The Reformers' Defense of Infant Baptism

The question of infant baptism has embroiled the church for centuries. Though Baptist theologians have repudiated this teaching, it is still prevalent in many churches today. This widespread practice means that church leaders need to continue to address this important issue. In this article, Dr. Ken Rathbun, a graduate of Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary, focuses on the Reformers' statements regarding infant baptism and shows that they were not consistent with their guiding principles. This well-researched treatment of the subject will help you better understand the issue and enable you to express the Scriptural teaching more clearly.

Sola Gracia. Sola Fide. Sola Scriptura. These affirmations are held to be the guiding principles of the Reformers. However, one of my professors in graduate school, a Catholic scholar of the Reformation, openly questioned the Reformers' commitment to the last of these principles: sola scriptura. At the time I quickly dismissed his query, considering the source of the objection. But later, as I studied the Reformation at another university, I began to rethink his idea, especially regarding infant baptism. I concluded it was important to revisit the 16th century baptismal controversy in order to understand how the Reformers justified infant baptism.

Baptists see the Reformers' defense of infant baptism as a concession to a historical practice over the Word of God. Is that a correct assessment? Did the Reformers violate their own guiding principles in defending infant baptism?

The issue of infant baptism affected many other areas of doctrine in the Reformation, including the use of church discipline, the concern for the purity of the lives of church members, and especially the practice of allowing the unsaved into the membership of the Reformers' churches. All of these issues in the Reformation have left tangible results in the contemporary church scene and deserve further investigation.1

his article will briefly explore how the Reformers defended infant baptism.2 The three major recognized Reformers are Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. I will add a lesser-known Reformer, Martin Bucer, who also was prominent in the controversy over infant baptism.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)
Zwingli is especially significant because in his city of Zurich several famous Anabaptists first took their stand (and later met their deaths) for practicing believer's baptism. Many contend that these Anabaptists were only applying the principles of Scripture that Zwingli had taught them.3

Zwingli was clear in his writings that baptism did not forgive sin.4 He wrote: "Christ himself did not connect salvation with baptism: it [salvation] is always by faith alone."5 However, he also wrote that baptism was not connected to faith either. "Hence it follows that water-baptism was given even when there was no faith, and it was received even by those who did not believe."6 Thus to Zwingli baptism was proper for infants. This position was a step further than other Reformers had been willing to take to justify infant baptism.7

As to the argument from the Anabaptists that those baptized in Acts had the Holy Spirit, Zwingli allowed for this possibility in infants. He stated that both Jeremiah and John were sanctified in their mothers' wombs; therefore, it could be possible that some even had the Holy Spirit already as infants.8

Zwingli also brought the issue of election into the discussion of infant baptism. He said, like Luther, that since people cannot know who the elect are, church leaders must not drive children of Christians from the church. Also, if only those who have faith can be baptized, then no one can be baptized since no one can know for certain about another's personal faith.9 In supporting infant baptism Zwingli said that children belong to God; therefore the church is to baptize them. He emphasized the now-familiar stance that baptism replaces Old Testament circumcision. This last point came about because of Zwingli's understanding of the covenant basis of this sacrament.10

Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Beyond question, Martin Luther truly believed in justification by faith alone for salvation. That theme even appears in his baptismal writings. However, at the same time he also made statements that seemed contradictory. Luther's Small Catechism (1529) stated that when the Word is added to the water, forgiveness of sin takes place in baptism: "It effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare."11

Writing against the Anabaptists regarding the matter of faith and baptism, Luther strenuously denied that faith needed to be present in order to baptize. He even turned the argument around and stated that the "rebaptizers" could never know for sure if anyone really had faith.12 Luther left open the question of whether infants could have faith in some mysterious way: "There are Scripture passages that tell us that children may and can believe, though they do not speak or understand. . . . I grant that we do not understand how they do believe, or how faith is created. But that is not the point here.13

Luther clearly appealed to tradition to justify infant baptism: "Since our baptizing has been thus from the beginning of Christianity and the custom has been to baptize children, and since no one can prove with good reasons that they do not have faith, we should not make changes and build on such weak arguments."14 Some scholars consider such statements as an overreaction against the Anabaptists.15 If so (and not all agree16), then Luther was clearly willing to go to almost any length to validate infant baptism. However, his appeals to the Bible in the context of the faith of infants are dubious, and his reliance on arguments from silence is weak.

Martin Bucer (1491-155)
Martin Bucer was a Reformer in Strasbourg, Germany (though the city is now located in France) for about 25 years. He interacted personally with all of the three major Reformers. He was a Zwinglian who attempted to bring about a doctrinal agreement with the Lutherans in the Lord's Supper controversy. He mentored John Calvin in Strasbourg during the latter's three-year exile from Geneva in the late 1530s. After the Catholic armies defeated the Protestants in 1547, Bucer was eventually forced into exile. He moved to England to teach at Cambridge University where he attempted to influence the Anglican Reformation.

Bucer is recognized as a leading defender of infant baptism during the Reformation.17 Much of his interest in infant baptism was due to the fact that Strasbourg, where he labored, harbored so many "Sectarians,"18 with whom Bucer engaged in both verbal and written debates. Because Bucer dealt so much with the Anabaptists in Strasbourg, other Reformers looked to him for guidance in combating them.

Ironically, Bucer's defense of infant baptism included reliance on the church tradition against which he and the Reformers protested.19 He also depended on testimony from the church fathers who claimed the church received the command to baptize infants orally from Christ and the apostles.20 He followed the other Reformers saying that infant baptism was not prohibited by Scripture, it could be proven compatible with Scripture, and it did not require the faith of infants.21

Earlier in Bucer's thinking, baptism only joined an infant to the church. He had asserted no automatic efficacy in baptism. Efficacy depended on one's faith. Since infants could not have faith, they were marked out at baptism for future faith: "The Lord will grant them [infants] the Spirit and faith when he sees fit, but our washing them with water will not for one moment grant them faith of God's Spirit:as some important persons affirm, no less ill-advisedly than irreligiously." 22

In the early 1530s Bucer made a major shift in his theological position. He never repudiated infant baptism; rather, he found new ways to justify its practice. However, this change further obscured the Reformed understanding of justification by faith alone.

We confess and teach that holy baptism . . . is in the case of adults and of young children truly a baptism of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, whereby those who are baptised have all their sins washed away, are buried into the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, are incorporated into him and put on him for the death of their sins, for a new and godly life and the blessed resurrection, and through him become children and heirs of God.23

The significance of baptism joining one to the church became lost. Baptism now conveyed, imparted, or automatically gave benefits to the recipient. One writer called this a tendency toward "sacramental manipulation."24 This shift in Bucer's thinking strengthened his defense of infant baptism.

The Reformers, and Bucer in particular, were left with a perplexing question with such a view of baptism: "How would true faith be recognized in actual believers in the life of the church?" Another religious practice became necessary. Bucer's answer was the rite of confirmation, and he became known as the "father of evangelical confirmation."25 Needless to say, the Scripture gives no basis for this rite; it came about because believer's baptism lost its New Testament significance.

John Calvin (1509-1564)
Calvin arrived on the scene almost a generation after the Reformation began. He identified baptism very closely with circumcision.26 He asserted infants could even be regenerated, though he did not explain how.

But how, they [rebaptizers] ask, are infants regenerated, when not possessing a knowledge of either good or evil? We answer, that the work of God, though beyond the reach of our capacity, is not therefore null. Moreover, infants who are to be saved (and that some are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be previously regenerated by the Lord. . . . But to silence this class of objectors, God gave, in the case of John the Baptist, whom he sanctified from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15), a proof of what he might do in others. They gain nothing by the quibble to which they here resort, viz., that this was only once done, and, therefore, it does not forthwith follow that the Lord always acts thus with infants. That is not the mode in which we reason. Our only object is to show, that they unjustly and malignantly confine the power of God within limits, within which it cannot be confined.27

Calvin contended that infants (presumably the elect) could be saved from birth in some unexplained way, and the infant examples of John the Baptist and Christ were of paramount importance to him. Of Christ, Calvin wrote: "If in Christ we have a perfect pattern of all the grace, which God bestows on all his children, in this instance we have a proof that the age of infancy is not incapable of receiving sanctification."28

Apart from the fact that Calvin compared Christ's perfect example positively with fallen humanity, it appears from these last two statements that Calvin allowed for the possibility of salvation apart from faith. At least he made no mention of personal faith. Giving more weight to this claim, he continued,
We confess, indeed, that the word of the Lord is the only seed of spiritual regeneration; but we deny the inference that, therefore, the power of God cannot regenerate infants. This is as possible and easy for him as it is wondrous and incomprehensible to us. It were [sic] dangerous to deny that the Lord is able to furnish them with the knowledge of himself in any way he pleases.29

The fact that Calvin neglected to include faith in this discussion is disturbing, especially in the context of infants. To Calvin, baptism joined an infant to the church and provided the infant the benefit of receiving exhortation by older believers to embrace God and serve Him.30

Calvin tried to address the question whether faith should precede baptism. He allowed for the possibility of faith in infants, but he could not explain how. It was certainly not the kind of faith adults have, Calvin maintained, but he stated he "would rather leave the question undecided."31 He held that infants can have faith in some way. "Let them [rebaptizers] tell me where the danger lies if they [infants] are said now to receive some part of that grace, of which they are to have the full measure shortly after."32 These statements indicate that Calvin thought salvation could come apart from personal faith in the case of infants.33

As to the issue of whether there is anything automatically conveyed in baptism, Calvin seemed to leave that door open: "In fine, the objection [that repentance and faith precede baptism] is easily disposed of by the fact, that children are baptised for future repentance and faith. Though these are not yet formed in them, yet the seed of both lies hid in them by the secret operation of the Spirit."34 This statement seems precariously close to a sacramental view of baptism.

An Evaluation
The objections of the Sectarians to infant baptism forced the Reformers to clarify and assess how to defend the practice, and they did not always do so consistently with their previously stated ideology. Some disregard their statements as an overreaction to the baptismal controversies with the Sectarians. I think, however, that their statements were more than that. They reflected an actual misunderstanding of baptism.

To Bible-believing Baptists, believer's baptism is essential because we take seriously (and literally) the Biblical precedence of baptism in the book of Acts: faith precedes baptism. To those of other Christian persuasions, this precedence is not compelling, and they have constructed alternative theologies to justify infant baptism.

Let us return to our question of sola scriptura. The Reformers' statements on infant baptism not only bring into question their consistent commitment to sola scriptura, but they show that they also muddied the waters of sola fide.

End Notes
1 Infant baptism is by no means a dead issue in current scholarship. Notable books are David F. Wright, ed., Baptism: Three Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009) and John H. Armstrong, Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, as part of the Counterpoint Series). From the Reformed perspective see Bryan Holstrom, Infant Baptism and the Silence of the New Testament (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2008); Lewis Bevens Schenck, The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003; originally published by Yale University Press, 1940); Gregg Strawbridge, ed., The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2003); and Douglas Wilson, To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism:Covenant Mercy for the People of God (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1996). For a Baptist perspective see Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006).
2 For a copy of this article with fuller development and documentation, contact the author at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
3 For example, see William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 14, 62.
4 Zwingli, "Of Baptism," translated and edited by Rev. G. W. Bromiley, in Zwingli and Bullinger, vol. 24, Library of Christian Classics, eds., John Baillie, John T. McNeil, and Henry P. van Dusen (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1953), 131. Note this work dates from May 1525.
5 Zwingli, 134.
6 Zwingli, 135.
7 As Zwingli himsel
f admitted, 130.
8 Zwingli, 149.
9 Zwingli, "Questions Concerning the Sacrament of Baptism," 1530, in W. P. Stephens, Zwingli: An Introduction to His Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992; in the U.S., New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 92.
10 Stephens, 93. See Baptist Jonathan H. Rainbow, "'Confessor Baptism': The Baptismal Doctrine of the Early Anabaptists," in Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 198-200 for discussion of the significance of Zwingli's linking circumcision to baptism, though he was not the first theologian to do so.
11 Theodore G. Tappert, trans., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959), 348, 349.
12 "Concerning Rebaptism," 1528, Luther's Works, vol. 40 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1964), 240, 241; henceforth LW.
13 LW, vol. 40, 242, 243.
14 LW, vol. 40, 241.
15 See discussion by Rainbow, 195,196. However, Rainbow shows the issue is not clearly evident.
16 See Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 203, 204, where he clearly questions Luther's commitment to sola scriptura.
17 See David F. Wright, "Infant Baptism and the Christian Community in Bucer," in Martin Bucer: Reforming Church and Community, ed. David F. Wright (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 95: "These factors combined with others to make Martin Bucer probably the most dedicated, and certainly the most prolific, champion of paedobaptism among the leading Reformers." The factors David F. Wright alludes to are: church tradition, near universal consensus and practice, and the agreement among the church fathers as to the legitimacy of this practice.
18 I use the word "Sectarian" simply to describe those who were not Catholic or Protestant in the Reformation. The Sectarians are a theologically diverse group, and not all advocated the sole authority of Scripture or believer's baptism. The main issue that united them was opposition to a state-controlled church as the Reformers advocated. A subgroup of the Sectarians is the Anabaptists or the so called "re-baptizers."
19 See further discussion in Ken Rathbun, "Shortcomings of the Reformation: Unity versus Purity in the Ecclesiology and Praxis of Martin Bucer," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica, 2006), 220, available from the author.
20 Martin Bucer, "An Explanation of the Mystery of Baptism," from the Commentary on Romans (first published at Strasbourg in 1536) following the exposition of chapter 6:1-11, in Common Places of Martin Bucer, ed. David F. Wright, vol. 14, The Courtenay Library of Reformation Classics (Appleford, Abingdon, Berkshire, England: The Sutton Courtenay Press, 1972), 304. Needless to say, no evidence exists for such a claim. Appeals to undocumented oral tradition are weak.
21 Rathbun, "Shortcomings of the Reformation," 221-224.
22 Martin Bucer, Ephesians Commentary, 1527, in David F. Wright, "Infant Baptism and the Christian Community in Bucer," 97. He formed his position on the basis of Genesis 17:7.
23 Martin Bucer, "A Brief Summary of Christian Doctrine," 1548, in Common Places of Martin Bucer, trans. and ed. David F. Wright, 85.
24 See Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and their Stepchildren, 132-159.
25 See Amy Nelson Burnett, "Martin Bucer and the Anabaptist Context of Evangelical Confirmation," Mennonite Quarterly Review 68, no 1 (January 1994), 95. For agreement with this statement, see David F. Wright, "Infant Baptism and the Christian Community in Bucer," 102.
26 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1995), Book IV, Chapter 16, "Pædobaptism. Its Accordance with the Institution of Christ, and the Nature of the Sign," section 3, page 530. Henceforth: IV.16.3. See also ibid., 531, 532, and especially 534. Calvin was not impressed with the "furious madmen" who saw differences between circumcision and baptism, ibid., 535.
27 Calvin, IV.16.17, 541.
28 Calvin, IV.16.18, 541.
29 Calvin, IV.16.18, 541, 542.
30 Calvin, IV.16.9, 535. Presumably this belief occurs at some later time.
31 Calvin, IV.16.19, 542.
32 Calvin, IV.16.19, 542. Calvin's reference of Moses, just a few words before this quote, helps to link it to circumcision. 33 The late Reformed scholar, David F. Wright, interestingly commented, "But some sage heads reckon that the small dose of religion administered indiscriminately in infant baptism has effectively inoculated generations against catching real Christianity in later life," in "Infant Baptism and the Christian Community in Bucer," 105. I think this issue is a serious one that affects Reformed churches to this day.
34 Calvin, IV.16. 20, 543.

The Ordination of Men to the Ministry

Faith Baptist Theological Seminary is committed to preparing men to serve in the pastoral ministry. Each year churches call FBTS graduates to serve as pastors and assistant pastors. An important step after a man is called to a church is his ordination. In this article, Don Anderson, an ordained minister and adjunct professor at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, examines the Biblical teaching concerning ordination of men to the gospel ministry. In the accompanying article, Professor Anderson's son, James, also an ordained minister, gives practical suggestions for planning the ordination service.

Ordination to the gospel ministry is a significant and solemn event in a man's life.1 Churches should understand the Biblical teaching about ordination so they can conduct the procedure in a proper manner.

The General Pattern
Ordinations today generally follow the same pattern. The church, after observing its pastor or assistant pastor for a period of time, decides to call a council to consider the advisability of ordaining hm. In addition to some of its own members,2 the church usually seeks the input of men from area churches.3 On the designated day the church and the council members convene to hear the candidate give his salvation testimony, state his call to the ministry, and express his doctrinal positions. In most cases, the individual prepares a written statement of each doctrine. During the session the candidate summarizes his views on each doctrine, followed by questions from the council members.

After the examination, the candidate is dismissed and the council members share their thoughts on the man. If the council is satisfied that he evidences a call to the ministry and is orthodox in his theology, it recommends to the church that it proceed with the ordination. The church then votes to ordain their pastor or assistant pastor at an upcoming service.

At the end of the ordination service, the deacons and ordained men in the congregation lay their hands on the man, formally setting him aside for the ministry.

What Does the New Testament Say?
How does this general pattern fit with what the New Testament says about ordination? Let's look first at the Scripture passages where the English word "ordained" is used.

The King James Version uses the word "ordained" 20 times.4 However, only two of the occurrences refer to pastors:Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5. The other major translations use the word "ordained" sparingly5 and do not use it in Acts 14:23 or Titus 1:5. In those passages they uniformly use the word "appointed." So apparently these two Scriptures are not referring to a pastor's ordination but rather to the beginning of his service at a church, what we commonly call his installation.

Appointing Pastors?
As a side note, how do we understand the concept that the apostles "appointed" pastors in churches as we read in Acts 14:23? Did the apostles simply use their apostolic authority and appoint pastors? Or did Paul lead the churches in a congregational election of their pastors? Homer Kent comments that "although there is no question but that the term is capable of either meaning, the following factors favor the interpretation of an election: (1) The choice of the verb cheirontoneo rather than one of the many general words for "appoint" suggests that the special characteristics of this word [i.e., to elect by a vote of raised hands] should be understood. (2) The only other NT use of this exact verb is clearly with the sense of a congregational election (2 Cor. 8:19). (3) Congregational selection was the apostolic practice in the choice of the Seven (Acts 6:3)6"

In view of the meaning of Acts 14:23, Paul's command to Titus in Titus 1:5 was to lead the churches on the island of Crete in congregational votes to select their pastors.

But What about Ordination?
An examination of the word "ordained" does not give us any clear Biblical direction for the practice of ordination. However, we do find help in three passages that refer to laying on of hands (1 Tim. 4:14, 1 Tim. 5:22, and Acts 13:1-3), a common practice at ordinations.

1 Timothy 4:14 "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership."

This verse refers to a time in Timothy's life that comes the closest to what we call an ordination service today. Consider three questions from this text.

Who ordained? A body of elders ordained Timothy.7 These men may have been from the church at Ephesus where Timothy pastored, but the text is not clear.8 At least they were a Biblically recognized group of church leaders who had the authority to ordain men.

What did they do? The elders laid their hands on Timothy at that special service. Laying on of hands was associated with the bestowal of blessing (Gen. 48:14, 20) and a continuity of leadership (Num. 27:18-23; Deut. 34:9; Acts 6:6; 13:3). So by their laying on of hands, the elders, who were already in church leadership, showed they recognized that Timothy was also qualified and equipped for ministry, and they bestowed their blessing on him. They were symbolizing the continuity of leadership to him.

What was the purpose? This text seems to indicate three purposes for ordaining Timothy. 1. To recognize and set Timothy apart as one who was called of God and qualified for ministry. The event of ordination marked a point of officially recognizing the work of God in his life.
2. To safeguard the ministry. The practice of laying on of hands was a way for the men who had already been approved for leadership to safeguard the ministry by allowing only called and qualified men to enter it. Richard Mayhue comments that "ordination is to church leadership what the bar exam is to the legal profession, the C.P.A. exam to accounting, or state board examinations to medical practice. All these examinations serve to verify genuine qualifications for service in the respective fields."9
3. To encourage Timothy. Paul urged Timothy to remember his ordination and the gift that had come at that time as a means of encouraging him when he became discouraged.10

1 Timothy 5:22 "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily."

The context involves pastors:how to compensate them (vv. 17, 18) and how to handle a sinning pastor (vv. 19-21). The injunction is to be careful when selecting pastors. Consider the same three questions.

Who ordained? Evidently Paul thought the church in Ephesus might ordain some of the men of the congregation for ministry. Otherwise he would not have urged Timothy to be careful in doing so. Clearly the local church did the ordaining.

What did they do? As in 1 Timothy 4:14, the people in the church either had or were contemplating laying their hands on some men to set them apart for ministry.

What was the purpose? The statement, "do not lay hands on anyone hastily" seems to indicate a concern for safeguarding the ministry. Paul told Timothy not to rush to ordain men until the church had fully examined them to determine their fitness for ministry.11

Acts 13:1-3 "Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away."

This text does not describe an ordination but rather what we call today a commissioning service for missionaries since the church sent out Paul and Barnabas to missionary endeavor. However, we see some similarities to the ordination process, and we can at least find some principles here that apply to ordination.

Who did the work? The Holy Spirit identified Paul and Barnabas for missionary service. However, clearly the church at Antioch did the work of sending out the two men, which is the Biblical pattern for missionary service and ordination.

What did they do? The prophets and teachers there observed Paul and Barnabas since they had been serving there for some time. The church no doubt observed their character, evaluated their ministry, and checked their orthodoxy. When the church was satisfied that the men were called of God, they laid their hands on them to show their blessing and their authorization.

What was the purpose? The purpose of the church's examination and setting apart was to send Paul and Barnabas into ministry. While the ordaining church does not usually send away its pastor, the ordination ceremony is one way of setting their pastor apart for ministry at the church.

Biblical Principles
From this examination of the Scripture, we see these principles and guidelines for ordinations.

1. The local church ordains men. The Scripture gives no precedent for any group outside the local church ordaining men. The ordination council can make a recommendation, but the local church ordains.
2. Ordination involves a process of evaluating a man, which starts before the church ever calls an ordination council.
3. After evaluating a man, the church leaders lay hands on him to show a bestowal of blessing and continuity of leadership.
4. The purpose of ordination is to recognize men whom God has called, to set them apart for ministry, to safeguard the ministry, and to provide an occasion that will encourage them in years to come.

An Important Event
Ordination is an important event in a man's life. If God has called you to ministry, aspire to ordination. You do not usually ask for it yourself; your church should do so. Still you can aspire to it, desire it, and move toward it in your life. Don't fear ordination. The process is difficult and challenging, but it can be a real blessing as you study the Scriptures and express Biblical truths. Your ordination will be an event you can lean on later as a confirmation of God's call to the ministry.

End Notes
1 FBTS maintains the position that only men should hold the office of pastor (1 Timothy 3:1:"if a man desires the position of a bishop" and Titus 1:6:"if a man is blameless"). Therefore we hold that only men should be ordained.
2 Usually all members of the man's church are welcome to observe the council, but generally only some of the men are chosen to sit on the council.
3 A church invites other men to join in evaluating a candidate so there is wider approval of the man.
4 Mark 3:14; John 15:16; Acts 1:22; Acts 10:42; 13:48; 14:23; 16:4; 17:31; Romans 13:1; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 7:17; 9:14; Galatians 3:19; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:7; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 5:1; 8:3; 9:6; Jude 4
5 NKJV:Acts 10:42; 17:31; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 7:17; ESV:a variant translation of 1 Peter 2:13; NASB: Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; NIV:Matthew 21:16
6 Homer A. Kent Jr., Jerusalem to Rome (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), 118, 119.
7 Quite literally these men were the "presbytery." The group probably included Paul based on his comment in 2 Timothy 1:6.
8 Some people think the events of 1 Timothy 4:14 may have taken place when Timothy joined Paul as an assistant (Acts 16:1-3). If this was the case, the words, "he was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium" in verse 2 may refer to his ordination.
9 Richard L. Mayhue, "Ordination to Pastoral Ministry" in Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, ed. John MacArthur, Jr. (Nashville: W Publication Group, a Division of Thomas Nelson Inc., 1995), 138. Appendix 3 in this book gives an extensive list of subjects that could be asked at an ordination council. This section would be an excellent source for a man to work through as he anticipates ordination.
10 Timothy may have needed encouragement at that time in view of Paul's words in 1 Timothy 4:12 ("let no one despise your youth") and 2 Timothy 1:7 ("for God has not given us a spirit of fear").
11 That kind of examination would reduce the possibility of disciplining pastors in the future (vv. 19-21).

Planning the Ordination Service

If the Bible gives little information on how formal ordination took place in the early church, it tells even less about what a formal ordination service should contain. However, as previously demonstrated, ordination is a function of the local church. Whatever other elements may be included in an ordination service, at the least it provides an occasion for the church to take official action to ordain one of its members. Further, because this service is part of the normal activities of the gathered church,1 it should include the Biblically mandated elements of church gatherings, such as singing, praying, Scripture reading, and preaching. "To conduct an ordination service which in any way obscures the worship event is to cheapen the occasion and denigrate the nature of Christian ministry."2

Though evidence for an "ordination service" as practiced today is not found specifically in Scripture, dedicating all or part of a service to such an event could well have been practiced. No concrete evidence can be generated to suggest that the ecclesiastical officers of the primitive church were inaugurated in any particular fashion or ceremony. This is not to suggest that elders and deacons were just announced without formal installation. The same diverse vocabulary that suggests absence of specific ceremony probably implies some public act of recognition and consecration.3

In other words, even without references to a specific service, the Bible contains at least some suggestion of a formal occasion of setting leaders apart for ministry. Similarly, John Hammett notes, "[Formal] recognition of leaders fits with the admonition to do all things decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40)."4

Within this framework of a basic church service, individual churches have a degree of liberty in planning ordination services. Edward Hiscox, while of the opinion that the early church may not have had formal ceremonies to set apart men for pastoral ministry, nevertheless concludes "that if such ordination or recognition services be held, their form and order are matters of liberty and choice with those concerned in them, since they are prescribed by no Scriptural authority."5

Practical Suggestions
Advance planning is crucial to a smoothly run service. It is wise for a church to designate someone other than the candidate to coordinate the ordination council and service planning. However, the one planning the service should consult the candidate in designingthe service by asking his input on the hymns sung, the ministry of music presented, and the Scripture passage(s) read. In particular the candidate will probably prefer to recommend the speaker for the service. The ordination service provides opportunities for several speakers to participate, so the candidate may wish to invite one of his former pastors, youth pastors, professors, or other godly mentors to speak.

The ease of desktop publishing allows churches to customize materials for the ordination service. For example, a church can prepare custom-printed ordination certificates6 and ordination service bulletins. Also, a printed order of service separate from the bulletin provides a simple way to keep participants informed.

Sometimes the ordination service takes place on the day of the examination council. While this may make for efficient planning, it can limit the council's freedom to recommend that the church postpone ordination if significant doctrinal or personal issues arise. Rather, it is better for a church to allow some time between the council and the service:at least on the following day, perhaps in the following weeks or months.

A Suggested Order of Service
Churches have a good deal of freedom in the order of events for an ordination service. With this in mind, here is one suggested plan, with commentary.7

Invocation:The pastor of the ordaining church (if he is not the one being ordained) or another minister may deliver the invocation.

Hymn:The online version of this article ( contains a list of suggested ordination hymns.

Scripture Reading:Many passages of Scripture are appropriate for an ordination service, such as 2 Corinthians 4; 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6:3-16; and 1 Peter 4:1-5:11. Alternately, the candidate may wish to assemble a series of passages significant to his own life and ministry. Involving the congregation through a responsive reading allows for greater corporate participation in the service.8

Council Recommendation to the Church: At this point the council moderator or other council representative reads the formal action taken by the council to recommend that the church proceed in ordaining the candidate.

Action of the Church on the Recommendation- The pastor or other church representative asks for formal church action to accept the council's recommendation and ordain the candidate to the gospel ministry. Alternately, as part of the vote to call the council the church may have previously moved to ordain the man pending the recommendation of the council. Hymn

Ministry of Music:The candidate may have a particular request for the music performed and the groups or individuals who participate in the service.

Charge to the Church:This speaker will primarily advise the church on its responsibilities to the newly ordained man. It has been traditional to have a separate ordination sermon to present the Biblical basis of ordination. If a church chooses not to have this separate sermon, the speaker delivering the charge to the church could also cover that topic. In cases where the ordained man will not continue to serve at that particular church (such as a missionary or other man being sent forth from the church), a charge to the candidate from the pastor of the ordaining church could be substituted.

Charge to the Candidate:This sermon provides an occasion for another ordained man who has been influential in the candidate's life to remind him of the solemn privileges and responsibilities accompanying ordination.

Laying On of Hands and Ordination Prayer:"The actual act of ordination [in the New Testament] consisted of the laying on of hands."9 This is in many ways the central moment of the service, the part with the clearest Biblical precedent. The New Testament presents various groups as performing this function: elders (1 Tim. 4:14), Paul (2 Tim. 1:6), the apostles (Acts 6:6) and prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1-3). Robert Saucy comments, "In each instance the act of ordination was performed by the leaders ofthe church acting on behalf of the church itself, indicating that the church as a whole is the final ordaining body through which the Holy Spirit directs in the appointment of ministries."10 Any other pastoral staff members of the church would certainly participate in this part ofthe service. Many times the invitation will also be extended to other examination council members or ordained men present at the service. The pastor or one of the speakers then prays and asks for God's blessing on the newly ordained man.

Right Hand of Fellowship and Presentation of Ordination Certificate:The pastor of the ordaining church (if he is not the one being ordained) or a representative fellow minister welcomes the newly ordained man to his role.

Response from the Candidate:It is appropriate at this point for the newly ordained man to speak a few words of thanks, particularly to the One who put him into service (1 Tim. 1:12).


Benediction:This prayer may be offered by the newly ordained man or the pastor of the ordaining church.

Closing Hymn:A short hymn of benediction, such as the Doxology, provides an appropriate ending to the service.

Offering:The church typically takes an offering to give to the newly ordained man. This part could be inserted earlier in the service, but since this offering is not an act of worship by giving to God through the church, it may be more appropriate simply to have ushers at the doors at the end of the service to collect the money given.

End Notes
1 For more on the activities of the church, see Kevin Mungons, "When the Church Gathers," and the related sidebar "Activities of the Gathered Church," in the March/April 2009 issue of The Baptist Bulletin (also available at, accessed February 6, 2011).
2 Bill J. Leonard, "The Ordination Service in Baptist Churches," Review and Expositor LXXVIII, no. 4 (Fall 1981): 560.
3 Paige Patterson, "The Meaning of Authority in the Local Church," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 252.
4 John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2005), 207.
5 Edward Hiscox, The New Directory for Baptist Churches (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1894), 345-346.
6 Many publishing companies and Christian bookstores sell preprinted ordination certificates. However, with custom-prepared certificates the church can include a Scripture passage of special significance to the candidate and also print the exact number of lines needed for the councils' signatures.
7 This order of service is adapted from the one given by Paul Jackson in The Doctrine and Administration of the Church (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1980), 147-148.
8 The online version of this article ( contains a sample composite Scripture reading for an ordination service.
9 Robert Saucy, The Church in God's Program (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), 163.
10 Saucy, 164.

Suggested Hymns for the Ordination Service
In the list below, the author of the text is named first, followed by the composer of the most common tune for the text.

• "A Charge to Keep I Have" (Charles Wesley/Lowell Mason)
• "Be Thou My Vision" (Ancient Irish hymn/Irish folk melody)
• "Come, All Christians, Be Committed" (Eva Lloyd/traditional American melody)
• "He Who Would Valiant Be" (John Bunyan, alt. Percy Dearmer/Charles Douglas)
• "Lord, Send Me Anywhere" (David Livingstone and Frank Garlock/Faye López)
• "Lord, Speak to Me" (Frances Ridley Havergal/Robert Schumann)
• "May the Mind of Christ, My Savior" (Kate Wilkinson/A. Cyril Barham-Gould)
• "Soldiers of Christ, Arise" (Charles Wesley/George Elvey)
• "Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated" (Frances Ridley Havergal/H. A. C. Malan)
• "The Battle Is the Lord's" (Margaret Clarkson/traditional Hebrew melody)
• "The Church's One Foundation" (Samuel Stone/Samuel Wesley)
• "Who Is on the Lord's Side?" (Frances Ridley Havergal/C. Luise Reichardt)

Scripture Reading for Ordination Service
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service

The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time--He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.


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