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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Holy Orders

The following is the third in a series of guest posts for
Sacramental Saturday.
This post was written by Phil Michaels.
In addition to holding multiple degrees in theology,
and having just completed the process for ordination, or holy orders, himself;
Phil has endured this journey with me for the past 21 years!
"Thank you" will never be enough...

When I was a student at Nazarene Bible College in the early 2000's, one of my professors, Dr. Mark Maddix, assigned us one of his own papers to read for the class.  The title of the paper was "The Clergy/Lay Dichotomy: A Biblical Model of the People of God."  That paper had a profound impact on how I viewed ministry and the importance of eliminating the false distinctions between 'clergy' and 'lay people' in the Church.  We are all the people of God, and we are all called and responsible to do the work of the ministry, regardless of whether or not our 'full time job' is through employment with the Church.  I still truly believe that.  But how does that belief in the priesthood of all believers fit in with a theology of ordination, whereby only some disciples of Jesus are set apart for ministry in the Church? 

Whether or not you believe "Holy Orders" are a sacrament or only sacramental, it is important to have a firm grasp on what it is we actually believe takes place through the rite of ordination.  To work through this, I want to look at what both the Catholic Church and the Church of the Nazarene have to say about ordination.  After that, I'd like to share a personal story, as I am fresh off of my own ordination just this last Sunday.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that all of Christ's disciples, through Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, have a common vocation "to holiness and to the mission of evangelizing the world" (1533).  That is the priesthood of all believers.  Holy Orders "are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God" (1534).  That is the priesthood of ordination - those set apart for a specific and particular mission in the Church that serves to bring about the salvation of the world, not just one's own salvation. 

It is "through [the sacrament of Holy Orders that] those already consecrated by Baptism and Confirmation for the common priesthood of all the faithful can receive particular consecrations. Those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are consecrated in Christ’s name 'to feed the Church by the word and grace of God'" (1535).   Holy Orders, in the Catholic Church, are specifically for those with an apostolic gifting and calling:  "Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate" (1536).  More on "the third degree" in a moment.

But first, let's take a look at how this squares with the theology of ordination in the Church of the Nazarene.  Paragraph 500 of the Manual first says that:  "The Church of the Nazarene recognizes all believers are called to minister to all people."  This seems squarely in line with the Catholic Church's commitment to the priesthood of all believers.  The Manual then goes on to say:

"We also recognize Christ calls some men and women to a specific and public ministry. As our Lord chose and ordained His 12 apostles He still calls and sends ministers. The church, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, recognizes God calls individuals to a lifetime of ministry.  When the church discovers a divine call, the church should recognize, endorse, and assist the candidate’s entry into ministry."

(Side note: I am trying to recall which gospel and what chapter it is that Christ has an ordination service for the 12 disciples...but it is just not coming to mind...)

Paragraph 502 reiterates this position:

"While affirming the universal priesthood and ministry of all believers, ordination reflects the biblical belief that God calls and gifts certain men and women for ministerial leadership. Ordination is the act of the Church, which recognizes and confirms God’s call"

I think a vitally important word in paragraph 502 is leadership.  I think this speaks to the apostolic nature of holy orders, although my tribe does not spell that out clearly enough, I don't think, and often ordains people who don't have an apostolic gift or bone in their body.  As mentioned, Catholics have "three degrees" in which they ordain: bishops, presbyters, deacons - all receive the same holy orders, but are ordained to different functions/roles.  In my opinion - and it is just that, my opinion - we either ordain far too many people, or we need to make better distinctions in our ordaining.  The result of making better distinctions would probably be that we actually ordain quite a few more people (the Elder/Deacon 'distinction' doesn't cut it in the Church of the Nazarene, because anybody that actually wants to serve in even the most basic, non-apostolic, ministry roles isn't taken seriously unless they choose the Elder track, which 99% of people go ahead and do, whether they are called and gifted for apostolic ministry or not).

It is also important to understand that ordination is something the Church does.  It is not something God does.  God calls.  The Church ordains. Even if the Church should choose not to ordain someone who seeks holy orders, it does not negate, in the least, that person's calling to serve Christ in whatever ways God has directed them.  The Church can, and sometimes does, make mistakes.  God does not.  Those who believe they have a specific call and pursue holy orders should not in any way be made to feel inferior if the church chooses not to ordain.  They should not feel rejected by God, even though they very well may feel rejected by the Church, and perhaps for good reason.  Again, holy orders are not about God's call.  They are about the Church's recognition of God's call. 

It is interesting that there is no real Scriptural basis for holy orders in the sense of a direct statement or story that uses the words "holy orders" or "ordination" - we do find, however, stories about the Church in which disciples were called out and appointed for specific missions.  Perhaps the best of these is found in the book of Acts, chapter 13, verses 2-3: 

"While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off."

This is, essentially, precisely what both Catholics and Nazarenes - and really, all varieties of Christian churches - do when they have services of ordination or holy orders.  As the Catechism says, "The essential rite of the sacrament of Holy Orders...consists in the bishop’s imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand and in the bishop’s specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained" (1573).

I know about this firsthand and personally because it happened to me just this week.  It did not, however, happen as I planned it.  But many things do?

It took me almost 14 years from the time of my first real ministry position at a church to reach ordination.  If you want to go back to my very first local license, it took 19 years.  To state what should be obvious even to those who may not be all that familiar with such processes, that was a lot longer than it would ordinarily take. 

If all goes well, in the Church of the Nazarene, you should be able to start the process by expressing your call to ministry to your local church, who give you a local ministry license for 1 year.  Then, you may receive a district license by interviewing with the District Ministerial Credentials Board.  After 3 years of "full time" (at least 30 hours per week) service to the church in ministry, and after all educational requirements (too convoluted a system to go into here) are met, you are eligible to be ordained.  The full Credentials Board interviews you and your spouse and votes on whether or not you can be ordained as a minister in the church.  Then, immediately before the service of ordination, one of the six General Superintendents in the Church of the Nazarene 'interviews'/approves you.  Again, if all goes well, this takes just 4 years.  I was a little late to the party.

So was Dr. Jerry Porter.  In fact , Dr. Porter was so late that, due to being hospitalized last week, he didn't make all.  In his place, Dr. J.K. Warrick had come to be the one to ordain me.  I found this out upon arriving at the meeting, two hours before the service was to begin.

This may not seem like a big deal to many of you.  But it was a big deal to me.  At the risk of offending people (how often did that ever stop me)...and knowing this is public on the internet for all to see...I am going to go ahead anyway (to the surprise of no one who knows me even a little)...

Of all the General Superintendents, there really was only one who I really wanted to ordain me:  Jerry Porter.  I love that man.  He once asked me for permission, if he and Toni could sit with Lisa and I at an event.  Seriously?  What powerful person does that?  A humble servant, that is who.  And there are many more reasons, as well.  I was very excited when I knew Dr. Porter would be the one to ordain me...and beyond disappointed when he wasn't. I was questioning if I really wanted to do this.

But I, and we (L. and I), did.  J.K. Warrick placed his hands on me to ordain me.  And something happened.  I had a very real sense of God infusing me with God's life and calling, from my head to my toes.  And I realized, in that moment, what had just happened:  God took back the call.  After the church had shepherded and guided my calling for a while (well...quite a long while, actually...), in the act of ordination, the call returned to God.  I brought the calling God had given me, to the Church.  The Church recognized and affirmed that call.  And then returned the call to God...who returned it to me.  But it was first, last, and always God's call...not anyone else's...not even mine...

It was not how I thought it would be.  Someone asked me afterwards, "Was it everything you hoped it would be?"  This was, well...awkward...because, no, it wasn't.  And of course I replied, "It was amazing..."  Which was true, because it was. 

My receiving of holy orders did not take place when I thought it would...or where I thought it would...or by whom I thought it would....or with the people I thought would be there...

But I have learned something really important:  It's not about "the place"'s about what "took place"...

I think this applies to, well...everything...and everyone...

The Catechism says,

"No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God.  Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God’s call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift" (1578).

The truth is, insofar as the requirements of my tribe of the Church, I earned it.  Twice as a matter of fact.  Everything I was supposed to do.  But it was Christ's gift and call in the first place.  So I did earn it in the Church...but I did not earn it with Jesus.  It was, and is, unmerited favor and grace.  Not better favor or grace than all those who are called, but not called to an ordained ministry.  Just particular grace that God chose for me.  I am so thankful for that. 

But it begs the question...what is the particular grace God has chosen for you?  What are you called to?  What are you to be set apart and consecrated to know, do, be, and become?  What are your "holy orders?"  Because we all have them.  All of us.

We are all called.  Some are chosen to be set apart for specific missions and calling within the life of the Church.  When that happens, the Church confers holy orders on people.  It doesn't make the ordained any better than the non-ordained, or any more called than the non-ordained.  It's about what takes place in our lives, about what God does in us and through us.  The Church can shepherd and guide that, and should.  But the life of a disciple is first and foremost about Jesus Christ, and his call to us to "go...and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28:19-20a).

And besides that, there's still the best news of all...

"...and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b).

...oh yeah, and this, too: 

Jerry Porter's signature is on my ordination certificate.  And if they *should* decide to send me a new one with a different signature, and require me to keep only one?...Guess which one I'm sending (right) back?


  1. Phil -

    You wrote, "It is also important to understand that ordination is something the Church does. It is not something God does. God calls. The Church ordains."

    I think that this may be a part of why we do not recognize Holy Orders as a proper sacrament in the Protestant Church. However, it has caused me to consider whether it is the *call* or the *ordination* that should really be equated with Holy Orders. God calls. Clearly, this *is* something God does. I really liked how you expounded on this by saying, "God took back the call. After the church had shepherded and guided my calling for a while (well...quite a long while, actually...), in the act of ordination, the call returned to God. I brought the calling God had given me, to the Church. The Church recognized and affirmed that call. And then returned the call to God...who returned it to me. But it was first, last, and always God's call...not anyone else's...not even mine..."

    So, perhaps God's call, and the grace that comes with it, is a sacrament, but ordination is the way in which the church community partners with God to recognize and cultivate a particular call to apostolic ministry? Just thinking out loud.

  2. L -

    I think your comments here bring out some 'which came first' or possibly 'which is primary' kind of questions about sacraments and sacramental theology.

    In your post, "How To Get Yourself In Serious Trouble Regarding Sacraments" (, you quoted the Catechism this way:

    In the Roman Catholic Church, sacraments are, "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions” (Catechism, 1131).

    As I indicated in my post, we don't ever actually find an 'ordination service' in Scripture. Jesus doesn't do this. Yet we can say that holy orders is a sacrament of the Church "instituted by Christ." Why? Because what we *do* find in Scripture is Jesus calling people...all kinds of people...*everyone* a life as his disciple. To some he says, "go and leave your life of sin," to others "go sell everything you have and give to the poor," to still others "get up, take your mat, and go home"...but to all, "come, follow me." Christ institutes *calling* - not holy orders.

    But there is more than just being "instituted by Christ"...there is also "entrusted to the Church." And the Church has chosen holy orders to be a sacrament *of* the Church that reflects particular kinds of callings - not the general priesthood of believers, but the particular priesthood of the ordained, with the biblical-historical precedent of the twelve disciples and later, apostleship.

    So Christ calls all, calls some to apostolic ministry, and the Church ordains those whom Christ has called to such ministry. But there is one more thing about sacraments: "By which divine life is dispensed to us."

    I think a helpful example here would be baptism. I think all (or most, anyway) would agree that God really does something in the actual act of baptism. But baptism reflects repentance unto new life that occurs in a person's heart prior to the actual baptism. Even the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter 8, who had about an immediate of a baptism as one can, asks to be baptized because the way of salvation through Jesus has been explained to him by Philip, and he is moved to action - he has desire and acts on it - to be saved. So God does something in the eunuch's heart through Philip's ministry. Then Philip, the representative of the Church, baptizes the eunuch - and God does something there too.

    Perhaps what I am getting at is that God is *always* at work, doing something in our lives, before, during, and after the actual sacrament, be it baptism, or holy orders. In the Church of the Nazarene we believe divine life is always being dispensed to us (prevenient grace), and so we should also believe that divine life is being dispensed to us in and through the Sacraments, as well, but in special ways, because the Church has been entrusted with these very powerful, sacramental rites that carry and dispense very particular graces to us.

    So God does something that is sacramental. The Church's sacraments celebrate and recognize what God had done, and are *also* occasion for God to do something *more*. And then God continues to dispense God's grace, sacramentally. Or at least...these are some thoughts, anyway!

    And I don't know that these thoughts are totally complete or even begin to address all that you brought up in your comment above, but hopefully they help spark additional thought and conversation.