Ordination or Commendation?
New Testament Tuesdays started back in the early spring with a series of articles by Jack Hay entitled “Which Church? A Problem.” In the series Brother Hay looked at 11 patterns, or principles, of how the early church gathered together in local congregations. Unfortunately, even a casual observer will note that there numerous discrepancies between what is commonly practiced in most local churches today and the pattern of meeting together as found in the New Testament. A PDF ebook of the series is available here for free.
After the Which Church? series concluded, Brother Mike Stoudt picked up Digital Sojourner’s Tuesday time slot and continued to write about various other patterns and principles found in the pages of the New Testament. Due to a prior ministry obligation Mike was unable to write a post for today, so I thought I could share a little about a subject found in the New Testament that I am currently studying: commendation.
What in the world is commendation you ask? Don’t worry you are not alone! The vast majority of evangelical churches never use the term nor practice the principle – even though the practice of commendation is clearly found in the New Testament. See Acts 11:19-26, Acts 13:1-5, Acts 14:24-28. Even a cursory reading of these passages will reveal that the church in Antioch recognized that the Holy Spirit had called out from among them two believers for a work that God had called them to.
Seems fairly simple… and it is simple. Unfortunately we like to complicate what God has made simple. Today most ecclesiastical circles will speak of “ordination.” Though the practice differs widely, ordination typically means that one has successfully mastered a prescribed religious curriculum, has been approved by an officially recognized inter-church ruling body, and has been ‘ordained’ during a special church ceremony. The one who has been ordained is then considered to be a member of a special class of Christians called “the clergy” and can hold certain offices and practice certain ministries that most other Christians “the laity” can not.
The modern practice of ordination may seem fine. Unfortunately, however, the practice can not be found in the New Testament. Because the practice is so common today many refuse to believe that there is no New Testament precedent regarding ordination. However, I would like to suggest that not only does the modern practice of ordination lack a Biblical foundation, in many ways ordination is actually contrary to New Testament teaching.
How is the modern practice of ordination contrary to the New Testament? Consider this…
- There is no ‘prescribed religious curriculum’ other than the Bible itself — no other book or even church history is authoritative. Revelation 22:18-19
- There is no ‘officially recognized inter-church ruling body’ sanctioned in the New Testament — The passages referenced above clearly show that it was the one local church alone that recognized what the Holy Spirit said. Acts 13:1
- There is no ‘special church ceremony’ described in the New Testament for this purpose. When the local assembly in Antioch ‘sent off’ Barnabas and Saul for the work that God had called them to do they fasted, prayed and laid their hands on them. Acts 13:3. This does not sound like an ornate ceremony with great pomp and circumstance — in fact the Lord Jesus taught against this. See Matthew 6:5-7 and Matthew 6:16-18
- There is no distinction made in the New Testament between the ‘clergy’ and the ‘laity.’ The New Testament actually teaches that all true Christians are members of the so-called ‘clergy’ — the priesthood of all believers 1 Peter 2:4-5 KJV
I know that this may sound shocking to you, so I would ask you not to take my word for it, but rather go to God’s Word alone and prayerfully study what God says about this topic.
Well, if commendation is not ordination — what IS commendation? From the above referenced passages in the book of Acts one preacher has defined commendation as “an action by a local assembly in which they recognize God’s call of one of their own for a specific ministry and they hand the individual over to the grace of God for His care and blessing.”1
So, commendation is simply…
- the local assembly recognizing that God has called one or more of their own for a special work. Acts 13:2.
- the local assembly giving way to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:2.
- the setting apart of the called believer(s) to the Lord. Acts 13:2.
- the setting apart of the called believer(s) for a specific work of God. Acts 13:2.
- the setting apart of the called believer(s) from the local assembly. Acts 13:2-4.
- an ongoing relationship between the commending assembly and the one commended. Acts 14:26-28.
- involves the entire local assembly. Note the multiple use of the word ‘they’ in Acts 13:2-3.
- involves the assembly fasting and praying. Acts 13:2-3 — in accordance with Matthew 6:5-7 and Matthew 6:16-18 both fasting and praying should be done in a spirit of humility, and in such a manner that does not draw attention to the ones who are fasting and praying.
- the local assembly identifying itself with the one(s) being commended as symbolized through the laying on of hands. Acts 13:3.
Therefore, commendation is something that is simple and spirit lead. All too often the modern church has added layer upon layer of rules and regulations to the simple and clear teaching of the Word of God. Yet, so many true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ seem to be blinded by the traditions of man.
So, what do you think? Has the modern church over-complicated and possibly even overruled the Scriptures with the modern practice of ordination? I would appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments.
1William Yuille (June 27, 2012) Commendation, message given at Greenwood Hills Bible Conference, Fayetteville, PA.
Also special credit to: Tom Irwin (July 30, 2012) Commendation, message given at North York Gospel Chapel, York, PA
Photo credit: Chris Buggins, used with permission.