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What is the basis for ordination as a deacon or elder?

The question as to the timing of ordinations can be quite confusing and puzzling. How does one know whether a person should be ordained to a particular office?

We have discussed this question, in general,  in numerous Q&As.

In “What is the basis or reason for ordination?”, we said the following:

“Ordination, as a practice, is clearly set forth in the Bible… In the New Testament, we note that Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Church of God (Ephesians 1:22), has established ministerial positions: ‘And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers’ (Ephesians 4:11). Speaking of the Church, Paul writes: ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 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’ (1 Corinthians 12:27-28).

“From the outset, the process of choosing ministers and deacons for particular service in the Church has been the result of careful consideration… Paul and Barnabas were prophets and teachers. They were subsequently ordained to the rank and function of apostles (Acts 14:14) for the particular job they would then fulfill in the Church… Paul specifically acknowledges this ordination for the proclaiming of the gospel… (2 Timothy 1:11; compare, also, Romans 11:13)…

“However, neither Peter nor Paul were able to do all of the work their commissions required. They ordained others to help in administering the Church of God… Paul instructed Titus to ‘appoint elders in every city’ (Titus 1:5).”

Such ordinations as deacons or elders have to be based on specifically enumerated spiritual qualifications (Titus 1:6-9; compare, also, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). Christ also made clear that especially the ordinations of ministers are to be done “for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (Ephesians 4:12-14).

He also said that we ought to pray that God would send out laborers into His harvest (Luke 10:2).

We concluded in the above-mentioned Q&A that “God emphatically promises to help those who are ordained in His service” and that we in God’s Church “will ordain people as the need is made apparent to further the Work of God given to His Church.” That Work is preaching the gospel in all the world as a witness to all nations, and feeding the flock.

It is of course obvious that God 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.” It is THE Apostle, Jesus Christ (compare Hebrews 3:1), who directs the ministry to ordain people in His Church.

We elaborated in several Q&As on the statement, quoted above, that God promises to help those who are ordained in His service. In the Q&A, titled “Does John 3:34 imply that God gives His Holy Spirit in lesser and greater amounts?”, we stated:

“When a man or a woman is ordained to the office of deacon or deaconess, they receive an extra portion of the Holy Spirit to accomplish their responsibilities… To become a minister, a further ordination is necessary. And so, when a member or a deacon is ordained to the ministry, an additional extra portion of the Holy Spirit is given them at that time. [As we read in 2 Timothy 1:6-7], Timothy had received a measure of the Holy Spirit when he was baptized, but when he became ordained, he received an extra measure of the Holy Spirit to fulfill his work as a minister…

“When God’s ministers are raised in rank through an ordination and the laying on of hands, they will at that time obtain still more of God’s Holy Spirit to enable them to fulfill their added responsibilities, including spiritual discernment to make right decisions (compare Matthew 16:19; 18:18).

“… the Word of God also reveals that He allots His Holy Spirit to individuals for the work He wants them to do.”

In a subsequent Q&A, titled, “Is our salvation assured, or is it a big question mark in God’s eyes? Did He only give us a small measure of His Holy Spirit which may just barely enable us to overcome and inherit salvation?”, we clarified the following, lest someone would misunderstand:

“But this does not mean that God does not grant abundantly the necessary and needed measure of the Holy Spirit [for the inheritance of salvation] to EVERY converted Christian. The opposite is true. That is why we read in Titus 3:6 that God gave ABUNDANTLY of His Spirit to each and every one of us. Paul says in Ephesians 5:18 to every Christian, to ‘…be filled with the Spirit.’ But he also warned: ‘Do not quench the Spirit’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19).”

In another Q&A, titled “Is it possible for a Christian to receive more of God’s Holy Spirit?”, we added these comments:

“… when a man is ordained to the ministry, God grants helps through His Holy Spirit (Compare Luke 10:17-20; Mark 16:15-18).”

The same is true for ordinations of men and women to the office of deacon and deaconess. While women are not to be ordained as ministers, we do ordain women as deaconesses. We explain the following in our Q&A, titled, “Why did God use Deborah in the leadership role as prophetess and judge to Israel, and why is this recorded in God’s Word?”:

“In Romans 16:1-2, we read in the NKJV: ‘I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a SERVANT of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.’ The RSV translates the word servant as ‘deaconess.’ ‘Diakonos’ is the masculine form and gives credence to the idea that Phoebe was a deaconess. Otherwise, Paul would have used a feminine form for servant… The ONLY ordained office within the Church of God that is held by women is that of DEACONESS–an appointment based on solid maturity and selfless service.”

The Greek words in Romans 16:1-2 are “ousan diakonon”, describing the female deacons of the church. This was used as an official title. Also, in 1 Timothy 3:8-10, males are described in respect to the ordinations of deacons. The Scripture then continued in verse 11 with, “the women likewise.” The New King James Bible renders this passage quite inaccurately, saying, “Likewise their wives must be reverent.” The word “their” has been added, and the word “wives” should be translated as “women.” In the original Greek, it says, “Women in like manner…” This does not refer to the wives of deacons, but it refers to the ordination of female deacons or deaconesses.

We see that Phoebe, a deaconess, was a helper of many, including Paul.

The first record of ordaining men as deacons can be found in Acts 6. As mentioned above, the word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word, “diakonos,” meaning “servant” or “helper.” A need had arisen in the Church to ordain faithful men for fair and equitable daily distribution of necessities to widows. The ordination of deacons was done to free the apostles from such tasks and to give them more time for prayer and the ministry of the word (verses 1-4). A separation of tasks was accomplished. While the deacons would look after widows in this particular case, the apostles would concentrate on preaching the Word of God.

Many times, where there are local congregations, deacons and deaconesses would look after physical necessities for, during and after services, and they might look after members who are in physical need. They might open their houses for assembling with other scattered members on the Sabbath, when there is no Church congregation nearby.

But their task may not be limited to such endeavors, nor might it even be the primary responsibility of many deacons today.

The Church of God is to do a worldwide Work today of proclaiming the good news in all the nations. The actual preaching and proclaiming of the gospel through speaking and writing is mainly accomplished through the ordained ministry, but in order to fulfill such a monumental task, many physical needs have to be met. For instance, messages need to be recorded and then posted on the Internet; or, if internet service is limited or not available, they need to be duplicated and distributed via CD, DVD, or other current media. Written texts need to be proof-read, and booklets must be finalized for printing. Master files need to be kept up-to-date. Websites need to be administered. Feast sites need to be located and Feast arrangements need to be made. Literally dozens if not hundreds of tasks are to be accomplished, and the need for the ordinations of faithful members, being filled with the Holy Spirit, to the offices of deacons and ministers is great.

Today, many tasks are being carried out by ministers and their wives which actually could be carried out by deacons, if there were ordained qualified deacons in place. We are admonished to pray to God that He will send laborers into His harvest, who could be ordained as deacons or elders. As the Word of God spread after seven faithful men were ordained as deacons in Acts 6, so the same can be expected within the Church today. In Acts 6, the concept of ordinations of deacons was introduced, as a need for such ordinations had arisen in the local Church congregation. Today, as explained, such a need is not limited to a local Church congregation, as this is a worldwide Work with technical possibilities and responsibilities which were totally unknown and did not exist at the time of the early Church.

In this regard, ordinations are made with the anticipation that those ordained will grow in their offices. They already showed by their actions and conduct that God had set them aside to be ordained, inspiring the Church ministry to make “official” what God had already decided. For instance, as Acts 13 shows, Paul and Barnabas were ordained to the office of apostle to carry out the work to which God had called them (verse 2). We should note, however, that they had been carrying out important ministerial tasks prior to their ordination as apostles. 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…”

In the past, men were ordained to the office of high-ranking ministers in the Worldwide Church of God under Herbert Armstrong, the late human leader of the Church, because they were heads of departments which were crucial for the proclamation of the gospel, even though they themselves might not have preached much, if at all, in local Church congregations. Paul pointed out that he had not been called to baptize—this task was mainly reserved for others—but to preach the gospel in that part of the world which was known at that time. Jesus Christ did not baptize at all, but He had His early apostles do this.

As we said above, ordinations are desirable “for service in the Church” and for the furthering of the Work–not necessarily within a particular Church congregation, but the Church as a whole, for the administering of the Church worldwide. Those who will be ordained will be receiving an extra portion of the Holy Spirit to be able to accomplish their particular responsibilities—which in this day and age would also include technical abilities and computer skills for those who would be entrusted with such tasks.

Ultimately, Christ will decide as to who should be ordained, and He will make His Will known to the leading ministers in His Church. But all within the Body of Christ should pray to God that His Will becomes manifest and understood by the ministry, and that His Will be carried out.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link