And when they had ordained them elders in every church…. (Acts 14:23)

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. (Titus 1:5)

The fact that a man is qualified to be an elder in Christ’s church does not, by itself, make him an elder. Nor has he become an elder by virtue of being designated by the council of a church or being chosen by the congregation to be an elder.

Until the church of Jesus Christ ordains a man to be elder in her midst, that man may not consider himself to be an elder. Such is the importance and necessity of ordination into office.

Long-time readers of the Standard Bearer might remember that, when writing on the office of deacon, I also devoted several (seven) articles to the subject of the election and installation of deacons.1 Those articles explained at some length the requirements of Articles 22 and 24 of our Church Order regarding how to enter the office of deacon (the process of election and installation); of Article 27 regarding how long to remain in office (limited terms, or life terms); and the requirements of Articles 79 and 80 regarding suspension and removal from office. In addition, they treated two matters not explicitly treated in our Church Order: one being the responsibility of a man nominated for office to consider that nomination, and request to be removed from that nomination only for weighty reasons; the other being resignation from office.

As the principles set forth in those articles apply as well to the office of elder as to that of deacon, I do not intend now to re-explain the requirements of the Church Order regarding the election and installation of elders.

I do, however, intend to treat one specific aspect of the requirements of the Church Order and of Scripture, that being the ordination of the elder. We will explain what ordination is and why it is necessary.

To treat this will be to emphasize the need for good order in the church, and particularly in the church offices; and will pave the way for us later to examine in detail the work of the office of elder in Christ’s church—a work which can be done officially only by those ordained.

Ordination

Ordination is the work of the church by which she officially and authoritatively places a man into that church office for which he was chosen. Samuel Miller’s definition is helpful: “By Ordination is meant that solemn rite, or act, by which a candidate for any office in the Church of Christ, is authoritatively designated to that office, by those who are clothed with power for that purpose.”2

The King James Version uses the word “ordain” to translate several different Greek words. The Greek verb found in Acts 14:23 refers literally to stretching out one’s hand, especially by voting. The meaning of this verb introduces a difficulty into the verse: on the one hand, the verb indicates that the elders were chosen by vote of the people; on the other hand, the subject of the verb is “they,” referring to Paul and Barnabas. My solution is that which several other commentators (Calvin, Lenski, Kistemaker) also give: the use of this verb with its subject combines the ideas of election and ordination. In other words, Paul and Barnabas directed the church to choose its elders, which the church did (by vote, with stretching out of the hand); and then Paul and Barnabas installed those elders into their office in a ceremony, with prayers and fastings.3

The verb in I Timothy 2:7 (“whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle”) is the word “to place, set.” The same verb is used in Titus 1:5, this time with a prefix added that emphasizes that one is placed or set down in a position, and therefore bound to a position and the work that that position entails.

The idea expressed by our English word “ordain” is a bit narrower, referring to one’s being put into office, to do the work of that office.

Ordination and Installation

Is there a difference between ordination and installation?

We use both terms, as do our minor confessions.4 Opening the book, The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches,5 to the “Table of Contents,” you find that it includes a “Form for Ordination (or Installation) of Ministers of God’s Word,” a “Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons,” a “Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology,” and a “Form for the Ordination (or Installation) of Missionaries.”6

Then, turning to the section of that book containing the Church Order,7 you find Article 4 speaking of the “ordination” of candidates who have accepted calls; Article 5 requires that a minister from one church who accepts a call to another church shall be “installed…agreeably to the form for this purpose”; and Articles 22 and 24 requiring that elders and deacons “be installed.”

All of which begs the question: are these terms synonyms? In short, the answer is “Yes” and “No.”

In a general sense, they are. Both “ordination” and “installation” refer to the beginning of service in an office. Apart from ordination (installation), a man is not an officebearer in the church. The fact that our Church Order speaks of elders and deacons being installed, while the forms used at that ceremony speaks of their being ordained, suggests that the terms are somewhat synonymous and can be used interchangeably.

Yet there is a distinction that can be made between the two, which distinction especially applies with regard to the office of minister. Understanding this distinction will help us understand why Church Order, Article 4 speaks of ordination, while Article 5 speaks of installation; and why the forms used when ministers and missionaries are put into office are called “Form[s] for Ordination (or Installation)” of ministers or missionaries.

The distinction is this, that in Reformed circles a minister is “bound to the service of the church for life,”8 which means that unless he leaves office or is deposed from office, he holds that office for the rest of his life. Not so elders and deacons; these serve limited terms of office.

When a man enters the office of minister for the first time, having recently been declared a candidate for the office, he is “ordained” (the terminology of Church Order, Article 4). When he accepts a call to another church, he continues in the office of minister, but must enter that office in another congregation; and so he is “installed” (the terminology of Church Order, Article 5).

Therefore, the form to use when ministers are put into office in a congregation is a “Form for Ordination (or Installation) of Ministers of God’s Word”—ordained, if they have not been in the office of minister in another congregation before; installed, if they have served previously in another congregation.

Because missionaries hold the office of minister, they also might be ordained as missionaries (having never served in office before), or be installed as missionary (having previously served another congregation as pastor). So the Form to use at that time is a called “Form for the Ordination (or Installation) of Missionaries.”

Why, then, is the Form which we use when installing a professor not called the Form for the “Ordination (or Installation)” of such, but rather the “Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology”? Like the missionary, the professor holds the office of minister. Unlike the missionary, who did not necessarily serve as a pastor of a congregation previously, the professor has served as the pastor of a congregation; he has previously been ordained. The Form itself presupposes this, beginning this way: “Beloved brethren, it is known unto you that our brother in the holy ministry (italics mine, DJK), N. N., has been called by our last synod to the important office of professor of theology at our theological seminary.”9 The wisdom of this our churches recognize. Article 5 of our “Constitution of the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches” says, “In electing professors, synod shall give preference to one already a minister of the gospel.”10

But I have digressed.

I set out to explain what ordination was, and how it was related to installation. And our conclusion is that, while there is an important distinction between the two terms, especially regarding the office of minister, they both refer to an official placement into office, and both indicate that one is now authorized to begin the work of that office.

A church ceremony

Such ordination must take place in a ceremony.

The use of a Form for ordination in Reformed Churches, and the requirement of Article 22 of the Church Order that they “be installed with public prayers and stipulations,” makes clear that a public ceremony is required.

Acts 14:23 suggests that such a ceremony took place, in that the apostles oversaw this ordaining of elders, and “prayed with fasting.” The phrase “laying on of hands” (Acts 8:18, I Tim. 4:14) suggests such a ceremony, at which the apostles or other officebearers placed their hands on the newly elected officebearers. And we know from Acts 6:6 that when the first deacons were chosen, they were installed in a public ceremony.

Why?

Why a public ceremony?

Why the need for ordination and installation?

Stay tuned.


1 This series of seven articles begins in volume 78, page 368, and concludes in volume 80, page 14.

2 Samuel Miller, An Essay on the Warrant, Nature, and Duties of the Office of the Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (General Books [www.General-Books.net], 2009), 137.

3 The idea of laying on of hands while placing one into office (Acts 8:18, 1 Tim. 4:14) is expressed by a different Greek word than that which is found in Acts 14:23. Acts 14:23 does teach that men were installed into the office of elder—but emphasizes that they were those men whom the church chose by voting in the way of stretching forth hands.

4 Minor confessions are officially adopted confessions of Reformed churches, which treat a very narrow subject. They are narrow not in their authority, but the scope of what they treat. Examples are our Church Order, and the Liturgical Forms in the back of the Psalter.

5 The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005). This is the hardcover green book.

6 Ibid. 284-306.

7 Ibid. 378-404.

8 Church Order, Article 12; 384.

9 Confessions, 296.

10 The Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches and Constitutions of Standing Synodical Committees, Rules and Regulations, By-laws, Forms, Declaration of Principles, 2010 edition, 67. This is the loose-leaf binder green book.