Do Congregations Need Ordained Ministers?

Most people believe that an "ordained ministry" is an utterly essential part of any church or religious work. They will give far more credence to a message given by an "ordained" person than they will to a message given by a "lay member."

Most people have a very specific concept of what it means to be "ordained." They believe that a "lay member" goes through a ceremony which includes the laying on of hands, and he is "set apart" by the Eternal to perform specific functions that "lay members" cannot perform: usually marriages, funerals, baptisms, counselings, anointings for healing, receiving tithes or offerings, public evangelism, and the ordination of other ministers. Most people believe that an ordained person maintains this status his entire life, unless it is revoked by his "church organization." (However, if an elder quits his church organization before they revoke his "ordination," then he gets to stay ordained and start or join another organization.)

But have you ever heard a sermon that demonstrated this concept from the Bible? Have you ever seen it explained from the Bible in an article or a doctrinal statement? Probably not. Because the process described above is not in the Bible. We will guarantee you that you have never heard or read an explanation of "ordination" using the meanings of the words in the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures! Why? Because there is no Hebrew or Greek word in the Bible that has the meaning described above.

Are we saying that the Bible does not teach that the church is divided into "ordained men" ("clergy") and "lay members"?

The terms "lay member" (which means "low member") and "clergy" never appear in any of numerous Bibles that we have searched. Nor could we find any equivalent words in English, Hebrew or Greek translations.

The word "ordain" (and its variants "ordains," "ordained," etc.) appears in every Bible that we searched, but the number of times varies greatly. It appears 43 times in the King James Version, but only 3 times in Young’s Literal Translation. We found no consistency at all in the number of times it appears in many other translations. What is going on here? Why are the translations so different?

The King James Bible translators simply wrote the word "ordain" into verses where it does not belong. Later Bible translators continued to use it in some of the traditional verses, but decided to correct some of the most flagrant mistranslations of the KJV.

But you do not have to know Greek or Hebrew to prove this to yourself! You do not have to take our word for it, either!

All you need is three concordances or a "computer Bible" that will search on Strong’s numbers (nearly all of them do). Here is how you do it. Young’s Analytical Concordance will show you the 13 different Hebrew words and the 13 different Greek words that are occasionally translated "ordain", "ordained", etc. in the King James Bible. Every one of those Hebrew and Greek words has a different meaning, to which it is more commonly translated. In other words, there is no word in either Hebrew or Greek that has the traditional meaning of "ordain." The Englishman's’ Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament and The Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament can be used to verify this. Simply look up each of the 26 words from Young’s Analytical Concordance in the Hebrew and Greek concordances, and you will see that all of the words have a meaning that is not a religious ceremony. A computer Bible program that will search on the Strong’s numbers for each of the 26 words will work just as well.

How could Bible translators allow us to be misled on such an important doctrine? King James ordered his translators to retain traditional church terminology in the KJV. King James was head of the Church of England—which had split off from the Catholic church only 70 years before, and was still very similar in structure and doctrine. Most Bible translators since that time were members of churches that had a doctrine of ordination. Translating a Bible without this word would probably mean that both the Bible translation and its translators would be rejected by nearly all churches.

Young’s Literal Translation is the best Bible translation for this subject as far as I know. As expected, it is not well accepted by most churches. The word "ordain" and its variants appear only 3 times in the entire YLT Bible (Acts 10:42; 17:26,31). It is always translated from the Greek horizo and is used in the sense of something "determined by the Eternal." The Greek horizo is elsewhere translated "determined" and could have logically been translated that way in the three "ordain" verses. If Young’s would have used "determine" in these three verses, we would have a very legitimate English Bible translation that does not contain the word "ordain" at all!

The concept of "ordained men" ("clergy") and "lay members" does not originate from the scriptures, but from the Catholic Church. Another related idea is that the New Testament ministry were the special class of people who replaced the Old Testament priests (indeed, the Catholic ministry are called "priests"). The Bible never teaches this idea. Rather, it teaches that all believers are a "priesthood" (1Pet 2:5,9). Nevertheless, this "ordained men" and "lay member" class concept was carried from the Catholic Church through the various Protestant Churches and eventually infiltrated many of the Sabbatarian churches. Is it in your church?

The traditional "ordained men" vs."laymen" idea gives nearly all of the Biblical spiritual gifts to the "ordained men," and none to the "laymen" If we can remove this false concept from our minds, then we can begin to see the various spiritual gifts and functions that the Bible describes and see that they are placed in His Body, as He desires.

The Bible speaks of "elders" and "overseers" having responsibilities in congregations and it gives qualifications for selecting them. It shows that some are selected directly by the Eternal and some are selected after the prayers and counsel of men. People selected to serve brethren should be chosen by the brethren whom they are to serve (Acts 6). The Bible teaches the laying on of hands and prayer for people who are given certain responsibilities. But responsibilities tend to be specific. Even if we forget about the term "ordain," the Bible never defines a process whereby a certain believer becomes a "new class" of person and is suddenly qualified to perform a host of spiritual functions. The Bible contains no list of functions that only certain people can do. It does show that people ought to be mature and not seek responsibility for which they are not prepared.

There are no examples of our Savior’s followers citing the day or the man who "laid hands on them" as credentials for their preaching or work. Yet when this writer attended the founding conference of one church organization, full participation was limited to "ordained men." They seemed totally unconcerned that many of the men at the conference were "ordained" by a man who they then realized may have never been "fit for the ministry." The spiritual fruit of the individuals present was not considered. To participate fully in the conference, people had to give their ordination date. This is not Biblical.

We must ask: is the Eternal allowed to grant spiritual gifts without human "ordination"? Abraham’s servant asked for a miracle to show him who to select for Isaac’s wife, yet the Bible does not record his name or any other deeds. Gideon was a man who did not have great faith, but asked for two miracles and received them. Philip was commissioned by men to help serve widows in Acts 6, but in Acts 8 he preached and performed miracles in Samaria, then was given direct instruction by the Holy spirit to teach and baptize an Ethiopian eunuch, then was miraculously transported to Azotus—where he preached in ALL the cities up the coastline to Caesarea (about 70 miles away). Philip carried out a major evangelistic campaign even though the apostles only laid hands upon him for the service of waiting on tables! We can find numerous other biblical examples of men who served in great capacities, with no Biblical record of their "spiritual qualifications". Does the Eternal still work this way?

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:12-13).

James wrote to carnal-minded brethren who were warring among themselves. Do his words apply equally well to the "warring" that is going on among church organizations?

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder [disfellowship] and covet [other’s tithes and members] and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures (Jms 4:1-3).

James clearly says that we do not receive because we are asking for the wrong things. How many organizations tell their membership to pray for their "ordained ministry" and for more money to be sent in so they can preach the Gospel? Should not we pray for the Eternal to raise up people and to do His work through them? Will we be ready to receive the people He sends?

We are not saying that all "ordained ministers" are bad men. We have personal experience with some good men. Some "ordained" men were probably also chosen by the Eternal; others may not have been chosen by the Eternal, but He blessed their work because they diligently sought Him. But much harm has happened to people who trusted in the words of men whom they thought were speaking for the Eternal because they claimed to be "ordained." Would the Eternal allow great harm to be done by those who claim to be "ordained to his service"? Yes! The following prophecies are about the Eternal’s flock and its shepherds. While these also apply to physical Israel, we cannot escape their meaning for the church today:

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: "as I live," says the Lord GOD, "surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock"—therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them." For thus says the Lord GOD: "Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country (Ezk 34:7-13).

"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!" says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: "You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings," says the LORD. "But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking," says the LORD (Jer 23:1-4).

The need in our congregations today is for brethren to seek the Eternal and ask Him to provide them shepherds. We need to use the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach us individually. We need to realize that we have trusted too much in church organizations and "ordained ministers"—neither of which is found in the Bible. While the Eternal has worked through people in the past in spite of these errors, can we expect Him to do a big work through us in the future if we perpetuate these errors—especially when we know better?

Do not fear that congregations will be in confusion without an "ordained ministry." The Scriptures have much to say on how a local congregation should be run, but we do not have room in this brief article. For more information, please write for our articles How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans and Assembling on the Sabbath.

—Norman S. Edwards

A Lesson About "Ordination" from the Worldwide Church of God

Herbert Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God Founder, preached, wrote articles, conducted funerals, and baptized before he was "ordained." His entire congregation laid hands on him after he proved his service to them over a period of time—he was not the product of a ministerial decision. This congregation’s action was closer to the Bible example, though they apparently did believe that this single action "authorized" him to perform all of the typical "ordained functions." But as the years went by, the practice of ordination in the Worldwide Church of God grew more like that of the Catholic Church. Armstrong’s leading ministers would often not ask anyone in a local congregation before ordaining a person there—even the person ordained was seldom told until the ceremony began. There was usually no formal attempt to determine if the man met any of the qualifications mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Roderick Meredith, head of the WCG ministry for many years, told me personally that the main criteria for ordination over the years was "would this person follow the Government of God?" (which means the church organization).

I know of other specific cases where men were ordained because "a local group needed someone to keep it together" or because they were big contributors and headquarters thought ordination would keep them in their organization.

Some may say that these are abuses of the otherwise correct ordination process. But if we admit that the Eternal allows men to abuse the "ordination" process, then we are admitting that the Eternal does not approve every ordination by church organizations. As the WCG introduced one new doctrine after another, can anyone say that the percentage of ordained men who remained faithful to the scriptures was any higher than the percentage of members who remained faithful? Today, men who trace their "ordination" back to Herbert Armstrong can be found teaching nearly every imaginable doctrine and involved in nearly every imaginable sin. The reality is and always has been: Each individual member is left to examine the doctrines and the fruits of each "ordained" man and make his or her own decision about how they will regard each "ordained" man. —NSE

return to Sept-Oct 97 index