On Ordination

Today the Apostolic Church in Ghana held a three-hour long ordination service in Accra. The Apostles laid hands on 9 new apostles, 2 teachers, 2 evangelists, and 22 pastors. Setting these men apart to the ministry in the name of the Triune God, Ap Dr Aaron Ami-Narh, President of the Apostolic Church in Ghana said, “We give all glory to our Risen Lord who is the Head of the Church, and we thank Him that in His own sovereign will, He continues to give us labourers in His vineyard, that His work might be done. To Him and Him alone be all praise, glory and honour.” (You can see the service here, the “solemn part” of the service with the actual ordinations begins with the Scripture readings at 54:30.)

Today is also the 16th anniversary of my own ordination as a Presbyter in Christ’s Church. On this day all those years ago, I was ordained as an Elder, and then two years later as Pastor. But in the Apostolic Church we ordain not just to the ministry, but to each specific ministry; so more recently I’ve been ordained as a Teacher (a dozen years ago) and as a Prophet (two years ago). That means I’ve probably been ordained more times than most ministers, so it’s probably a good thing that I’ve given a little bit of thought to what’s going on in ordination. 

Ordaining ministers is part of the role of an apostle (Acts 14:23). The Apostolic Church UK confession of faith — The Vision Glorious — summarises our understanding of ordination: “The Lord sets apart His choice to the ministry in ordination through prayer and the laying on of the apostles’ hands for the impartation of grace” (VG, 9). 

In many countries, the big difference between the ordination of presbyters and the ordination of deacons is that presbyters are anointed with oil, but deacons aren’t. (If you look carefully in the photo at the top, you’ll see the bottle of anointing oil in Ap Dr Ami-Narh’s hand. Nowadays in the UK the anointing is often omitted, as it isn’t Scripturally necessary — although I’ve still taken part in quite a few ordinations in this country with anointing). The anointing with oil represents the simultaneous anointing with the Holy Spirit who gives “the necessary virtue, grace and power required” for the ministry. The anointing also has a Christological meaning. “Its use by the Church also indicates the fact that this office is a gift of the anointed Christ carrying with it His authority.” (You can see a shorter video of an Apostolic Church ordination of an elder and deacons from a Ghanaian assembly in the UK with the elder anointed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit here.)

So, an ordination isn’t just about what the church is doing, but about what the Lord is doing. The apostles are human beings who lay on human hands. But through this human act, Jesus, the Head of the Church, by the Holy Spirit, is incorporating those being ordained into His ministry which He exercises through the ministers He gives as gifts to His Church.

The Lord works through human hands. As the American Pentecostal theologian Daniel Tomberlin puts it, “Pentecostal spirituality is a physical spirituality. The Holy Spirit dwells within the believer; the Spirit fills the believer … Spirit-filled believers are laying on ‘holy hands’ … This sacramental practice involves fellowship with the Spirit and the church, and the interaction between that which is of the Spirit and that which is physical.” (Tomberlin, Pentecostal Sacraments, p.90). The laying on of the apostles’ hands in ordination isn’t just a ritual. It’s a Spirit-filled act by which the Lord is at work. 

In 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul writes, ‘Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership’ and in 2 Timothy 1:6-7 he reminds him ‘to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’ The laying on of hands here is connected with imparting a gift. And the gift has remained in Timothy since hands were laid on him. Sometimes it might need to be stirred up — but it doesn’t disappear! The Holy Spirit works through the laying on of hands to anoint for ministry. That doesn’t mean there isn’t already an anointing from the Spirit there — but the Lord can always give more!

The laying on of hands is never an empty gesture in the New Testament. Paul underlines its significance when he warns Timothy not to ‘lay hands on anyone hastily’ (1 Tim. 5:22). In other parts of the New Testament we see that the Lord works through the laying on of hands to bring blessing (Mk 10:13-16; Mt 19:15), healing (Mk 6:5; Lk 4:40; 13:13; Acts 28:8), the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-19; 19:6), or even a combination of these (Acts 9:17). It’s the Lord, not the person who lays on hands, who is the source of the blessing. And the blessings the Lord gives are effectual (which is exactly the type of blessing Paul is writing to Timothy about in encouraging him to stir up this gift which is within him through the laying on of hands). So, biblically speaking, something actually happens through the laying on of hands in ordination. This isn’t just a human ceremony — in ordination God is at work in a powerful and effective way. 

The Lord gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The Holy Spirit raises up elders and deacons. And the Lord doesn't only make the ministries, He also anoints them and empowers them through the laying on of the apostles’ hands in ordination.