Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Warfield on Inerrancy and Preservation of Scripture

It is another curiosity of the controversial use of a phrase, to find the Church's careful definition of the complete truth and trustworthiness of the Scriptures as belonging, as a matter of course, only to the genuine text of Scripture, represented as an appeal from the actually existing texts of Scripture to a lost autograph—as if it were the autographic codex and not the autographic text that is in question. Thus, we have heard a vast deal, of late, of "the first manuscripts of the Bible which no living man has ever seen," of "Scriptures that have disappeared forever," of "original autographs which have vanished"; concerning the contents of which these controversialists are willing to declare, with the emphasis of italics, that they know nothing, that no man knows anything, and that they are perfectly contented with their ignorance. Now, again, if this were to be taken literally, it would amount to a strong asseveration that the Bible, as God gave it to men, is lost beyond controversy; and that men are shut up, therefore, to the use of Bibles so hopelessly corrupted that it is impossible now to say what was in the original autographs and what not! [B.B. Warfield, "Inerrancy of the Original Autographs," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:583]

(1)There is nothing new under the sun. Warfield could have been describing Bart Ehrman if we didn't know the time period he was writing it.

(2) Preservation of Scripture pertains to the text of Scripture, not to the codex of Scripture. Therefore, the absence of the original autographs are not a problem at all. Since we have so many textual evidences, there are few issues with establishing the original text of Scripture among the many variants.

(3) The KJVO (King James Version-Only) position accepts the liberal axiom that an authoritative Scripture require an authoritative codex of Scripture. Whereas the liberals denies the existence of an authoritative codex, and thus they deny the authority of the text of Scripture, KJVOnlyism asserts that there MUST be an authoritative codex (i.e. the King James Version) because otherwise there would not be an authoritative text of Scripture.

Warfield on the Westminster Doctrine of Scripture, contra liberalism and Barth

The [Westminster] Confession teaches that by their inspiration the Scripture are made not only to contain but to be the Word of God. In i.2 the alternate name of Holy Scripture is "the Word of God written." In i.4 it is declared that Holy Scripture "is the Word of God"; in i. 5 it is pointed out how it evidences itself "to be the Word of God." This phraseology pervades the whole document (cf. iii. 13; x. 1, 4; xiii. 1; xiv. 1, 2; xvi. 1; xx. 2; xxi. 5, 6, 7; xxii. 7, xxiv. 4; xxx. 2; Shorter Catechism, Q. 2, 99; Larger Catechism, Q. 3, 4, 67, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160 etc.). The Holy Scripture which is thus declared to be the Word of God is defined to be itself "all the books of the Old and New Testament"; and cannot, therefore, be thought to be only selected passages in those books. It is called the "Word of God written" to distinguish it by its accidents from the spoken Word of God, as given to the prophets aforetime, in the sense of i. 1, and as explained in the citation from Calamy. Finally, when we read in the Shorter Catechism of "the Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments," we are not reading of a distinction within the limits of Scripture between a word of God and a word not of God, as if it were only asserted that the former is to be found indeed within the Scriptures; but we are reading an anti-Romish and anti-Mystic declaration that the only Word of God that is recognized is that contained in the Scriptures. This, everyone acquainted with the literature of the times will perceive at once; ... As simple historical students, we must admit that the Westminster Confession is committed to the position that the Bible not only contains but is the Word of God. [B.B. Warfield, "The Westminster Doctrine of Inspiration," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:576-7]

Anyone who believes in any version of "limited inerrancy" or flat our deny inerrancy, and/ or who take the Barthian view of Scripture, cannot hold to the Westminster Confession concerning this issue and thus they cannot subscribe sincerely and truly to that Confession.

Warfield on Arminianism and Evangelical Arminianism

The Remonstrant controversy was a battle of giants. In its earnest grapple, the movement tentatively begun by Arminius tended rapidly toward its level in a distinctively Pelagian anthropology and Socinian soteriology. But in the great evangelical revival of the last century [18th century; Warfield wrote this at the end of the 19th century], the Wesleyan leaders offered to the world an Evangelicalized Arminianism. The rationalism of the Remonstrants, they affirmed, was not due to their Arminianism but to their Humanism. The essential elements of Arminianism, they asserted, were in no wise inconsistent with the great Evangelical doctrines of sin and atonement. On the contrary, they declared, the Arminian construction alone gave their full rights to the catholic doctrines of the condemnation of all men in Adam and the vicarious satisfaction for sin in Christ. An Arminianism zealous for these doctrines might well claim to stand on a higher plane than that occupied by the Remonstrants. The question, however, was a pressing one, whether the Evangelical elements ought to rule to the exclusion of the unharmonizable Arminian principle, in which case we should have consistent Calvinism; or else the Arminian principle would inevitably rule to the exclusion of the Evangelical doctrines forced into artificial conjunction with it, and we should have consistent Arminianism. After a century of conflict, Dr. Miley's [a Wesleyan Arminian theologian] admirably reasoned volumes come to tell us frankly that the Calvinists have been right in these contentions. Arminianism, he says, has no logical place in its system for a doctrine of race sin either in the sense of the participation of the race in the guilt of Adam's first sin, or in the sense of the infection of the race with a guilty corruption. Arminianism, he says, has no logical place in its system for a doctrine of penal substitution of Christ for sinners and of an atonement by satisfaction. If the Arminian principle is to rule, he says, the doctrine of race sin must go, and the doctrine of vicarious punishment must do. And, as he thinks that the Arminian principle ought to rule, he teaches that men are not by nature under the condemning wrath of God, and that Christ did not vicariously bear the penalty of sin. Thus, in his hands, Arminianism is seeking to purify itself by cleansing itself from the Evangelical elements with which it has been so long conjoined. [B.B. Warfield, "A Review of John Miley's Systematic Theology," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:314-5; Bold added]

Contrary to modern "Evangelical Arminians," it has long been known that there is a qualitative difference between the Classical Arminians or the Remonstrants, and the Wesleyan or Evangelical Arminians.

Warfield on authority and the Liberal attack on "bibliolatry"

Thus, he [a Liberal], too, throws back the spirit upon itself, under the euphemism of "the witness of the Spirit in the heart," for the source and test of all truth. One of the strange things in connection with this widely prevalent subjectivism is the tendency observed in many and very diverse quarters to represent it [this attitude of rejecting the authority of the external text of Scripture] as a return to the attitude of the Reformers. It stands rather, of course, in direct contradiction to the Reformers' attitude. What they renounced was not "external authority," but "human authority," inclusive naturally of that of their own spirits; and what they fell back on was "Divine authority,: which not only includes, but primarily exhibits itself in, the Scriptures. When it is "external authority" that is renounced, the authority of God goes with it, and we can revert only to the human authority of the individual soul. And that, conceal it under whatever honeyed phrases we may, is nothing but a return to the fundamental principle, not of the Reformation, but of "Rationalism." [B.B. Warfield, "Recent Reconstructions of Theology," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:293]

The charge of "bibliolatry," or making an idol of the Bible, is a spurious charge by liberals against those who believe the true Christian faith. Since no one is actually bowing down to a physical copy of the Bible, or to Codex Sinaiticus or any of the Papyrii, the charge is false. Those who refuse to be constrained by Scripture are rejecting the authority of God Himself, and thus are themselves idolators of their own reason and/or experience.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Warfield on metaphysics and religious truths

It is entirely fatuous to suppose that the spheres of religion and thought, of religion and history, can be kept apart: what is true in metaphysics is true in religion, and what is true in religion is true in history, or, in one word, we shall profess ourselves willing to confess a false religion. [B.B. Warfield, "The Right of Systematic Theology," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:252-3]

As it can be seen, Warfield expressively denies that one can have many "truths," or that something true in religion does not have to be true in real history or in real science or philosophy.

Warfield on Truth and Propositions

There are many theologians to whom truth in propositional form is in like manner distasteful, and half, or all, its life seems dissipated, for the same reason—because they too are afflicted with a "lamentable and constitutional inaccuracy." No wonder that upon such minds exact statement seems to act like an irritant, and theology appears to be an enemy of religion. ... Men who have no faculty for truth will always consider an appeal to truth an evil. [B.B. Warfield, "The Right of Systematic Theology", in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:230]

Friday, August 14, 2015

Warfield contra Pietism and Rationalism

Extremes meet, Pietist and Rationalist have ever hunted in couples and dragged down their quarry together. They may differ as to why they deem theology mere lumber, and would not have the prospective minister waste his time in acquiring it. The one loves God so much, the other loves him so little, that he does not care to know him.

[B.B. Warfield, "Our Seminary Curriculum," in Selected Shorter Writings, 1:371. Bold added]

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Warfield on Faith and Life

It is easy to say: "We refuse to believe that a man's opinions on the minute details of history or metaphysics are sufficient either to admit or to exclude him from the Kingdom of grace and glory." But when we have said that, we have already expressed a portentous opinion. We have also made a tremendous theological distinction; we have made it most unsoundly; and as a consequence, we have cast ourselves into the arms of the grossest error, which must mar all our life. The truth is that a man's opinions on matters of historical fact or of metaphysical truth — call them opinions on minute details or not, as you choose — are absolutely determinative of his whole life. ...

He who adopts this definite set of metaphysical and historical opinions [doctrines] is so far on his way to being a Christian. He who rejects them, or treats them as indifferent, is not even on his way to being a Christian. This is not to say that Christianity is just a body of metaphysical and historical opinions. But it is to say that Christianity is, among other things, a body of metaphysical and historical opinions. It is absurd to say that a man can be a Christian who is of the opinion that there is no God; or that no such person as Jesus ever lived: or who does not believe very many definite things about the really existing God and the actually living Jesus. Some of these things may be represented as very "minute details." [B.B. Warfield, "Faith and Life," in Selected Shorter Writings, 1:365-6]

Monday, August 10, 2015

Warfield on the WCF and the "Author of Sin"

When the [Westminster] Confession was written as well as now, there were men who were accustomed to asseverate that to affirm that God had freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass were to declare God the sole cause operative in the universe, to destroy the freedom of the human will, and indeed the reality of all second causes, ... Accordingly, the Confession adds the caveat, that God's foreordination does not make him the author of sin, nor offer violence to the will of the creature, nor take away (but rather establish) the liberty of contingency of second causes. In other words, the Confession guards it readers against being misled into supposing that the divine government of the universe according to an eternal plan excludes the administration of that government through instruments; and protects the reality and real efficiency of all second causes, free and necessary alike, while affirming the reality and real efficiency of the first cause as the determiner of the course of events in accordance with the primal plan. [B.B. Warfield, "The Confessional Doctrine of the Decree," in Selected Shorter Writings (ed. by John E. Meeter; Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1970), 1:98-99]

According to Warfield, the rejection by the Westminster Confession of God being the "Author of Sin" is meant to reject the view that God is the "sole cause operative in the universe." Also, the insertion of the predicate adjective "reality" to the nominative phrase "second causes" shows that those second causes are to be regarded as actually and truly operative, not just an appearance or occasion for the actual cause, hiding behind the "second cause," to work. The first cause, God, is indeed the determiner of the course of events, but it is determined without the rejection of the real legitimacy of free and necessary creaturely causes.

Any position therefore that claims God as the Author of Sin in the rejection of the true ontological reality of second causes is contrary to the Westminster Confession and contrary to the Reformed faith, regardless of how one wishes to define the word "author." To claim God as the "Author of Sin" in the conceptual form (regardless of terminology used) as articulated and rejected by the Westminster Standards, is to reject the Reformed and catholic view concerning the nature and the decree of God.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

One more problem with the Cheungian view of direct agency

The heretic Vincent Cheung denies the ontological reality of second causes, while, as it must noted, he does not deny their epistemic reality. Cheung as a Hyper-Calvinist makes God the Author of Sin, and he is proud of it. But this kind of direct agency and strong Occasionalism would result in an interesting problem: How does Cheung deal with the death of Christ?

The death of Christ is ordained by God, but in the traditional Calvinistic understanding the Pharisees and Romans freely put him to death, without compulsion from God to do such a wicked act (cf. Acts 2:23). But if one takes Cheung's position, one must assert that God directly cause the Pharisees and the Romans to put him to death. In other words, since God the Son is God, what we have here is divine sadomasochism, or, since they are two different people, divine child abuse. Of course, such conclusions are absurd, but one must take these positions if one believes in only direct causation. And no, I do not admit the blank assertion that God is not "X" because by definition He is not "X." I am done arguing with extreme Nominalists, who think that defining their way out of actual problems in their theories makes valid arguments.

Faith, Assent, Volition and Emotion

b. An emotional element (assensus). Barth calls attention to the fact that the time when man accepts Christ by faith is the existential moment of his life, in which he ceases to consider the object of faith in a detached and disinterested way, and begins to feel a lively interest in it. It is not necessary to adopt Barth's peculiar construction of the doctrine of faith, to admit the truth of what he says on this point. When one embraces Christ by faith, he has a deep conviction of the truth and reality of the object of faith, feels that it meets an important need in his life, and is conscious of an absorbing interest in it, — and this is assent. [Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 504-5; in Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology: New Combined Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996)]

On the nature of faith, the Reformed tradition do not have a consensus until recently (see Witsius and Turretin for example), and even then it seems no one knows exactly what to make of the 3 elements which are claimed to make up faith. Berkhof in later sentences admitted difficulties in drawing the various distinctions between the elements, albeit towards a reduction into the two elements of knowledge and trust, omitting "assent" altogether.

In his Systematic Theology, Berkhof defined assent as an emotional state, a state of feeling an interest in the subject of Christ. This is certainly interesting, if only that defining assent as emotions seem suspect. Does a person have to be in a certain emotional state ("assent") in order to trust ("fiducia") Christ?

What are some synonyms with "assent"? Doing a simple Google search will show results like "agree to," "accept," "approve," "consent to," and so on. In other words, "assent" is defined volitionally, not emotionally. I agree ("assent") with what I know ("notitia"), and thus I as an actor by an act of my will move from a state of "neutrality" or "disagreement" to a state of "agreement." It does not seem that any emotions are necessary for this act of the will.

As I had argued, the supposed third element "fiducia" has not always been the "third" element. I think part of the confusion over the elements of faith results in creative interpretation of even "assent" here. But if we define [saving] faith as being knowledge and an assent that leads to confidence (plerophoria), then I think we would have solved the confusion over the constitution of saving faith, without having "fiducia" become "faithfulness" as the Federal Visionists would want it, or, in Berkhof's case, making assent into an emotion.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Berkhof against the Analogical Day view of the creation days

Now some hold that the Bible favors the idea that the days of creation were indefinite periods of time, and call attention to the following: ... (b) The days referred to are God's days, the archetypal days, of which the days of men are merely ectypal copies; and with God a thousand years are as a single day, Ps. 90:4; II Pet. 3:8. But this argument is based on a confusion of time and eternity. God ad intra has no days, but dwells in eternity, exalted far above all measurements of time. This is also the idea conveyed by Ps. 90:4; and II Pet. 3:8. The only actual days of which God has knowledge are the days of this time-space world. [Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 153; in Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology: New Combined Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996)]

Friday, July 24, 2015

God reveals Himself to us... in Scripture

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14)

And we have the prophetic word (προφητικὸν λόγον) more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

God reveals Himself to His people. Yet, what is the nature of this revelation? From Hebrews 1:1-2, we can see that God has indeed utilized a variety of ways in times past to reveal Himself and His will, like through theophanies and even the casting of lots (Lev. 16:8, Prob. 16:33). But NOW all God's revelation is found in His Son, and the former ways of revelation have now ceased, as the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.1 so beautifully states as a deduction from this passage.

The only way to get to this revelation of both the "former ways" and the final revelation of Christ however is through the Scriptures, for we would otherwise have no other way to access God's revelation than for it to be recorded for us, since God's revelation is given in history (thus the contrast between the former times in history and the "now" in history). From 2 Peter 1:19-21, we can see that the written revelation that is the prophetic word or Scripture is given to us as a more sure way of revelation, even in comparison to the glory of our Lord's Transfiguration. In other words, written revelation trumps even the most glorious revelatory experiences. The supremacy of the written Word is expressed earlier in redemptive-history in Isaiah 8:20, "To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn."

The relation of Christ and the Word is that Christ IS the Word, at least the Word Incarnate. As Christ who is the final revelation reveals God to us as the Word Incarnate (Logos Ensarkos), so the Scriptures which is the God-breathed-out Word (logos theopneustos) reveals what God in Christ reveals. Christ is the ontological revelation of God, and Scripture the epistemological revelation. God is not a schizopreniac, so obviously the two are one and the same revelation, differing only in kind. Whatever Scriptures teaches, Christ teaches, and whatever Christ teaches, Scripture teaches. God does not have two different logoi (words), but one logos (Word). The Word became flesh (Jn. 1:14), the prophetic word (2 Peter 1:19) breathed out (2 Tim. 3:16), are the one and the same Word.

We do not live in the "former times" of the Old Testament, or even the foundation times of the New Testament. We live in the "last days" where God's revelation is found in Christ and thus in Scripture, the written prophetic word. Scripture is thus the only revelation for us from God today; it is sufficient for us. Therefore, since Scripture is sufficient, it must be clear for us to understand since God intends His revelation to be understood.

Since Scripture is sufficient and clear, therefore any theory that concludes that Scripture is unclear (because of the limits of language or other such arguments) must be in error. This is the argument form known as modus tollens (If p, then not q; q, therefore not p). It doesn't matter how sounds the other theory is. For if the theory (p) will result in a denial of what we already know, the "conclusion" that Scripture is sufficient and clear (not q), then our knowing from Scripture that Scripture is indeed sufficient and clear (q) necessitates a rejection of the theory no matter how true that theory (p) sound to us. The question to be asked for someone who doubts is not whether any particular theory (p1, p2, p3) (that would lead us to conclude that Scripture is unclear) is true, but rather whether the conclusion q is true. If the conclusion q is true, then those theories (p1, p2, p3 etc.) are rendered false by default.

On the other hand, some may ask concerning natural revelation. The biblical answer in Romans 1:18-23 is that there is indeed a natural revelation, yet by itself it only leads to condemnation. Can one grow "close" to God through nature? The Psalmist certainly broke out in praise after seeing the work of God in creation (Ps. 19:1-4) so in this sense we can say that one can "grow close" to God through nature, yet such is done through the lens of Scripture, for we read in Romans 1:18-23 that natural revelation in itself leads the sinner to idolatry and rejection of God. So yes, there is a natural, or general, revelation by God outside of Scripture, yet (1) it reveals only condemnation, (2) in itself it cannot reveal God in grace to us and thus will not bring us to praise Him and fellowship with Him. The Psalmist is only able to write Psalms 19 out of a regenerate heart already in communion with God, something only God can accomplish through His Word. Therefore, while there is a revelation of God outside of Scripture, it is limited and unable to reveal God in grace to us.

God reveals to us, in a way for our good, in Scripture. We are to look at Scripture therefore for our knowledge of God in order to know Him, and even to Scripture in order for us to interpret Nature and General Revelation alright. Above all, Scripture reigns supreme as the source and final authority for our faith, and where we should go to to have communion with God (alongside the sacraments, which are another form of the Word, but those are dependent on Scripture and are another topic altogether).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

We can actually know God's truth

One source of skepticism stems from certain understandings of Vantillian epistemology. Now, after reading concerning the Reformed Scholastics and Van Til's works, I can see where Cornelius Van Til was trying to be orthodox. Nevertheless, my concern here is that I think he is not a good communicator of Reformed doctrine concerning the knowledge of God, in my opinion. The idea of "God's knowledge" and "Man's knowledge" being qualitatively different, with "no point of contact" between the two, seeks to convey historic Reformed doctrine on the difference between God and Man, yet it does so in such a way that I believe obfuscates the true doctrine it desires to convey. While those with background in Reformed orthodoxy might interpret such language correctly (in an orthodox manner), yet for those without such a background, I fear what such words and phrases convey skepticism concerning the Christian faith. The reasoning by such people is that, if God's knowledge and Man's knowledge have no point of contact, therefore we cannot know anything about God, since all we have is necessarily "always false." While some in the Reformed orthodox camp can stay in their ivory towers, they just might want to see how the careless words and phrases they use are (mis)understood by people on the ground, especially by those without any background in theology or the Reformed tradition!

Coming from a Clarkian background, reading the works of Gordon H. Clark, I have found Willem Van Asselt's article on the theology of Franciscus Junius to be illuminating. Unlike Van Til, van Asselt and Junius write clearly. After reading that, I have found a way of understanding the core orthodox truth that Van Til was trying to defend, and put it in a way that I believe is much more understandable and certainly orthodox. Thus, I had written an article here, in which I have striven to show how Clark's concerns could be synthesized with the concerns of Van Til and the Reformed orthodox so that both sides can be assured that the dangers they perceive in the other side are eradicated. Do I believe that proponents from both sides can be persuaded to put down their weapons? That would be rather naive, but at least there should be a way forward, to produce light instead of heat.

The archetypal/ ectypal distinction preserves the Creator/ creature distinction. There is no "point of contact" between the archetype in God and the ectype in Man. Yet, this model safeguards against skepticism as well. For we note that there are actually two "points of contacts," but these are not between the archetypal knowledge of God and the ectypal knowledge of Man, for such would compromise the Creator/ creature distinction.

The first point of contact is within God Himself. God's archetypal knowledge and God's ectypal knowledge meet as one is a reflection of the other. The two meet ... in the person and mind of God. Quite obviously, since they meet in the mind of God, we finite human beings are not privy to how that happens. But the meeting is important, if just to show that God is not schizophreniac. God does not have an ectypal knowledge that is contradictory to His archetypal knowledge, but rather His ectypal knowledge is in some sense a faithful reflection of His archetypal knowledge. The two bodies of knowledge do not conflict with each other, for there is perfect harmony in God. We do not have to worry that, even though we cannot know God's archetypal knowledge, therefore God's archetypal knowledge will contradict His ectypal knowledge, for that will never happen at all.

The second point of contact is between God's ectypal knowledge with our human ectypal knowledge. God communicates, God reveals to us, knowledge. Truth is the correspondence of our ectypal knowledge with a section of God's ectypal knowledge that He Himself reveals to us. We do not have a point of contact with God's archetypal knowledge, but we do have a point of contact with God's revelation. When God reveals that Jesus Christ is the propitiation of our sins, we actually can know the proposition "Jesus Christ is the propitiation of our sins." With this point of contact, we do not have to worry that our knowledge is false. Yes, it is not archetypal knowledge, but it corresponds to God's ectypal knowledge, and therefore it is true. God's word is truth, and we do not have to worry that we are believing in falsehood just because our knowledge is ectypal.

Therefore, we should not have to worry about skepticism based upon intemperate language about how our language about God is always false. No, our knowledge and language about God can be trusted. We CAN know God's truth! Do not be deceived by pious nonsense about how we are to know our place as creatures, for God has spoken and we can know that! Is it faith or the lies of the Devil that will cause us to doubt the possibility of knowing God who is communicating to us His words? Surely it is the latter! When God gives us His Word, He actually intends for us to be able to understand it, and whoever says otherwise is a tool of the Devil!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

On ordination

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Tim. 4:14)

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, .... (1 Tim. 5:22a)

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Heb. 6:1-2)

What is ordination? In the life of a (especially traditional) church, ordination is normally seen as a formal ceremony in which a person is ordained into an office of a church (normally elders and ministers - teaching elders), accompanied with the laying on of hands. Texts such as 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 are appealed to, which are said to show Timothy as having been ordained into his office of an elder in the church of Ephesus. (1 Tim. 1:3), which church tradition confirms (Eusebius, Church History, 3.4.6; in NPNF2-01).

According to the traditional reading of these texts from Timothy, Timothy shows us the example of ordination with the laying on of hands, and therefore all elders and teaching elders (ministers) are to be ordained to their office(s) with the laying on of hands. This formal ordination is the formal recognition of God's call to ministry. As Protestants, we do not accept the Roman sacrament of holy office, which is to say we do not hold that ordination imparts a material grace upon its recipients. Since grace is relational and judicial (legal), not ontological, therefore ordination is the recognition of God's call. Most certainly, at the occasion of an ordination, God could grant spiritual gifts (charisma) like in the case of Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14), but the granting of spiritual gifts must be seen as a separate occurrence to that of ordination, which is the recognition and installation into an office.

Now, since it is nowhere explicitly stated in Scripture that Timothy, or Titus too for that matter, are elders, as opposed to mere apostolic workers, it is not surprising that this traditional interpretation of these texts have been questioned by biblicists. That Timothy was an elder is not explicit in Scripture and, since Eusebius' Church History is not Scripture, and not very reliable according to modern history standards, doubt has been cast on Eusebius' portrayal of Timothy as being the bishop (episkopos; ἐπίσκοπος, translated in the New Testament as "overseer" c.f. 1 Tim. 3:2) of Ephesus. But is such doubt valid?

We note that Scripture teaches only two permanent offices in the New Testament: that of elders or overseers (πρεσβύτερος, ἐπίσκοπος) and deacons (διάκονος). Apostleship by its very nature is extraordinary and for the foundation stage of the Church. While one can claim an "apostolic worker" office, (1) the "apostolic worker" is not mentioned separately in Scriptures so it is not an office, and (2) it is always linked to an apostle so therefore it is transient. Thus, there is no such office and we should not treat it as such

One big indication that the traditional interpretation concerning ordination is correct can be seen in the context of 1 Timothy 5:17-22. We note here that the context is that of elders ruling and teaching the flock, yet in verse 22 we see the command not to be hasty in the laying on of hands, followed by a discussion on sins and good works. This subsequent section on sins and good works can be seen as a discussion following upon the issue of sins and charges of sin against elders as mentioned in verses 19-21, and thus it is meant to show what kind of (major) sins is being discussed that one can charge elders with.

The laying on of hands in this context must be seen as the appointment of elders. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, because of the gravity and responsibilities of being an elder. Since Timothy is to appoint elders by the laying on of hands, so he himself by the laying on of hands must be an elder too, as all apostles are as well (c.f. 1 Peter 5:1).

Ordination is the formal recognition by the Church of God's calling. This means that ordination is not absolutely necessary, since God's calling is primary and the formal ceremony of ordination is supposed to recognize God's calling. On the other hand, ordination is not unnecessary, as if one can just claim God's call and ignore how God usually governs His Church. Just as a person can be saved apart from baptism, so likewise a person can be called to the ministry apart from ordination, but that is not how God normally governs His Church. A person called should be ordained by the Church, if he is to take up the office God has called him to.

That has implications for ministry and ordination. If ordination is the Church's recognition of God's call, it stands to reason that all who are called should be ordained. All pastors therefore ought to be ordained if they are to serve in the ministry of the Word, and it is wrong to separate the ministry of Word and the ministry of the sacraments, which after all is just another form of the Word. The idea that a pastor should serve for a few years before becoming ordained has no basis in Scripture, for ordination is not a "promotion" for a minister but it should be his due as the Church recognizes God's call upon the minister's life. A minister that is not to be ordained should logically not be expected to serve as a minister in the church, for the church is telling him both that they do not recognize God's call in his life, and also that they want him to serve as if God is indeed calling him to serve as a minister of the Gospel, which is a total contradiction. If we are to keep ordination as being one of calling, then we cannot turn it into one of rank, as if one group of ministers (e.g. those who have served a certain number of years) has a higher rank than another group of ministers ("new" pastors).

It may be objected that ordination is something serious and requires examination of pastors. Then perhaps all ministers should be examined prior to becoming ministers, for are we to say that an error in administering the sacraments is very serious (thus requiring examinations), whereas we do not have to worry too much about errors in handling the Word of God? Lord forbid we treat the sacraments as of higher value than the Word which gives the sacraments meaning! If a person can be trusted with the greater task of handling the sacred words of God, then he should be trusted with the lesser task of administering the sacraments. To say otherwise is to elevate the sacraments above the Word of God, which is contrary to the teachings of Scripture.

Ordination is important but not absolutely necessary. Against the high church, ordination is not some mystical anointing that elevates the minister to another plane of existence. Against the low church, ordination is necessary as the Church's recognition of God's call. Ministers ought to be properly called and ordained, so that the work of the Church can continue and grow.