We assume that you are referring to the concept, taught by some, that ministers can only ordain other ministers to a rank equal to or lower than the rank held by the ordaining minister. Although it is true that the Bible does contain examples reflecting such a procedure, there are other examples reflecting a different procedure.
A correct understanding of this question includes the correct concept of ranks in the ministry. We read in Ephesians 4:11-12 that Christ “Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
Although this passage addresses “ranks or positions of responsibility” (Compare W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 21, under “Elder, Eldest”), it also clearly talks about functions. We read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:5-6 that there are “differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but the same God who works all in all.” Paul goes on to explain, in verses 28-29: “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues [languages]. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?”
In 1 Corinthians 12:5-6, 28-29, Paul is clearly addressing functions, rather than ranks. Note that “evangelists” and “pastors” are not even mentioned in that Scripture. But Paul says that God has appointed “teachers” in the “third” position. If Paul was addressing ranks, he would have had to list them in the “fifth” position, in order to not contradict his statements in Ephesians 4:11-12.
It is for this very reason, that the passages also emphasize functions of responsibility, that Paul referred to himself, not just as an apostle, but also as “a preacher… and a teacher of the Gentiles” (2 Timothy 1:11). These functions are also explained in 1 Timothy 2:7: “I was appointed [by Christ] a preacher and an apostle… a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” In addition, Peter, an apostle, called himself a “fellow elder” (1 Peter 5:1), and John, who was also one of the original apostles, called himself “the elder” (2 John 1; 3 John 1).
Although God has always used His ministry to ordain others into the ministry [and “raising them in rank”], through the laying on of hands and prayer, it is likewise evident that it is God who must inspire those ordinations. We read about this principle in Hebrews 5:4, addressing the ordination to the office of high priest: “And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.”
We also find, in the Old Testament, that the prophet Samuel anointed Saul and David as kings, but it can be hardly said that the office of prophet was “above” the office of king. Again, we see how certain men were chosen by God to fulfill certain functions. We might also remember how Elisha, when he received Elijah’s mantle, also received a double (!) portion of the Holy Spirit, that had dwelt in Elijah (2 Kings 2:9-14).
When we analyze Paul’s life, baptism and ordination, we find that Christ had already set aside Paul (known at that time as Saul) for the purpose of the ministry, before he became converted (compare Acts 9:15-16). When the time had come, the disciple Ananias (most likely a minister, compare our Q&A in Update #171) baptized Saul and laid hands on him for the purpose of receiving the Holy Spirit and for being healed from his blindness. We find, in Acts 11:26, that Barnabas and Saul assembled with the church at Antioch for one year “and taught a great many people.” Then they went to Jerusalem to bring the elders of the church relief from the famine that plagued the areas. Acts 12:25 continues to report that “Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem [to Antioch] when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.”
At this juncture, we read, in Acts 13:1: “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.” We notice that all these prophets and teachers were functioning in the church at Antioch, and that both Barnabas and Saul were included in the group referred to as teachers and prophets at that time. Continuing in verse 2: “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.'”
It was at that moment in time that Christ made it clear to the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch that Barnabas and Saul were to be “separated” for a particular aspect or function of the work of Christ. Notice verse 3: “Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
The word “apostle” means, “one who is sent.” We read, in Matthew 10:1-8, that Christ SENT OUT the original twelve apostles to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. It is of special note that Jesus Himself established the office of apostle–even selecting that name as the title: “And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:13). Consider, also, that first, Jesus prayed about those whom He should choose to be apostles: “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
The same was now happening with Barnabas and Saul. The prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch ordained them to the office of apostles, to be sent forth to do a particular work. We know this to be true as they were never referred to as apostles before, but they were subsequently called apostles (compare Acts 14:4, 14). This has also been the long-held understanding of the Church of God. In addition, Paul said that he was ordained as an apostle (compare 1 Timothy 2:7, Authorized Version). The only record of his ordination can be found in Acts 13:1-3.
What is important to realize is that Barnabas and Saul were appointed to the office of apostle by “prophets and teachers” — that is, by ministers of lower positions than that of apostle. But, this was inspired and approved by God, as we have seen.
Some believe that the prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch were actually sent by the apostles from Jerusalem, charging them with the task of ordaining Saul and Barnabas to the office of apostle. This, however, is mere speculation, and cannot be proven from Scripture. In fact, Scripture strongly suggests the opposite. We need to realize that Paul and Barnabas had just been in Jerusalem, and returned to Antioch. It was THERE, in Antioch, that Christ inspired the ministry to ordain Paul and Barnabas as apostles — not in Jerusalem. Also, the fact that prophets came from Jerusalem is normally specifically mentioned in Scripture (compare Acts 11:27; 21:10).
In any event, it is THE Apostle, Jesus Christ (compare Hebrews 3:1), Who directs the ministry to ordain people in His Church. And it was Christ Who inspired the prophets and teachers (ministers of lower positions than that of apostle) in the church at Antioch to ordain Barnabas and Saul (who belonged to the group of prophets and teachers), to the rank and office of apostle. It is therefore clear, from Scripture, that pastors and elders are authorized, by God, and under God’s inspiration and direction, to ordain a fellow minister to a higher rank and office — such as evangelist.