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Should Assemblies Ordain or Commend?

Should Assemblies Ordain or Commend?
Feb 24 Tags: commendation | 10 Responses Print Save as PDF

What in the world is commendation you ask? Don’t worry you are not alone! The vast majority of evangelical churches never use the term nor practice the principle – even though the practice of commendation is clearly found in the New Testament.

See Acts 11:19-26, Acts 13:1-5, Acts 14:24-28. Even a cursory reading of these passages will reveal that the church in Antioch recognized that the Holy Spirit had called out from among them two believers for a work that God had called them to.

Ordination

Seems fairly simple… and it is simple. Unfortunately we like to complicate what God has made simple. Today most ecclesiastical circles will speak of “ordination.” Though the practice differs widely, ordination typically means that one has successfully mastered a prescribed religious curriculum, has been approved by an officially recognized inter-church ruling body, and has been ‘ordained’ during a special church ceremony.

The one who has been ordained is then considered to be a member of a special class of Christians called “the clergy” and can hold certain offices and practice certain ministries that most other Christians (“the laity”) cannot.

The modern practice of ordination may seem fine. Unfortunately, however, the practice cannot be found in the New Testament. Because the practice is so common today, many refuse to believe that there is no New Testament precedent regarding ordination. However, I would like to suggest that not only does the modern practice of ordination lack a Biblical foundation, in many ways ordination is actually contrary to New Testament teaching.

How is the modern practice of ordination contrary to the New Testament? Consider this…

  • There is no ‘prescribed religious curriculum’ other than the Bible itself — no other book or even church history is authoritative. Revelation 22:18-19
  • There is no ‘officially recognized inter-church ruling body’ sanctioned in the New Testament — The passages referenced above clearly show that it was the one local church alone that recognized what the Holy Spirit said. Acts 13:1
  • There is no ‘special church ceremony’ described in the New Testament for this purpose. When the local assembly in Antioch ‘sent off’ Barnabas and Paul for the work that God had called them to do, they fasted, prayed and laid their hands on them. Acts 13:3. This does not sound like an ornate ceremony with great pomp and circumstance — in fact the Lord Jesus taught against this. See Matthew 6:5-7 and Matthew 6:16-18
  • There is no distinction made in the New Testament between the ‘clergy’ and the ‘laity.’ The New Testament actually teaches that all true Christians are members of the so-called ‘clergy’ — the priesthood of all believers 1 Peter 2:4-5 KJV

I know that this may sound shocking to you, so I would ask you not to take my word for it, but rather go to God’s Word alone and prayerfully study what God says about this topic.

Commendation

Well, if commendation is not ordination — what IS commendation? From the above referenced passages in the book of Acts one preacher has defined commendation as “an action by a local assembly in which they recognize God’s call of one of their own for a specific ministry and they hand the individual over to the grace of God for His care and blessing.”1

So, commendation is simply…

  • the local assembly recognizing that God has called one or more of their own for a special work. Acts 13:2.
  • the local assembly giving way to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:2.
  • the setting apart of the called believer(s) to the Lord. Acts 13:2.
  • the setting apart of the called believer(s) for a specific work of God. Acts 13:2.
  • the setting apart of the called believer(s) from the local assembly. Acts 13:2-4.
  • an ongoing relationship between the commending assembly and the one commended. Acts 14:26-28.
  • involves the entire local assembly. Note the multiple use of the word ‘they’ in Acts 13:2-3.
  • involves the assembly fasting and praying. Acts 13:2-3 — in accordance with Matthew 6:5-7 andMatthew 6:16-18 both fasting and praying should be done in a spirit of humility, and in such a manner that does not draw attention to the ones who are fasting and praying.
  • the local assembly identifying itself with the one(s) being commended as symbolized through the laying on of hands. Acts 13:3.

Therefore, commendation is something that is simple and Spirit lead. All too often the modern church has added layer upon layer of rules and regulations to the simple and clear teaching of the Word of God. Yet, so many true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ seem to be blinded by the traditions of man.

So, what do you think? Has the modern church over-complicated and possibly even overruled the Scriptures with the modern practice of ordination? I would appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments.

Editorial Note: In the coming months we will look further into the role of the full-time worker, elder and ministry leaders in relation to commendation and the local church. There are many aspects that need to be considered again with Scripture as our guide.  This article was originally posted on Scott’s own blog Digital Sojourner. 

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1William Yuille (June 27, 2012) Commendation, message given at Greenwood Hills Bible Conference, Fayetteville, PA.

Also special credit to: Tom Irwin (July 30, 2012) Commendation, message given at North York Gospel Chapel, York, PA


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any other author or an official position of the assemblyHUB team.

Scott Thomson

Scott Thomson made a profession of faith early in life. However it was during his late teenage years when he obeyed the call of the Lord Jesus to repent. Luke 5:32. In December 2012 Scott and his wife Mary were commended to full time Christian service by the North York Gospel Chapel. Scott maintains an itinerant Bible teaching ministry and regularly contributes to the Why We Web blog as well as his own blog, Digital Sojourner. Scott and Mary have 3 children.

10 Responses to Should Assemblies Ordain or Commend?

  1. Avatar
    Chuck Gianotti

    I agree with Scott’s overall end result of the issue of commendation versus ordination. Our feedback was solicited, so here is mine. The core idea of this piece needs to be affirmed. There is a central truth that needs to be preserved and practiced in the church today. You made some very good, strong points. I would suggest being careful, though, of the reasoning used in the process, so as not to dilute or distract from the real strength of the position. Here, in my opinion, are the strengths presented and which I too affirm:

    1) There is no scriptural support for the clergy/laity class distinction. This is a good case where the argument from silence is quite loud, especially when the distinction is so prevalent in “Christendom” today. We are all believer-priests (with the understood nuance of the gender-role differences). Even the so-called angel-pastor interpretation of Revelation 2-3 is exegetically unsound and applicationally suspect.

    2) Great point made about fasting and praying, based on the example of Acts 13:2-4. This rises to the level of precedent in view of P&B’s own actions in Acts 14:23 — “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord…” Would that more of our assemblies practiced this apostolic precedent when it came to identifying elders.

    This is actually the first time the word “commended” in the NASB is used in this sense (the KJV renders the Greek word as “ordained” and the NKJV translates it as “appointed”). Again we understand the nuance of this this not to mean “conferring authority or clergy privilege.” There is an identification of whom God has raised up to be an elder (although this concept is not spelled out in this passage, but sustain through other Scripture). This is a very similar concept to “commending” P&B to go out “from” the assembly at Antioch, although the elders apparently remained “in” the assembly.

    In Acts 14:26, a different Greek word is used – the KJV translates it “recommended,” and the NKJV & NASB render is “commended”). Regardless of what word or translation is used, it clearly refers back to Acts 13:1-3 to describe what took place there.

    3) I agree concerning the “ordination curriculum.” There is no central clearing house for determining a person’s readiness for fulltime, commended ministry. The Antiochian church was the sole “identifier” of whom God was calling out. However, in the assemblies, we do have an “unwritten” curriculum, complete with our specific, identifying terminology. But, every assembly will have its own “list” (whether written down or implied) of important non-negotiables when it comes to commending a worker, supporting a worker commended from another assembly or even having a commended worker come and minister among and to them. And this is as it should be.
    The strength of the point here is not that there is anything wrong with a “curriculum” (by that I would mean a written down standard of beliefs that a local church would expect of the potential commended worker), but that the “curriculum” comes from the local church, not from a denominational head quarters.

    I’d be careful of some of the other arguments though, which I believe distract from the issue:

    1) In Acts 13:1-3, there is no clear indication that the “entire local assembly” was involved in commending P&B. The burden of proof lies with those who assert that the “they” pronoun goes beyond the five specific named individuals. This is not to say that the entire assembly was not involved, but simply to say that the passage doesn’t make that point. Small point, yes. But, if done to many times, it can convey that our view point is based on weak exegesis of the biblical text.

    2) I am not sure I would make a big point of Acts 13:2 indicating that commended believers are always set apart “from” the local assembly. Just because P&B were sent out “from”, does that set a precedent that commendation can only be sent out “from.” Precedent is important, I understand, but it must be balanced with other scripture that address the subject. And in this case, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 certainly speaks to the issue (even though the word commendation does not specifically occur). This passage gives a case (notwithstanding the abuse of the idea) where an elder might be financially supported in relationship to his work “inside” the assembly. In fact, the apostle Paul, writes of this in a way that carries the force of a command. We would do well to study this passage very carefully, especially in light of the stated purpose of the book of 1 Timothy: “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

    3) I might suggest the English wording is not so much the issue, but the concept is what is important. Granted the word “ordain” does have some ecclesiastical baggage to it. But, for someone using the KJV, it would be confusing to refuse to ever use the word since it is does occur in Acts 14:23. For me as a young believer (forty some years ago), I couldn’t understand that if we were basing our thinking only on the clear Word of God, why would we refuse to use a “biblical word”? (as in the KJV). I today do avoid the word “ordain”, but not because of the “simple” wording of the Biblical text, but because of the wrong implication that the word has today. Commendation does not carry that baggage, so is a better usage.

    4) Yes, sometimes, the ordination process as practiced by many church is like jumping through hoops—over the years I have talked with men either going through it or having gone through it, so have hear their testimony. On the one hand, a screening process might “weedout” those who are clearly doctrinally deficient from being ordained, or commended. This runs in tension with the concept of simply “identifying” those whom God raises up. But the human element is still involved because the local church is charged with guarding the people of God against error, and no amount of claim that God is raising someone up will hold up, if the person is in error in some are critical areas of doctrine. Each assembly will draw that line a little bit differently. So, while the denominations may overcomplicate things, it may very well be that the Scripture is not so simple as we would like it to be. That is why I feel it is important to stay with the strong points and not dilute the matter with suspect treatment of the weaker areas.

    Overall, this is an important discussion to have considered and considerate discussion about. Thanks for bring it up and laying out some important issues.

    Keep up the good work, to Scott and all others involved in AssemblyHUB. This is a great thing you all are doing.

    • Avatar
      Scott Thomson

      Chuck:

      Thank you for your helpful, insightful and well thought out comments.

      I appreciate your comments regarding curriculum– clearly a local fellowship will (should!) have a core set of non-negotiable beliefs. Detailing those beliefs in writting (such as a Statement of Faith or something longer) is a wise thing to do for many reasons. My point here is that only the scriptures have final and absolute authority.

      I also agree that the word “from” does not mandate all of those who are commended must geographically or physically leave their commending assembly or preclude a worker from remaining in and working with their home church. Such a conclusion would overstate what is said in the text. There does seem to be some type of separation– exactly how this would work out in practice would be a very interesting discussion.

      Also, I agree that the English word is not the issue, rather it is the concept.

      Again, thank you for your input. It is much appreciated.

  2. Avatar
    Hanniel Ghezzi

    Thank you for these helpful distinctives, Scott.

  3. Avatar
    Ryan Farrington

    “…many refuse to believe that there is no New Testament precedent regarding ordination.”

    Regarding your description of the ceremony that accompanies it, and the clericism that follows, it’s true that ordination is not found in the Bible. However, the idea of ordination DOES originate from the Biblical text.

    Acts 14:23 (KJV) “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” Elders were ordained in the church and commended to God.

    Titus 1:23 (KJV) “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.”

    A distinction certainly must be made between how ordination is applied to practice and the biblical basis of the principle of ordination. But the principle, based on the text, must not be ignored or discounted because of the practice that it has become in some circles.

    • Avatar
      Scott Thomson

      Ryan:

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I greatly appreciate your thoughts. I fully agree that the idea of ordination originated from the Biblical text. I would venture to guess that the vast majority of today’s ecclesiastical practices that I personally have “issues” with originated from the scriptures and with the best of intentions. My point is simply that, to me, it seems today’s practice of ordination has developed into something far different from what i read of in the Bible. And, for the record, I am not suggesting and do not believe that today’s practice of ordination is a “sin” or somehow invalidates the work of the one who is ordained.

      Thanks again for your comments and helpful scripture references you cite.

  4. Avatar
    Mark Anderson

    Thanks for the outline of commendation; I think it’s a vitally important subject and appreciate you opening it up. I’m wondering if you’d comment further on this feature of commendation:

    “the setting apart of the called believer(s) for a specific work of God.”

    It’s the latter portion of that phrase that I’m wondering about… Is a worker commended to a particular specific work, perhaps even in a specific locale? Or is the commendation broader than we conventionally have thought?

    To put that question another way, is the commendation TO a work? Or is it OF a person?

    • Avatar
      Scott Thomson

      Hi Mark! Thanks for taking the time to comment… you raise some interesting questions.

      Typically, in my experience, I hear of believers being commended “to” a geographical area.

      Such as: “we commended brother Bob to the work of the Lord in India (or Spain, or Angola, etc. etc.)” Frankly, I’m not so sure I’m comfortable with such statements. It’s almost as if someone was commended to North Dakota, but somehow ended up in South Dakota, they were doing something wrong! How silly!! Clearly Paul & Barnabas’ commendation was not restricted to a specific area.

      Acts 13:2 says, “…the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Here, at least, the ‘specific work’ is not clearly defined. It was simply the work the Holy Spirit called them to.

      So, I would not say the commending should delineate what that work is. Stating something like, “we are commending sister Susie to radio work.”

      To answer your question I would suggest the believer is commended TO The Lord FOR the work God has called them too.

      Does that make sense? Or have I really confused the issue even more!

  5. Avatar
    Howard Moore

    This is not a comment, but a question. Can gifts given to commended works be submitted as a write off on tax returns?

    • Avatar
      Crawford Paul

      I’m not an accountant so please verify this info but I believe only registered non-profit organizations can issue tax receipts. I believe you can give to a worker through Assembly Care Ministries.

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