Ordaining a man in the ministry of the Word is always a most solemn act. It ought not to be accompanied with a gaudy and pompous ritual which can only divert the attention of the congregation from the real significance of the occasion. Prolongation of the affair through the addition of many superficial, meaningless activities does not enhance its beauty.
With this in mind the ceremony prescribed in our Form for Ordination is limited to two things. The officiating minister pronounces a benediction while he, and the other ministers who are present, engage in the laying on of hands ceremony. Concerning the laying on of hands, however, it may be observed that Reformed Synods did not always insist upon this practice. Some of them, perhaps out of fear that this might lead to some superstitions, omitted it. But the Synod of the Hague in 1586 and also the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618 prescribed it, and since that time it has been observed in the Reformed Churches. There can, of course, be no objection to this practice, provided it is understood by the congregation and is given a correct interpretation according to the Word of God.
Before we discuss the laying on of hands ceremony, we must take note of the benediction pronounced by the officiating minister. He says: “God our heavenly Father, Who hath called thee to His holy ministry, enlighten thee with His Holy Spirit, strengthen thee with, His hand, and so govern thee in thy ministry, that, thou mayest decently and fruitfully walk therein, to the glory of His name, and the propagation of the kingdom of His Son Jesus Christ. Amen.”
The significance of this benediction lies in the fact that it expresses unmistakably the. fundamental truth that the work of the ministry and all that is involved therein :is dependent solely upon God, our Heavenly Father. The success of the ministry is contingent upon His enlightening, strengthening and .governing the minister of the Word. The power of the Word unto salvation is not bound up in the personality and oratorical ability of man. God can and does bestow gifts upon His servants which are necessary and useful in the ministry, but these things in themselves do not assure an effective and fruitful ministry. The purpose of the ministry is the impartation of spiritual blessings, and this no man can accomplish except that God works through him. Thus the ministry aims at the glory of God exclusively through the propagation of the Kingdom of Christ. The bestowal of this gift by God Himself constitutes the heart of the ordination.
The ceremony of the laying on of hands then must collaborate this purpose. Whatever significance is attached to it must certainly agree with the underlying idea of the ordination, and otherwise this ceremony becomes a needless additive which we might better omit altogether. It is to be observed that this practice is employed only in cases where one is ordained in the ministry for the first time. It is not repeated with each installation.
The custom of the laying on of hands is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. James Orr, in the I.S.B.., Vol. II, page 1335, remarks:
“The act or ceremony of the imposition of hands appears in the Old Testament in various connections: in the act of blessing (Gen. 48:14ff); in the ritual of sacrifice (Ex. 29:10, 15, 19; Lev. 1:4; 3:2, 8, 13); in witness-bearing in capital offences (Lev. 24:14). The tribe of Levi was set apart by solemn imposition of hands (Numb. 8:10); Moses appointed Joshua to be his successor by a similar act (Nu. 27:18, 23). The idea in these cases ,varies with the purpose of the act: The primary idea seems to be that of conveyance or transference (cf. Lev. 16:21), but, conjoined with this, in certain instances, are,the ideas of identification and of devotion to God.
“In the New Testament Jesus laid hands on the little children (Matt. 19:13, 15; Mark 10:16) and on the sick (Matt. 9:18, Mk. 6:5), and the apostles laid hands on those whom they baptized that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17, 19; 19:6), and in healing (Acts 12:17). Specially the imposition of hands was used in the setting apart of persons to a particular office or work in the church. This is noticed as taking place in the appointment of the Seven (Acts 6:6), in the sending out of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:3), at the ordination of Timothy (I Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6), but though not directly mentioned, it seems likely that it accompanied all acts of ordination’ of presbyters and deacons (Cf. I Tim. 5:22; Heb. 6:2). The presbyters could hardly convey what they had not themselves received (I Tim. 1:14). Here again the fundamental idea is communication. The act of laying on of hands was accompanied by prayer (Acts 6:6; 8:15; 13:3), and the blessing sought was imparted by God Himself. No ground is afforded by this symbolical action for a sacrament of ‘Orders.’ ”
It appears then that the significance of this act in connection with the ordination of ministers is that it is a natural symbol for the transmission of the power of the Holy Spirit which is necessary for the proper exercise of the office. More than this we may not attribute to it, and even then we must be on our guard against the danger of conceiving of this in some mystical way, limiting the transmission of the Spirit to the ritual itself. This, of course, would be all wrong. Rev. Hoeksema says, “The meaning of this ceremony cannot be that at the moment of the laying on of hands the Holy Spirit is imparted to the one that is installed into the ministry of the Word. Nor can it be that the one installed receives the consciousness of his having received the Holy Spirit. All this is in the calling of God, through the church and therefore prior to the ceremony of the laying on of hands. Nevertheless, it is meant to be a symbol of the fact that seeing that he is called through the church by God, he has received the Spirit necessary for his functioning in the ministry of the Word, and that he will in the future receive the Spirit, Who only can enable him to function in this office. As such it is of significance both for him that is installed and for the congregation that witnesses the installation.” (Liturgies, page 24)
Following the installation ceremony, the officiating minister, from the pulpit, charges the installed minister and the congregation. The exhortations addressed to both are taken from the Word of God, and the importance of this may not be minimized. In effect this means that God Himself speaks through these admonitions of His Word, declaring what is expected and demanded of both the minister and the congregation in their new relationship.
The charge of the minister is summarized under four headings by Rev. Hoeksema in his “Liturgies.” These are:
“1. He must take heed to himself and to the flock.
“2. He must also be an example to believers in all his word and walk, speak and live and walk in the midst of the congregation and in the midst of the world as a believer in Christ Jesus.
“3. He must give attendance to reading, exhortation, and doctrine, must meditate on those things, give himself wholly to them, and continue steadfast in the doctrine.
“4. He must be willing patiently to bear all suffering, not only from the world, but also from evil men in the church.”
Doing this faithfully the minister of the Word may look forward to the crown of glory that fades not away and. that surely awaits him in the day of Christ. Although the procural of reward may not be the motivation of his labor, the minister finds in this comforting promise a strong incentive to carry on in labors that are so often disheartening, discouraging and disappointing. The minister labors in the consciousness that he is only a steward of Christ. He is given charge of Christ’s precious heritage, a heritage which Christ purchased with His own blood. The minister must love that heritage, zealously guard it and feed and nourish it through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word. In doing this he must not be moved by any carnal consideration or motive, but with a willing heart and mind, constrained by the love of Christ, he must labor for the well-being of Zion. That well-being of the church is not the same as material prosperity, but it is emphatically spiritual and consists in her growth and development in the truth. Thus the minister must be a faithful student of the Word of God. He must study the Scriptures, meditate on them, give himself wholly to them, and that necessarily implies that he himself must be a living example of the power of the Scriptures. He must “go forth in God’s service, and strong in His might, to conquer all evil and stand for the right.” In this he will unavoidably be assailed by evil men who will oppose him and make him suffer. All this, however, may not dissuade him from obedience to his calling and he must “be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that his labor in Him is not in vain.”
The congregation too must be exhorted. She must receive her minister with gladness, esteem him highly for the works sake, remembering that God will speak through him to her. She must not oppose the Word of God that is preached to her, but she must receive it with meekness and in obedience honor it as the Word of God. It stands to reason that any philosophy that is not of the Word of God she must also reject. To those that are in authority over her, she must be submissive, knowing that they watch over her soul. In the way of her spiritual cooperation there will be joy in the labor of the ministry. And when the congregation is faithful to this her exalted calling, she also will experience the peace of God that passes all understanding, and she will have the consciousness of eternal life.
The necessity of these exhortations stems from the fact that reality in life in the church in the present world does not very often correspond to the ideal situation set forth in these admonitions from the Word of God. Sin, with all of its horribleness, remains in the church and is forever lifting up its ugly face. Repeated reminder of the responsibilities of the office of the ministry as well as the duties of the congregation is not out of order. The bond of unity between minister and congregation in the execution of their mutually God-given task must be so firmly cemented together that no intruding power of evil can break it. The more faithful the minister is and the more diligent the congregation, the stronger this bond becomes.
Yet both minister and congregation must also realize that “no man is of himself fit for any of these things” and that our “strength and help is always in the Lord our God.” Therefore, this beautiful ordination form also closes with a prayer, committing these needs to Him Who alone can fulfill them and giving praise and thanksgiving to Him from Whom all blessings flow.
But our consideration of this prayer must wait, D.V., until next time.