What happens at an Ordination?
(Letter to Mrs. Penny Quostal - continued)
Ms. Quostal, in your original question, which most of our readers have
long since forgotten, you wonder why, when the bishop lays his hands on
the head of one being ordained, nothing appears to happen? When a
Pentecostal faith healer lays his hands on someone who is praying for
healing, that person may fall over, speak in tongues or some such
interesting thing. You are assuming that the laying on of hands
always means the same thing. It doesn’t.
The laying on of hands
had a number of meanings in the Bible. It was a way to ask God to give
a blessing. For instance, Isaac blessed Jacob by the laying on of
hands. (Genesis 27:27) This is what happens in a prayer meeting or
healing service. The person doing the praying is asking God to bless or
heal someone and different people react in different ways to the
experience of God’s Holy Spirit.
The Moravian Brethren, a
movement similar to Pentecostalism met in the Quaker meeting house on
Aldersgate Street in London. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist
movement had a life-changing, even a world-changing experience there in
1727. He didn’t fall over or speak in tongues. He simply said that “I
felt my heart strangely warmed.” He was an understated sort of
fellow. Some people fall over. Some people don’t. The whole thing is
that different people react to the perception of God’s Holy Spirit in
different ways. It is a human reaction, not necessarily a divine or
I remember a priest who was prayed over at
a prayer meeting who said afterwards that he had never felt that
God was alive. He had always believed it, but never felt it. It
was no less real when he didn’t feel it, and no more real when he did.
It was just that he now felt what he had always known. That’s one
function of the laying on of hands. In this case it confers nothing. It
is a form of prayer, a kind of petition.
The next example
of the laying on of hands in the Bible is found in Leviticus 16: 21.
The high priest transferred the sins of Israel to a sacrificial
goat by the laying on of hands. We see the same thing going on in
Exodus 29:10 and Leviticus 1:4. The laying on of hands was a way to
designate sacrifice. This is closer to what happens in ordination. To
ordain means to arrange or appoint unalterably. As in the phrase,
“ordained since the beginning of time.” It means to consecrate to
It has nothing to do with “experience of the Holy
Spirit.” It has everything with offering yourself sacrificially for use
by the Holy Spirit. The two are different things. Paul the Apostle fell
over on the Damascus road. That didn’t make him a priest. We read in
they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set
apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called
them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on
them, they sent them on their mission.”
No falling over, just being set apart for a certain work, which
ultimately involved the sacrifice of their lives. Falling over and
ordination: two completely different things.
Ordination goes way
back in Israelite/Jewish tradition. Moses ordained Joshua by the laying
on of hands. ( Num 27:15-23, Deut 34:9) He and the elders
of Israel ordained their successors, also by the laying on of
hands in this way. This unbroken chain of ordination of elders by the
laying on of hands continued through the time of the Second Temple and
only seems to have ended in the late Roman Empire when Emperor
Theodosius II executed Gamaliel VI and abolished the great Sanhedrin.
idea of ordination by the laying on of hands isn’t something we made
up. The idea of an unbroken chain of ordination comes from the Bible
and our Israelite roots. The Israelites ordained their elders. Don’t
forget that the word priest comes from the Greek word “presbyter” which
means elder. I can think of nowhere in the Bible where religious
experience alone confers authority on a person.
experience may call a person to ordination or be the result of
ordination, but it is not, in and of itself, ordination. Ordination has
to do with the unbroken chain of relationship. Catholics, Eastern
Orthodox and the Church of the East have it. Rev. Billy Bob’s Church of
What’s Happening Now with Signs and Wonders Following does not, no
matter how many people fall over when the Rev. Billy Bob prays for
them. Ordination is God’s plan in the Bible for the Church.
Religious experience is wonderful. It is a gift from God that proves
God is generous to sinners like me, but it isn’t ordination.
is a sacrament, which, as I have said, is an outward sign instituted by
Christ to give grace. You may think that someone falling over is an
outward sign. It isn’t. It is an external reaction to an inward
experience and though it might have great meaning for the person
experiencing it, it is meaningless, or at best hard to interpret, for
those who see it.
A sacrament is incontrovertibly external.
There was no doubt when I went up to the altar and placed my hands in
the Bishop’s hands and he looked square into my eyes without blinking
and asked, “Will you respect and obey me and my successors?” I said
“yes” and he laid his hands on my head, and from that moment on I was
consecrated to a specific work in the church and my life became a
sacrifice to the Lord for his people just as surely as the Yom Kippur
goat became a sacrifice for the good of Israel. I might not have known
it then, but I know it now. I was not “empowered.” I was consecrated.
It’s a different thing.
Today, as I write these things, it is
the 44th anniversary of my experience of the Baptism in the Holy
Spirit, so called. It really was an immersion in the awareness of the
presence of God. It helped me on the road to ordination and was
incontrovertibly a life changing experience. Everything I have done
since has been colored by that experience and the direction my life has
taken is most certainly the result of that evening in January of 1968.
At the time I had no idea what the whole thing meant, even though it
would change my life. I had not asked for the experience, but God gave
it to me without my asking. It was a calling, the beginning of an
amazing and difficult journey. Ordination was quite different.
May 14, 1975, I knew exactly what ordination meant. I would offer my
life at the altar with Christ for the well being of his Bride, the
Church, and for the salvation of the world. In the religious experience
of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit God was calling me. In ordination,
God called and I answered and was set apart. Different
things. One was an experience, given by God. The second a
covenant that involved God and this sinner, that is to say, it was a
sacrament. You have to have your eyes open for a covenant. Falling over
is not part of it. It is an outward sign, not just an inward
experience that causes an outward reaction. The sign is meant to be
outward, not the reaction.
Here To Ask The Reverend Know-It-All A Question
What happens at an Ordination?