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The Ordained Church

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

After sleeping on it for alittle bit, I believe I need to make some revisions to the previous post.

I think the question the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is facing in the resolution to remove an MDiv as a requirement for ordination is a issue of nomenclature.

It is not correct to reserve the term “ordained minister” to only those who are pastors of a church.

I believe an ordination occurs at every baptism. When an individual becomes baptized, he or she is set apart for Christian ministry. A similar ordination occurs when someone accepts a call as a licensed minister, and again as (what we call right now) an ordained minister.

Let us examine what we mean when we say “ordained minister.” I believe most of us assume it is something like “a person charged with oversight over a particular congregation.” Or, in the case of chaplaincy or missionary work “someone charge with oversight in a particular ministry area.” I’m not entirely certain the Disciple church agrees on what we mean when we say ordained minister.

As an example look at the Catholic or Episcopalian Churches. They have bishops (who oversea large geopgraphic regions to include the priests under them), priests (who over-see a local parish) and deacons (who are called to particular Christian service). Presybeterians have a similar structure with different names.

We need liturgies and rituals to recognize this ordering, and perhaps an ordination liturgy for licensed ministers is needed.

Perhaps we need to re-examine the nomenclature of our entire order of ministry. For all Christians are ordained for ministry, but we are ordered in different ways.

I stand by my previous post in my belief that an MDiv should be required for those who seek the particular ministry of overseeing a local congregation/chaplaincy/mission field. But I question whether we should call that Order of Ministry “ordained ministry.” As I said before, all the baptized are ordained for ministry in Christ’s church.

Following is the discussion text I left at the Disciples website concerning this issue:

“After sleeping on it for about an hour, I believe I need to revise my earlier comment.

I think this proposal raises questions about the names for the Order of Ministry in general. Lets examine our assumptions here. What do we mean by an “ordained minister?” And what does it mean to be “not ordained?”

I believe an ordination occurs at every baptism. That every Christian is ordered, commissioned, and ordained for ministry primarily through baptism. A similar ordination happens when one accepts a call as a licensed minister (though we don’t call it that now). And a similar call also occurs at (what we presently call) ordination.

Perhaps we need to consider changing the nomenclature of what we presently call “ordained minister” in order to better honor the very real ordering (ordination) for ministry of every believer. For example in the Catholic Church both priests and deacons are ordained. They are ordained to different functions and with different requirements, but both are considered ordinations. Or (I believe) our Presbyterian brothers and sisters call their clergy “presbyters.”
I believe the discussion here is a testimony to the need for a liturgy of ordination for licensed ministers, an affirmation of the ordination of every baptized believer, and need for a new label for what we presently call ordained ministers. I encourage your questions and responses.”

Disciples of Christ consider removing MDiv as requirement for ordination

Sunday, July 12th, 2009


READ THIS FIRST for some of my revisions after sleeping on it for a while.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has published a list of proposed resolutions which will be considered at this year’s General Assembly. One resolution, 0922, recommends the establishment of an apprentice track to ordination which does not include a MDiv (Masters of Divinity), i.e. a seminary education.

“The proposed policy…creat[es] an Apprentice Track of preparation leading to Ordination without a Master of Divinity degree.”

What the proposal does.

Each region establishes its own rules for ordination and examines their own candidates. Once ordained in one region, a minister is recognized in all regions without the need for any “missing” requirements. For example: the Pacific South West Region does not require CPE for ordination; the Captial Area does require CPE. The Capital Area would accept ordained ministers from the PSWR without requiring CPE first.

This is not so for regions which have an apprentice track to ordination. As it stands now, ordained ministers via apprenticeship are not necessarily recognized everywhere. This resolution would make this track recognized throughout the denomination. Meaning that a minister in Region-A who was ordained via apprenticeship without seminary would be recognized in Region-B, which requires an MDiv for ordination.

Why I oppose this resolution.

I oppose apprentice tracks to ordination in any region. An MDiv should be required for ordination.

Seminary education has proven invaluable to me over the past four years. I have completed all of my coursework, and only have CPE remaining. I simply could not have received this same level of education on my own, through “on-the-job-training,” or any apprentice track. The seminary is a center of spiritual and academic giants, all in one place. I have been challenged academically in ways not possible outside of the seminary. At seminary I was able to interact with many highly educated mentors, and found great benefit in the larger community which was also preparing for Christian ministry.

1) It is NOT ecumenical.

One of the arguments presented in the resolution itself is that it “is crucial for conversations with our ecumenical partners in the Body of Christ.” I read this as implying that our ecumenical partners do not require a seminary education for ordination. However, the vast majority of Christian denominations do require an MDiv (and quite a bit more theological education). For example the Roman Catholic Church (by far the largest Christian group), Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Eastern Orthodox all require an MDiv. It would decidedly harm ecumenical relations if DOC clergy had significantly lower credentials than the ordained clergy from each of these groups.

2) Not all are called to ordained ministry – and that’s okay.

We need licensed ministers to carry on specific ministries of the church. The Church is one body with many members. We can’t all be feet. We can’t all be hands. We can’t all be ordained ministers. We can’t all be licensed ministers.

Licensed ministry is not a lower call than ordained ministry. It is only different. This is not a question of equality, and no one wants to minimize the important ministry of licensed ministers.

3) Ordained ministers are expected to be educated.

One role of the ordained clergy is to properly discern scripture and accurately present the faith. This is extremely difficult without formal training in the seminary, where one studies Greek, Hebrew, biblical exegesis, systematic theology, and church history.

Parishioners expect their ministers to be well educated. Christian clergy owe it to the church to be highly trained and educated.

It is not about just doing a job well. Intense study is in and of itself beneficial to clergy and for the good of the church.

4) “Seminary costs too much, is too far way, and takes too long” is not an excuse.

Seminaries are greatly available and so is funding. If this is the concern, perhaps we should seek ways to make seminary more accessible to people who are called to this particular ministry. Christian ministry is not easy, and it demands sacrifice.

5) An apprentice track would discourage candidates from attending seminary at all.

If a minister can become ordained without the expense, intensity, and academic rigor of a seminary education why would anyone go that route?

What if all of our ministers stopped seeking formal education? It is my assumption that education is a good thing. Lets not be foolish and discourage higher education for our clergy.

The lack of education can lead to either fundamentalism or heresy.

6) Seminary provides additional time for discernment.

A bachelors degree and the MDiv, under favorable conditions, can take eight years. This helps to provide time, experience, ministry, and the ability to discern one’s particular call to the ministry.

In conclusion

Education is of utmost importance, and Christian ministers must be highly educated. In the modern era, on-the-job-training is not sufficient to properly discern the scriptures and express the faith. Adoption of this resolution will harm the quality of our ordained ministers, and will cause our clergy to lose credibility in ecumenical dialog. A masters of divinity ought to be required for ordination.

What do you think? Please use the comment feature to share your thoughts. I’d also encourage you to participate in the discussion at the CC(DOC) website.