The prayer which brings to a conclusion the service of ordaining one in the ministry of the Word must not be construed merely as a part of the “form.” Although it certainly belongs to the Form of Ordination, it is much more than this. If careful consideration was given to all that preceded, particularly the exhortations and charges given to the newly ordained minister and the congregation, this prayer will not be uttered as a mere “form,” but it will express the spiritual consciousness of the church and her minister. Its content will register a lasting impression upon all those who spiritually participate in this calling upon the Name of God. This is the way it also should be. A prayer, whether part of an accepted liturgical form or composed by the officiating minister, cannot be imposed upon the praying church, but rather, the church must express from the heart her needs and supplications with thanksgiving. True prayer has its origin in the hearts of those who are genuinely conscious of their needs and sincerely seek God for their fulfillment. The effectualness of prayer depends on this and so the church and her ordained minister must not simply bring this service to its traditional ending with a word of prayer, but every utterance of the prayer must be the expression of heartfelt desires and needs.
This follows from the statement introducing this prayer which, at the same time, expresses its motivation. That statement is: “Since no man is of himself fit for any of these things, let us call upon God with thanksgiving.” This confession is more than a mere admission of human inadequacy. It implies that positively there is a sincere desire in the heart of the petitioning church to possess the blessings of God which He bestows through the offices in His Church and, realizing that no man is fit to provide these things, the earnest prayer is made to God. This desire, this hungering after the spiritual riches of the Kingdom of Heaven, is the deepest motivation of the prayer.
The prayer itself may be divided into four main parts. First of all, there is a brief but significant expression of thanksgiving. This is followed by several petitions that relate directly to the minister who has been ordained and his needs. The third section of the prayer contains supplications in behalf of the congregation, and then the prayer is concluded with the words of the well known Lord’s Prayer. Briefly we make the following comments on these parts of the prayer.
From the very outset to the conclusion of this prayer we must note especially its highly spiritual content. Thanksgiving is rendered to God because “it pleaseth Thee, by the ministry of men, to gather a Church to Thyself unto life eternal, from amongst the lost children of men.” Recognition is not only given to the fact that the gathering of the Church is exclusively the work of God, but for that fact gratitude is expressed. How grateful we may indeed be that it is not otherwise. Now the gathering of the Church is sure. Nothing can hinder its realization, for the Almighty God establishes it, gathers and maintains it, according to the pleasure of His unchangeable will. And that the Lord gathers this Church from amongst the lost children of men can only be a most profound reason for thanksgiving, for this utterance is made in the realization that we, the members of that Church, are lost in trespasses and sin. That we may belong to that Church is to be attributed only to the grace of God, for which we give thanks.
The second reason for thanksgiving here is the fact that God has “so graciously provided the Church in this place with a faithful minister.” We are to observe here that the provision of the ministry is correctly viewed as a product of Divine grace. God graciously provides in order that through the ministry He may bestow the blessings of His grace upon His Church. The means of grace are directly related to the office of the ministry of the Word. Without the ministry of the Word there are no means of grace, and without the latter the riches of the grace of Christ are not bestowed. In this consciousness the Church expresses Her gratitude for this provision. It is actually, therefore, a thanksgiving for all the blessings of redemption which the Church receives through the ministry of the Word.
PRAYER FOR THE MINISTER
In this part of the prayer the Church expresses her consciousness of the nature of the office of the ministry of the Word as this was also expressed in the Form for Ordination. She does not, therefore, pray that her minister may be a potent influence in the community, a zealous promoter of civic affairs, a successful competitor in the sports arena, a behind-the-scene lobbyist for political legislation, etc. All these things the Church of Christ does not expect of her minister, and she does not look for these things to come through the ministry. In many so-called churches today this is no longer the case and such churches cannot sincerely pray the prayer we are discussing.
That prayer contains six specific petitions in behalf of the minister. These are: (1) That he may be qualified daily more and more by the Holy Spirit for the work of the ministry unto which he has been called.
(2) That his understanding may be enlightened to comprehend the holy Word of God.
(3) That he may boldly preach the mysteries of the gospel.
(4) That he may have wisdom and valor to rule the congregation aright and preserve them in Christian peace, to the end that God’s Church, under his administration and by his good example, may increase in number and virtue.
(5) That he may have courage to bear the difficulties and troubles which he may meet with in his ministry, and that he may be steadfast to the end.
(6) That, with all faithful servants,, he may be received in the end into the joy of his Master.
This is indeed a very rich and beautiful prayer. The congregation may pray this often in behalf of her minister. The work of the ministry is a spiritual labor that is entirely dependent upon God and the work of His Holy Spirit. Men may indeed build organizations, but man is not able to promote the cause of Christ in his own strength or power. This is God’s work which He accomplishes through the means of men; men whom He chooses and calls unto the ministry of the Word. Upon them God bestows the necessary gifts and powers to accomplish the humanly impossible task. Although God certainly does this, the prayer for these things is necessary because, as our Heidelberg Catechism expresses it, “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them.” This is the case with respect to our individual prayers and experience but it is also true for the church. The church that does not desire and is not appreciative of these spiritual benefits does not receive them. Only when the church is spiritually hungry for the blessings of the ministry does God through that ministry bless her.
The course of the faithful ministry is always encountered by many difficulties and troubles. This cannot be avoided. Not only do the powers of the wicked and ungodly world expend themselves in opposition to the cause of Christ, but within the Church itself are found those who do not really belong to the Church and who, in countless ways, oppose the ministry of the truth. Militancy never ceases as long as the church is in this world. There are continuous disappointments and discouragements, and only because God Himself preserves His Cause can and does the ministry of the Word persevere. The Holy Spirit gives an unbreakable comfort in the assurance that the cause of Christ shall have the victory, and although things that appear often seem to emit a totally different testimony, the truth shall ultimately prevail. Then the cause of Christ shall be glorified before all men, and all who have faithfully labored in that cause will enter into the joy of their Lord.
PRAYER FOR THE CONGREGATION
Not only is it imperative that the minister of the Word be faithful, but it is equally important that the congregation understands and heeds her calling. Without this the labors of the ministry are to no avail. The fruits of a blessed ministry are manifest in the congregation, and therefore a four-fold prayer is also uttered in her behalf. In this respect, too, the prayer in behalf of the congregation contains no element of carnality, but is raised to a high spiritual plane. Though the church is still in the midst of the world and her members are of the earth earthy, no mention is made in this prayer for any physical or material comforts. The basic, fundamental needs of the body of Christ, without which she cannot survive, and with which, no matter what the external circumstances of her existence may be, she can and will be manifest as the true body of Christ, are the objects of petition in this prayer.
The Church then must have grace to deport itself in a becoming manner toward their minister; to acknowledge that he is sent of God, and therefore to receive his doctrine with all reverence and submit themselves to his exhortations. The underlying supposition is that in all these things the congregation is submitting itself not to man but to God. It is His Word, His doctrine, His exhortations which come to them through the ministry of the Word that they are to heed. The fact that the church is to reject “a man that is an heretic” does not enter into consideration here. Certainly the point is not disputed that the people of God are never obligated to submit to false doctrines or the mere whims and wishes of men, but rather the positive point is established that in submitting to the doctrine of godliness which is the truth, the church is made partaker of eternal life. She must walk in the way of faith. Believing in Christ, she is called to follow Him. With her minister, who faithfully expounds the Word of Christ, she must stand in opposition to every false way and fight the battle of faith with all steadfastness, even though and when she must suffer because of these things. It is given to her “not only to believe but also to suffer for Christ’s sake.” (Phil. 1:29) This is part of her glory and crown, and in her prayer she is asking for all that is essential in order that she may be a faithful church unto the day when she shall be taken into her everlasting inheritance and made partaker of eternal life.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
The final petition of the ordination prayer is: “Here us, 0 Father, through Thy beloved Son, Who hath taught us to pray”: and then follows the words of the well known Lord’s Prayer. We need not discuss the content of this perfect prayer in this connection. Only let it be observed that this prayer must not be considered as a mere appendage to the prayer offered. It is the perfect prayer expressing all that needs to be expressed in prayer. In a sense, therefore, it is repetitious of what has already been said, but the importance of the matter may well be emphasized by repetition, and in no way can it be said better than in the words of the Lord Jesus Himself. May we perhaps express the matter this way: “0 Father, we have tried to express our needs and desires to Thee but we confess our inability to do so and therefore, hear us as we bring these needs to Thee in the words which our Lord taught us to pray. Amen.”