“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers… the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.’ And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed…”
“…the apostles, Barnabas and Paul… when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
Order of Contents
Who has the Power to Ordain?
On the Laying on of Hands
. That Only Ministers May Lay Hands on One being Ordained a Minister
Who has the Power to Ordain?
Not individual ministers or elders, not simply multiple ministers or elders, but the constituted presbytery over that area (and not ministers or elders of other presbyteries).
See the many articles and quotes which affirm this principle on our webpage: Independent Churches do Not Have the Authority for Greater Excommunicaton. The power for ordination (and defrocking) goes hand-in-hand with the power of greater-excommunication as these things constitute the highest powers given to the Church.
Scottish Second Book of Discipline 1578
Ch. 6, Of Elders and their Office
“4. Their office is, as well severally as conjunctly, to watch diligently upon the flock committed to their charge, both publicly and privately, that no corruption of religion or manners enter therein.”
Ch. 7, Of the Elderships, and Assemblies, and Discipline
“3. All the ecclesiastical assemblies have power to convene lawfully together for treating of things concerning the kirk, and pertaining to their charge.
11. The power of these particular elderships is to give diligent labours in the bounds committed to their charge, that the kirks be kept in good order; “
Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland (1641)
“…we will distinguish with the School-men a two-fold power, the power of Order, and the power of Jurisdiction; which are different in sundry respects.
1. The power of Order comprehends such things as a minister by virtue of his ordination, may do without a commission from any Presbytery, or Assembly of the Church, as to preach the Word, to minister the Sacraments, to celebrate marriage, to visit the sick, to catechize, to admonish, etc. The power of Jurisdiction comprehends such things as a minister cannot do by himself, nor by virtue of his ordination; but they are done by a Session, Presbytery, or Synod; and sometimes by a minister, or ministers, having commission, and authority from the same, such as ordination and admission, suspension, deprivation and excommunication, and receiving again into the Church, and making of laws and constitutions ecclesiastical and such like; whereof we boldly maintain, that there is no part of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, in the power of one man, but of many met together in the name of Christ.
2. The power of Order is the radical and fundamental power, and makes a Minister susceptive, and capable of the power of Jurisdiction.
3. The power of Order goes no further than the court of conscience; the power of jurisdiction is exercised in external and ecclesiastical courts.
Fourthly, the power of Order is sometime unlawful in the use, yet not void in itself. The power of Jurisdiction when it is unlawful in the use, it is also void in itself. If a minister do any act of Jurisdiction, as to excommunicate, or absolve without his own parish, wanting also the consent of the ministry and elders of the bounds where he does the same, such acts are void in themselves, and of no effect. But if without his own charge, and without the consent aforesaid, he baptise an infant, or do any such thing belonging to the power of Order, though his act be unlawful, yet is the thing itself of force, and the sacrament remains a true sacrament.”
Part 2, ch. 3, p. 131 ff.
The word […] ‘Presbytery’ we find thrice in the New Testament: twice of the Jewish presbytery at Jerusalem, Lk. 22:66; Acts 22:5, and once of the Christian presbytery, 1. Tim. 4:14, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.” Sutlivius and Downame have borrowed from Bellarmine two false glosses upon this place (De Presb., ch. 12, p. 75,81; Serm. in Apoc. 1:20; Iren. lib., 2, ch. 11, p. 161).
They say by […] here, we may understand either an assembly of bishops, or the office of a presbyter, which was given to Timothy. To these absurdities let one of their own side answer. Whereas says Dr. Forbes, some have expounded the presbytery in this place to be a company of bishops, unless by ‘bishops’ thou would understand simple presbyters, it is a violent interpretation and an insolent meaning. And whereas others have understood the degree itself of eldership, this cannot stand, [De presb […].1.] for the degree has not hands, but hands are men’s. I find in Sutlivius, a third gloss: He says, that the word presbytery in this place signifies the ministers of the Word, non juris vinculo sed ut cunque collectos, inter quos etiam Apostoli erant [Not by a bond of law, but at anytime being collected together, even as the apostles were].
Answer 1: If so, then the occasional meeting of ministers, be it in a journey or at a wedding or a burial, etc. shall all be presbyteries, for then they are ut cunque collecti [at sometime collected together].
2. The apostles did put the Churches in better order than to leave imposition of hands or any thing of that kind to the uncertainty of an occasional meeting.
3. The apostles were freely present in any presbytery where they were for the time because the oversight and care of all the churches was laid upon them: Pastors and elders were necessarily present therein, and did by virtue of their particular vocation meet together presbyterially, whether an apostle were with them, or not.
No other sense can the text suffer but that by presbytery we should understand consessus presbyterorum, a meeting of elders, and so do [John] Cameron and [John] Forbes themselves expound it.
Sutlivius objects to the contrary that the apostle Paul did lay on hands upon Timothy, which he proves both from 2 Tim. 1 and because extraordinary gifts were given by that laying on of hands.
Answer: There is an express difference made betwixt Paul’s laying on of his hands and the Presbytery’s laying on of their hands…
3. If the testimony of the Presbytery, by the laying on of their hands, together, with the apostle’s hands, in the extraordinary mission of Timothy, was required: much more may it be put out of question, that the Apostles committed to the Presbytery the full power of ordaining ordinary ministers.
The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), pt. 1, pp. 195-6
“…yea but ordination by precept and practice is never given but to pastors and elders in consociation, 1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6; 2 Tim. 2:2-3; Tit. 1:5; Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3; 14 23.”
A Peaceable & Temperate Plea (1642), p. 264
“…but there be wide differences betwixt ordination of a pastor which essentially makes him a pastor, and the people’s choosing him to be their pastor, as:…
2. The Word of God restrains ordination of officers to pastorsª (1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:5; Acts 6:6; Acts 13:1-3), and ascribes election of officers to the people (Acts 6:5).”
ª [That is, properly, presbyteries of pastors. Ruling elders sit with presbyteries as guest representatives, but are not properly members thereof. While the consent of the whole presbytery (including the Ruling Elders) is needed for the ordination of a pastor, only the pastors (and not Ruling Elders) are to lay hands on the one becoming a pastor. As the laying on of hands is a designation pointing out the one being prayed for, so the proper conferral of ecclesiastical authority in the ordination of a pastor only properly comes from the prayer of the pastors of the presbytery, as Ruling Elders do not have the authority to confer an authority they do not have.]
Westminster’s Form of Presbyterial Church Government 1645
Touching the Power of Ordination
“Ordination is the act of a presbytery.[t]
The power of ordering the whole work of ordination is in the whole presbytery, which, when it is over more congregations than one, whether these congregations be fixed or not fixed, in regard of officers or members, it is indifferent as to the point of ordination.[v]
It is very requisite, that no single congregation, that can conveniently associate, do assume to itself all and sole power in ordination:
1. Because there is no example in scripture that any single congregation, which might conveniently associate, did assume to itself all and sole power in ordination; neither is there any rule which may warrant such a practice.
2. Because there is in scripture example of an ordination in a presbytery over divers congregations; as in the church of Jerusalem, where were many congregations: these many congregations were under one presbytery, and this presbytery did ordain.
The preaching presbyters orderly associated, either in cities or neighbouring villages, are those to whom the imposition of hands doth appertain, for those congregations within their bounds respectively.”
Hutcheson and Wood were Resolutioners arguing against Protestors, for, in a constituted Church area, using a neighboring Protestor presbytery to ordain a minister into a church with Resolutioner sympathies. The authors, in this context, liken this to ministers being ordained by ad hoc presbyters assembled together, which such ordinations are invalid.
“It discusses with the same clearness and thoroughness [as his A Little Stone Pretended] the question of church authority, and is in fact perhaps the very best and most satisfactory discussion of that question we possess.” – James Walker
That One Elder does Not have the Power to Ordain
Ordination is a power of jurisdiction (including things like Church discipline, excommunication, defining dogma, etc.), which take officers acting together to do; it is not a power of order (things like preaching, administering the sacraments, etc.), which a minister may do of himself.
The extraordinary offices in Scripture, such as the apostles, prophets and evanglelists could ordain and excommunicate of themselves, however the regular offices in the Church cannot. Those who argued that one officer, usually a bishop, could ordain or excommunicate of themselves, Papists, Prelatists and Anglicans, usually argued continuity from the examples of the apostles, prophets and, especially, the evangelists (such as Timothy and Titus). Hence, part of the reformed counter-argument involved the principle of cessationism (amongst other things).
The reason why ordination of ministers and excommunication are specifically held forth prominently in these discussions is because they are the highest actions of ecclesiastical power in their kinds. All lesser actions in their kinds do not necessarily take the explicit power of a presbytery to do (the presbytery holding the root of Church authority), but they do take the consensus of elders (such as a local session), and may not be performed by one elder.
Gillespie, George – Digression 4, ‘Of the Power of the Keys & Ecclesiastical Censures’ in A Disputate Against the English-Popish Ceremonies... (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8
This topic was a live issue in both Scotland and England when Gillespie wrote this, just before the Second Reformation in Scotland (1638).
What is the Nature of the Laying on of Hands, Who May do it & is it Essential, Efficient or Proper?
Calvin, John – Institutes, Book 4, ch. 3, section 16
This is the fullest delineation of Gillespie’s viewpoint, though it is unable to be dated.
English-Popish Ceremonies, Book 3, ch. 8, Digression 1, pp. 165-6 (Edinburgh, 1844)
Gillespie argues that the laying on of hands is not necessary or essential to the act of ordination (which Episcopalians often argued in his day), but was a common civil/societal gesture to point out the ones being prayed for, which need not be imitated today, but ought to be retained in the churches.
Scripture holds out the laying on of hands as a natural action designating the person or thing selected (see especially Gen. 48:14,17; also: Lev. 16:21; 24:14; Num. 27:18,23; Dt. 34:9; Mt. 9:18; 19:14-15; Mk. 5:23; 6:5; 16:18; Lk. 1:66; 4:40; 13:13; Acts 6:6; 8:17-19; 13:3; 19:6; 28:8; 1 Tim. 4:14; Heb. 6:2; Rev. 1:17), though it does not confer ministerial authority; the consent and act of presbytery does.
Seaman, Lazarus – ‘Concerning Imposition of Hands’ 31 pp. in The Diatribe [by Sidrach Simpson] Proved to be Para-Diatribe. Or, A Vindication of the Judgment of the Reformed Churches & Protestant Divines from Misrepresentations Concerning Ordination & Laying on of Hands. Together with a Brief Answer to the Pretenses of Edmond Chillenden for the Lawfulness of Preaching Without Ordination 1647
Seaman (d. 1675) was a divine-right presbyterian and Westminster divine. Seaman argues against Sidrach Simpson (1600?-1655) in this piece, who was an Independent Westminster divine. Here is Simpson’s Diatribe (1647) that Seaman argues against.
Simpson takes a less normative view of laying on of hands; Seaman argues a more normative view.
Bannerman, James – Appendix H, ‘Imposition of Hands in Ordination’ in Church of Christ, vol. 2, pp. 421-4
Bannerman was a Free Church of Scotland professor, who summarizes and expounds a similar position as Gillespie above (though not precisely the same).
“The laying on of hands, or the action which usually accompanies ordination, is no essential part of it.” “And, in the second place, imposition of hands in ordination is no significant part of the institution…” p. 421
“It is a suitable and Scriptural accompaniment of our then and there imploring the divine blessing on the person ordained, and of his solemn designation to office and consecration to the work of the Lord, which all take place at that time. But it does not enter as an essential part into the ordination, as if that would be invalidated by the absence of the imposition of hands.” p. 422
Scottish First Book of Discipline 1560
Fourth Head, Concerning Ministers and Their Lawful Election
“The admission of ministers to their offices must consist in consent of the people and kirk whereto they shall be appointed, and in approbation of the learned ministers appointed for their examination.
Other ceremony than the public approbation of the people, and declaration of the chief minister, that the person there presented is appointed to serve that kirk, we cannot approve; for albeit the apostles used the imposition of hands, yet seeing the miracle is ceased, the using of the ceremony we judge is not necessary.”
Scottish Second Book of Discipline 1578
Ch. 3, ‘How the Persons that Bear Ecclesiastical Functions are to be Admitted to Their Office’
“6. Ordination is the separation and sanctifying of the person appointed of God and his kirk, after he is well-tried and found qualified. The ceremonies of ordination are fasting, earnest prayer, and imposition of hands of the eldership.”
Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland (1641), Part 2, ch. 3, p. 132
“But it is further objected by Sutlivius that this could not be such a Presbytery as is among us, because ordination and imposition of hands pertain to none but the ministers of the Word.
Answer 1. The children of Israel laid their hands upon the Levites (Num. 8:10), and we would know his reason why he denies the like power to ruling elders now, especially since this imposition of hands is but a gesture of one praying, and a moral sign declaring the person prayed for.
2. Howsoever our practice (which is also approved by good divines, Junius, Cont. 5, book 1, ch. 3; Synopsis Pur. Theol., Disputation 42, Thesis 37) is to put a difference betwixt the act of ordination and the external right thereof, which is imposition of hands, ascribing the former to the whole Presbytery both pastors and elders, and reserving the latter to the ministers of the Word, yet to be done in the name of all.”
“2. It is not said that deacons were ordained with fasting and prayer, Acts 6, as the elders are chosen in every Church, Acts 14:23, and as hands are laid upon Paul and Barnabas; Acts 13:3-4, but simply that the apostles, Acts 6:6, prayed and laid their hands on them. Which seemeth to me to be nothing but a sign of praying over the deacons, and no ceremony or sacrament conferring on them the Holy Ghost:
And Steven his working of miracles, and speaking with wisdom irresistible was but the fruit of that grace and extraordinary measure of the Holy Ghost abundantly poured forth on all ranks of persons in those days when the prophecy of Joel was now taking its accomplishment; Acts 2:16-19; Joel 2:28-29. which grace was in Steven before he was ordained a deacon by the laying on of hands. Acts 6:3-5. And the Text saith not that Steven did wonders and signs amongst the people by virtue of imposition of hands, or of his deaconry, but because he was full of faith and power. v. 8, else you must make working of miracles a gift bestowed on all those who serve tables, and are not to give themselves to continual praying and the ministry of the Word. I think papists will not say so much of all their priests; and we can say it of none of our pastors, nor doth Chysostom say that Steven, as a deacon, and by virtue of the office of a deacon wrought miracles, but only that his miracles and disputing was a mere consequent of laying on of hands.
Further, laying on of hands was taken from the custom of blessing amongst the Jews, Christ laid his hands upon young children and blessed them, yet did he not, thereby, design them to any office.”
“Why did ye [Congregationalists] not clear yourselves of: … 4. the necessity of ordination by laying on of the hands of the elders, etc.; to such you say not anything, in leaving the Reformed Churches and joining with these enemies of the truth [Papists, Episcopalians, etc.]; but of this hereafter: you have yet place to dismiss the crowd.”
“…but the question now is: whether they [Church officers] be subjectively sent potestate missionis [by the power of mission], by ordination and laying on of hands (the ceremony to me is [of] economy, not to be despised; but for the thing itself I contend) of elders, or people, and in an official power of the keys to shut or open Heaven…”
“If [as Thomas Hooker says,] ‘the laying on of hands be no specificating act of an office, because it is used in other performances, as in the sending of Paul and Barnabas to preach to the Gentiles, Acts 13,’ then shall water not be essential to baptism, nor drinking to the Lord’s Supper, nor blessing sacramental in that Supper, because in Levitical washings, in the feasts-sacred, in the Passover, in praying for a blessing to the Word preached, all these were used. It’s loose logic, a genere ad speciem [a genus to the species]; the question is not of laying on of hands in general, but of a certain kind and species of laying on of hands by way of prayer and designation. Mr. Rutherford knows there be diverse kinds of laying on of hands.
2. Nor do I say that the rite is essential to ordination, but of the necessity of before.”
Institutes of Eclenctic Theology, vol. 3, Topic 19, Question 31, ‘The Five False Sacraments of the Romanists’, section 36, ‘Proof that the Orders [of Church Office] are not Sacraments’
“V. …But no better do they substitute in the place of the chrism the imposition of hands. This rite [of the imposition of hands] was never commanded by Christ, nor as the act of a minister and a common rite; nor ([as it was] temporary and used in the Old Testament) can it be a visible and determinate sign of any sacrament.”
“VI. No more can the rite of the sacrament of confirmation than the name be shown from the Scriptures. The apostles indeed employed the imposition of hands (cheirothesian, Acts 8:17; 19:6), but since it is evident that that was done in a visible dispensation of the Holy Spirit in the nascent condition of the church and indeed from a special promise, it is clear that it was an extraordinary rite and for this reason only temporary (whose end ceased together with other miracles).
That the sacerdotal chrism and anointing were altogether different from the apostolic laying on of hands (cheirothesia) and that this [chrism/anointing] referred to the bestowal of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit is not obscurely gathered…”
“XXXVI… For as to the laying on of hands, it cannot be considered as a sign.
(a) It is not an element, but an action.
(b) It is common with confirmation and many other things and was practiced even under the Old Testament.
(c) It was not instituted by Christ by any command, but is a free ceremony, which we read indeed of having been employed, but not of having been instituted; what has been employed, however, ought not at once to be said to have been instituted. Thus the washing of feet and breathing upon the apostles were employed by Christ (Jn. 13:5; Jn. 20:22); yet they were not on that account instituted.
(d) Imposition of hands does not pertain to all the orders [of Church office], but only to some.”
Szegedin Pannonius, Stephan – pp. 209-210 of Common Places of Pure Theology, of God and Man, Explained in Continuous Tables and the Dogma of the Schools Illustrated (Basil, 1585/93) The whole work is in the form of outlines.
Szegedin (1515-1572) was Swiss reformed and also was known as Stephan Kis.
Aretius, Benedict – Locus 65, ‘Of the Imposition of Hands’ in Sacred Problems of Theology: Common Places of the Christian Religion Methodically Explicated (Geneva, 1589; Bern, 1604), pp. 193-5.
Aretius (1505–1574) was Swiss reformed.
Walaeus, Antonius – ‘Is the Imposition of Hands Necessary and a Sacrament?’ under ‘Of Pastors’ in ‘Ecclesiastical Functions’ in Common Places, p. 473-4 in All the Works (Leiden, 1643)
“Wallaeus (tome 1, p. 473) thinks that the negative precept, 1 Tim. 5:22, ‘Lay hands suddenly on no man,’ does also contain an affirmative to lay hands upon such as are worthy and approved.” – Gillespie, Miscellany Questions, ch. 8, p. 46
Voet, Gisbert – Ch. 8, ‘Questions on Some Rituals, in Particular: on the Laying on of Hands…’ in Ecclesiastical Politics, Part 1, Book 2, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Things, or Acts and Exercises’, Tract 1, ‘Of Formularies, or Liturgies and Rituals’, pp. 460-466
That Only Ministers May Lay Hands on One being Ordained a Minister
English Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 1, p. 171
“This number of preaching elders in one city, together with those elders which in the same city labored for discipline only ([Johann] Gerard [a Lutheran], Theological Places, tome 6, pp. 134, 136), made up that company which the apostle, 1 Tim. 4:14, calls a presbytery, and which gave ordination to the ministers of the Church.
To the whole presbytery, made up of those two sorts of elders, belonged the act of ordination, which is mission (Junius, above, note 5, 12; Synopsis of Pure Theology, Disputation 42, Thesis 37), howbeit the rite, which was imposition of hands, belonged to those elders alone which labored in the Word and doctrine. And so we are to understand that which the apostle there says, of the presbitery’s laying on of hands upon Timothy…”
A Peaceable and Temperate Plea (1642), p. 264
“3. Ordination is an act of authority and supreme jurisdiction conjoined with fasting, praying, and laying on of the hands of the elders; but public praying and dedicating the pastor to Christ’s service with imposition of hands is given to pastors, Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; Acts 13:1-3, but never to the multitude of believers…”
Westminster’s Form of Presbyterial Church Government 1645
Touching the Doctrine of Ordination
Touching the Power of Ordination
“The preaching presbyters orderly associated, either in cities or neighbouring villages, are those to whom the imposition of hands doth appertain, for those congregations within their bounds respectively.”
[Note that the last clause is contrary to the common, current American practice, where all ministers of various presbyteries and denominations that are present at an ordination, lay hands on the ordinand.]
Concerning the Doctrinal Part of Ordination of Ministers
The Directory for the Ordination of Ministers.
“8. Which being mutually promised by the people, the presbytery, or the ministers sent from them for ordination, shall solemnly set him apart to the office and work of the ministry, by laying their hands on him, which is to be accompanied with a short prayer or blessing…”