Theology of Ordination

In my recent post, 75 Days of Preparation for Ordination, I stated that I planned to review Bishop William Willimon’s Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Here, I will simply post some quotes from the first chapter, which specifically deals with ordination. As we prepare for ordination (in less than two months), these words from Bishop Willimon are good reminders.

Those who think the call of God is for privilege or prestige, think again. … it is for suffering in service to the crucified Christ. (14)

… ministry is not a profession. It is a vocation. One could not pay pastors for what is routinely expected of them. One must be called in order to do it. Although pastors may struggle with exactly what it means to be called by God to lead a church, they must have some sense that they are in ministry because God wants them to be. (14)

All Christians, by virtue of their baptism, are called by God to witness, to teach, to heal, and to proclaim. … Yet from the ranks of the baptized, some are called to lead. (16)

Ordination is a gift of God, to be sure, but a gift of God through the church, for the church, that the church might be the church of God. (18)

Though ordination is an act of God, the church chooses and proposes the candidate. … God calls and the church recognizes, examines, and validates that divine vocation. (39)

Careful preparation for pastoral leadership is a moral matter of the need for clergy to submit themselves to the leadership needs of the church. A warm heart and good intentions are not enough to fulfill the requisites of this vocation. (20)

Too many pastors never rise above simple congregational maintenance, never have any higher goal in their ministry than mushy, ill-defined ‘love’ or ‘service.’ To find ourselves yoked, bound to our profession of faith, namely, that Christ really is present in Word and Sacrament, overturning the world through us; this is great grace. (22)

In so many ways, ministry is difficult because it is about the construction, the evocation, the invocation of another world. (22)

Reflecting on Ephesians 4.11-12, Willimon argues …

These ministers have as their purpose ‘to equip the saints,’ that is, the whole church, so that the church can be about ‘the work of ministry.’ (36)

Willimon reflects on a prayer found in the tradition of Hippolytus (early third century) used in ordination and offers the following points …

  1. Ordination is an act of Christ and his church.
  2. Ordination is for service to Christ and the church.
  3. Ordination arises “from above,” as a gracious gift of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Ordination arises from below, from the church’s need for, and wisdom in designating, leadership.
  5. Ordination forms those who are to serve as priests to the priests.
  6. Ordination sets apart those who are to serve as exemplars to the congregation, being in all things without fault.
  7. Ordination is an act of collegiality.
  8. Ordination is effected through the laying on of hands and prayer.

Willimon elaborates on each of these points. I’ll wrap up with one last quote …

The central liturgical gesture for ordination is the laying on of hands, a sign that is full of significance for clergy. There is in this gesture a conferral of power and authority from those who have borne this burden to those newly called to lead. Any authority and power that clergy have is never their own; it is a gift, a bestowal from the Holy Spirit and the church. Though most of us today associate the laying on of hands with ordination, it is a baptismal gesture. When used in ordination, the laying on of hands is a sign that the call to ministry is preceded by the call that arises out of the general ministry of all Christians in baptism. (48-49)

Good stuff from Bishop Willimon on ordination.

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