Is Ordination Through Baptism Valid?
Some persons view ordination resulting from baptism as strange and new. Being accustomed to elaborate ceremonies, many of them overlook Scriptural and historical facts about ordination and baptism. These facts follow.
WHAT is ordination through baptism? Who practice it? Is it something novel, something new? How were early Christians ordained? What does it mean to be ordained? Is baptism which results in ordination a valid ceremony? These are vital questions for every Christian. Oddly enough, few professed Christians are able to give clear, explicit answers. There is no reason for vagueness when secular history and the Bible have much to say about ordination and baptism.
An understanding of the words “ordain” and “ordination” is both interesting and enlightening. To ordain means “to establish by appointment,”1 “to appoint or establish.”2 Ordination, says The Encyclopedia Americana, is “the ceremony by which priests, deacons, subdeacons, candidates for the minor orders and ministers of any denomination are admitted to their specific office in the church.”3
Does ordination require a special ceremony? Giving us a fuller insight into ordination, McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia says it is “the ceremony by which an individual is set apart to an order or office of the Christian ministry. . . . In a broader, and in fact its only important sense, . . . the appointment or designation of a person to a ministerial office, whether with or without attendant ceremonies. The term ordination is derived directly from the Latin ordinatio, signifying, with reference to things or affairs, a setting in order, an establishment, an edict, and with reference to men, an appointment to office. . . . A scriptural investigation of this subject can hardly fail to impress any ingenuous mind with the great significance of the fact that neither the Lord Jesus Christ nor any of his disciples gave specific commands or declarations in reference to ordination.”4
Two things readily become apparent about ordination: (1) An ordained minister, in the broad sense, is an appointed minister, and (2) his ordination is not confined to any particular kind of ceremony.
EARLY CHRISTIANS ALL ORDAINED MINISTERS
Scholars who have studied the early history of Christianity are impressed by this singular fact: All early Christians were considered ordained ministers if they had undergone the rite of water baptism. All baptized believers, historians show, were authorized to preach God’s Word; and baptism was the sole initiatory rite.
Those who had not been baptized among the early Christians were treated as learners; hence they were in a position different from the baptized believers. The work Ecclesiastical History tells us: “There reigned among the members of the Christian church, however distinguished they were by worldly rank and titles, not only an amiable harmony, but also a perfect equality. . . . Whoever acknowledged Christ as the Saviour of mankind, and made a solemn profession of this confidence in him, was immediately baptized and received into the church. But in process of time, it was thought prudent and necessary to divide Christians into two orders, distinguished by the names of believers and catechumens. The former were those who had been solemnly admitted into the church by baptism, and, in consequence thereof, were instructed in all the mysteries of religion.”5
So we see, then, that among the early Christians believers were received into the organization after a period of training and education in God’s Word. During this period the catechumens were students or persons of good will, and after their baptism each was regarded as an ordained minister of God’s Word.
WHO DOES THE ORDAINING?
We speak of ordination through baptism, but who does the ordaining? Many religious groups today, such as the Society of Friends, Disciples of Christ, Plymouth Brethren and Jehovah’s witnesses, do not recognize any human right of ordination. They recognize the ordination as coming only from Almighty God Jehovah.
Christ Jesus himself was not ordained by the clergy and religious system of his day. No man ordained the Lord Jesus. True, John the Baptist baptized Jesus, but that does not mean that John ordained Jesus. Christ dedicated himself to God, saying: “Look! I am come (in the roll of the book it is written about me) to do your will, O God.”6 So why did Jesus insist that John baptize him? Because Jesus wanted to symbolize in a public confession that he had dedicated himself to God. The Bible tells us of Jesus’ baptism that “immediately on coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being parted, and, like a dove, the spirit coming down upon him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.’”7 By pouring out his spirit upon his Son, Jehovah God himself, and not John the Baptist, ordained Christ Jesus.
After his ordination immediately following his baptism in the River Jordan Jesus publicly stated the authority of his ordination by reading from Isaiah 61:1, 2: “He opened the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.’”8
Jehovah God alone, then, authorizes ordination. He does the appointing, the ordaining. Showing further that no man or earthly organization can ordain God’s ministers are the words of the apostle: “Paul, an apostle, neither from men nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him up from the dead. For neither did I accept it from man, nor was I taught it, except through revelation by Jesus Christ.”9 Jehovah ordains his ministers through his Son, Christ Jesus.
RECOGNIZED AND CERTIFIED BY MAN
Though ordination itself proceeds only from God, yet this ordination may be recognized and certified by man. Man-made organizations acting as governing bodies may declare one to be duly ordained.
In declaring one to be duly ordained man-made organizations usually require some form of ceremony. It varies with each religious organization. In many large orthodox denominations the ceremony is elaborate; in other groups it is often very simple. The ceremony Jesus underwent just before he was ordained was a very simple one, and it marked his stepping into the ministry.
Today the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses uses the same simple ceremony that Jesus underwent to symbolize by public witness the dedication of a believer which leads to God’s ordination of him as a minister. The fact that a ceremony is simple does not render it invalid or cause it to be of slight importance. We must remember that ordination is in “its only important sense, . . . the appointment or designation of a person to a ministerial office, whether with or without attendant ceremonies.”4
In Christ Jesus’ case there was a simple ceremony preceding his ordination. Since Christ Jesus left us, as Peter declared, “a model for you to follow his steps closely,”10 Jehovah’s witnesses follow the example of Jesus and that of the early Christians in the matter of baptism in association with ordination. Actually, the submission to the ceremony of public immersion in water brands each one of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. It marks him as a person who has dedicated his entire life to the service of Jehovah God as a minister. So water baptism is the ceremony one of Jehovah’s witnesses undergoes to symbolize publicly his dedication to Jehovah to become his ordained minister.
Just as Jesus was not ordained by John, so one of Jehovah’s witnesses is not ordained by the hands laid upon him by the one who baptizes him in water. However, since water baptism has a relationship to his ordination from God, he properly submits his baptismal date as the approximate time of his ordination. This is done to satisfy the law of the land when an ordination date is required.
Because of its Scripturalness, water baptism in token of one’s dedication to God for ordination as his minister is recognized by the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses and their legal servant, the Watch Tower Society. For purposes of record, within the meaning of the law of earthly nations, baptism is a valid ceremony of ordination for Jehovah’s witnesses.
Since ordination in reality comes from God through Christ, no certificate of ordination is needed. Jesus had none; the apostles had none. The best proof that one can have of his ordination is fruits of Kingdom preaching. As the apostle put it: “Do we, perhaps, like some men, need letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter.”11
Ordination through water baptism is indeed a valid and time-honored practice of true Christianity.
1 Webster’s New International Dictionary.
2 Funk and Wagnall’s Practical Standard Dictionary.
3 The Encyclopedia Americana, 1942 ed., Vol. 20, p. 770.
4 Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. VII, p. 411, McClintock and Strong, 1877, Harper & Brothers, New York.
5 Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1, p. 100.
6 Hebrews 10:7, NW.
7 Mark 1:10, 11, NW.
8 Luke 4:17-19, NW.
10 1 Peter 2:21, NW.
11 2 Corinthians 3:1, 2, NW.