“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
Binnie, William – ‘The Concurrence of Popular Election & Official Ordination’ in The Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1882), p. 132 ff. 16 pp.
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).
Malcom, Howard – ‘Ordination’ in Theological Index... (Boston, 1868), p. 333