Why does the Seventh-day Adventist Church ordain pastors, and is it biblical?

Questions & Answers December 9, 2017

Q: The church union where I live has taken away the title of ordination from all pastors and has decided not to ordain any new pastors. I have had great criticism for upholding the policies of the church regarding this matter. The church leaders are teaching its members that ordination is not biblical and that it was never used in the New Testament. Could you help me understand why we use ordination as a church and whether or not it is a biblical theology? — Richard, name of country withheld 

A: Richard, it is interesting that only very recently have some within the Seventh-day Adventist Church questioned whether or not the practice of ordination is biblical. As Seventh-day Adventists, we have always recognized that the Bible clearly affirms the practice of ordination. As you read the discussion below, I encourage you to look up the texts that are listed so that you can read the Bible evidence for yourself.

Ordination is a biblical concept that began with Jesus calling and appointing (ordaining) the 12 apostles (see Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16, Matt. 10:1-4, John 15:16). In fact, in a unique sense, you could consider that it was modeled even earlier when the Father appointed and sent His Son as an Apostle to this Earth to become one with us as a human but also to maintain His divinity as Christ carried out His special mission of salvation for those who accept Him as Savior and Lord (see Hebrews 3:1).

Before Jesus ascended to heaven He made sure that the foundation of His church was solidly laid on the basis of the apostles and prophets, with He Himself being the chief cornerstone (see Ephesians 2:20).

As the church rapidly grew the apostles realized the need for additional church workers and ordained the seven deacons (see Acts 6). They also had elders (Acts 11:30), that is, spiritual leaders ordained through the laying on of hands, to take their place in Jerusalem so that they could carry out Christ’s commission to take the gospel to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8).

In fact, the apostles ordained elders in every church (Acts 14:23). Paul and Barnabas were ordained for their mission work in Antioch and sent out (Acts 13:1-3). Paul directed Titus to ordain elders in every church (Titus 1:5). And Timothy was ordained to his geographically wider work of gospel ministry by Paul and the council of elders through the laying on of hands (see 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6).

At the beginning of the Seventh-day Adventist movement in the 1850s, in response to two separate visions of Ellen White calling for “Gospel Order” (see Early Writings, pp. 97-104) our Adventist pioneers studied the Bible thoroughly on the topic of ordination and established this biblical, long-established and universal practice among Seventh-day Adventists that we use today on a worldwide basis.

In 2014, a document titled “Consensus Statement On A Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination” was approved almost unanimously by the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), and was subsequently approved overwhelmingly by the executive committee members during Annual Council.

I encourage you, church members, pastors, and all church leaders to read this official statement of the church carefully and prayerfully, and reflect on its importance for every region of the world church.

In addition, while we base our beliefs and practices upon the Bible, it is helpful to see how the writings of Ellen White, which I firmly believe were inspired by God, affirm what we read in the Bible about Christ literally ordaining the twelve disciples and placing His hands on their heads in the ordination service. In the book, The Desire of Ages, in the chapter titled, “He Ordained Twelve,” (note the actual title given to the chapter includes the word “ordained”) we read the following clear, tender, and inspiring description of the apostles’ ordination by Christ Himself:

“When Jesus had ended His instruction to the disciples, He gathered the little band close about Him, and kneeling in the midst of them, and laying His hands upon their heads, He offered a prayer dedicating them to His sacred work. Thus the Lord’s disciples were ordained to the gospel ministry” (p. 296).

I encourage you to read the entire chapter here.