelity to Eve (This is at last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!Gen 2:23a), this man pointed the accusing gaze of God from himself to his wife. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen 3:13b).
From that day forward, the perfect, unified creation was unraveled. Oneness became brokenness; harmony became cacophony; wholeness became fragmentation. As Paul says in Rom 8:22, “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
After the fall, the entire biblical record is God’s careful, wise, and systematic restoration of humanity back into fellowship with him and, consequently, into fellowship with others who are in fellowship with him.
How is God accomplishing this restoration today? There are two answers to that question, and they are intricately related.
First, God is reuniting the shattered world by bringing the people of this world back into fellowship with him, one believer at a time. For this reason, Ephesians 2 opens with an explanation of how God rescues lives that are shattered and fragmented by sin.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:1–7).
But there is second way, arguably a more visible way, that God demonstrates the power he has through Christ to create wholeness out of brokenness. Not only does God reconcile broken people personally to himself, but he also reconciles reconciled people to everyone else who has been reconciled to him. And the proof of this harmony is the fact that God has united in Christ the two most unlikely people groups in human history: Jews and Gentiles.
“Therefore,” Paul goes on to explain,
remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you [Gentiles] were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one …
Literally, God has taken “the both” and made them “one.”
… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph 2:11–16).
Here, then, is what God is doing to restore this brokenness to humanity. He literally “creates” (ktizō) “one new man” out of two, a completely new “person” or people group. So, God reconciles people to him individually through faith in Christ (Eph 2:1–10)a, and he also reconciles reconciled people to each other.
So, we’re not surprised when Paul begins the parenetical section of this letter to hear him exhort, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Eph 4:1).” And what kind of calling was that? Nothing less than a calling that united together those who were reunited with God through Christ. Walking “worthy of,” or in a way that is commensurate with the call to salvation is walking in oneness with one another, for that is what the gospel was designed to do—to bring the broken world to wholeness.
So, Paul continues, here is how a redeemed person ought to live in the church: “… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In other words, being eager to maintain the unity that the Spirit gives, by means of the bond of peace, or by keeping peace with one another. The Spirit himself gives unity to the body of Christ when he saves people and brings them together in Christ. But the church can lose this unity if the people of the church do not work to maintain it, seeking to live in harmony with one another.
And when the church loses that unity, that harmony, what happens? The church ceases to be the testimony to the world that reconciliation is possible with God. If the church cannot get along with one another—if they are not in fellowship with those whom they call their “brothers and sisters”—then how can they possibly convince people that they are in fellowship with God? Their wholeness, their oneness is a picture that they have been made whole because God in Christ is bringing all things back into unity, restoring a broken world to himself.
That is why Paul declares at this juncture:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:4–6).
According to these verses, the church is one body of believers, and the same Spirit has united them together because of their single hope that he who called them will bring them at last to glory. None of them is living for this world; they are all citizens of an eternal homeland. And they are related to the same Lord who purchased each of them with his blood.
And they have confessed one faith. This is not “faith” in the active sense of “believing,” but in the nominal sense of “what is believed,” or the “doctrines of faith.” It could be translated, “one creed.” For this reasons it is healthy for a church to make certain that its formal members adhere to the same doctrine. Because unity in the church that the Lord builds not about “agreeing to disagree” on matters of essential doctrines. Unity is about “agreeing to agree.” Unity in the church is not about setting aside doctrinal differences. Rather, the church unites around sound doctrine.
The church also has one baptism, which is most likely a reference to the fact that every believer in the church, no matter what their background or former life, when they came to be baptized, they call came in the same manner: declaring their faith in the death of Christ for their sins and his resurrection, and expressing their desire to be identified with Christ and to walk with Christ.
And they worship one God. They bow together praising and exalting and loving and serving the one, supreme holy and living Creator.
So, this is the big picture of what God is doing in Christ through the Holy Spirit to unite the world to himself. He is building his church into a unified whole. And a local church is a visible expression of that work. What God does in the local church is a microcosm of what he is doing universally to consummate his plan for the ages: namely, to bring what was broken into unity again; to bring humanity back into fellowship with himself and to others who are in fellowship with him.
Now, how does God build such a church?
According to Eph 4:7, “grace was given to each one” in the church “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” In other words, the Lord Jesus himself gives to every member of the church a gracious gift by which they can stay unified—unified in doctrine, unified in mission, unified in their walk with Christ.
What is this “gift” that Christ himself gives to the church? In verse 8, Paul says that this gift was provided through Christ’s death and resurrection. When Christ triumphed over the enemy, Paul says, “He led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men” (Eph 4:8; cf. Psa 68:18). What gifts?
Paul says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (Eph 4:11). In order for the church to remain the unified body, the picture of reconciliation that God has called it to be, Christ did not give things; Christ gave people, ministers called to specific tasks.
So, at this juncture, we can make an initial observation about ordination. Ordination is not about the church’s choosing its pastors. Ordination is about the church’s recognizing the gift that the Lord has given. When a church votes to ordain a minister the members should be asking the question, “Has the church given us this man for the ministry or not?” They must evaluate the candidate in order to discover whether this is God’s man. Their task, therefore, is a serious one.
Who are these men whom the Lord has called to serve the church, and what are their tasks? The answer to that question will be the subject of Part 2.