A Statement of Direction to Guide Congregations and Regional Conferences in Understanding Ordination (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1974)

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Statement of Direction to Guide Congregations and Regional Conferences in Understanding Ordination, A (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1974)

Why Re-think Ordination at this time?

  1. Our total society and the church are in process of rapid change. We must affirm anew where we stand on ordination. New wine requires new wineskins.
  2. A new emphasis on the ministry of all Christians because of their God given gifts calls into question some traditional concepts of ordination. Why should one or a few persons be elevated through ordination?
  3. Leadership styles are changing. In some instances the one man authority figure is being replaced by the team leader, the player-coach.

The following is a revised statement on ordination proposed for the General Conference Mennonite Church. It takes into consideration responses to the progress report published October 1973.

  1. The Believer's Church

    1. Congregations standing within the believer's church tradition hold to the concept of the priesthood of all believers. For us this means that all members are priests or ministers to each other and to those not yet in the church. This belief has significant implications for the ways in which leadership is viewed within the church.
    2. All members are ministers of God and called to discipleship through baptism. Holiness is the attribute of righteousness that all members are to possess. It is not a quality that is inherent in or derived from any particular ritual.
    3. This belief in the priesthood of every believer means that there are occasions when any Christian can minister mercy and grace to another person (2 Corinthians 5:18). Whether one does minister depends more upon one's call and gifts than upon authority derived from any hierarchy. We see God working through the church to supply the necessary gifts to persons who will be able to assist the whole church to fulfill its ministry (Ephesians 4:11-14).
    4. Our equality in Christ does not conflict with the necessity of designating leadership roles. Recognizing the importance of order, a congregation may identify gifts for specific leadership functions.
  1. Ordination

    1. The essential substance and form of the ministry of both the congregation as a whole and of its pastoral leader(s) in particular are derived from the person, the ministry, and the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    2. Ordination of pastoral leadership is grounded in such biblical passages as Luke 9:1-6 (sending out of the twelve), Acts 13:1-3 (the sending forth of Barnabas and Saul), Acts 20:28-35, and 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 (the ordination of Timothy). Functionally, ordination is grounded in the basic need for order and leadership in the church, both of which are recognized and sanctioned in Scripture (Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-4; and 1 Corinthians 14:40). Ordination recognizes that authority under God which is necessary for the performance of the designated leadership functions in the church.
    3. Through ordination the congregation recognizes and affirms the candidate's gifts for leadership in the church, and confirms the person's sense of God's call. It is not a sacrament that imparts or transfers a divine gift or authority. Ordination calls both minister and congregation to mutual accountability under the lordship of Christ.
    4. Ordination as understood in the General Conference Mennonite Church is an act by which a person, after appropriate examination, is formally and publicly appointed by laying on of hands and prayer for a designated task of church leadership. This applies to pastoral leadership in a local congregation, but may also refer to allied ministries in the wider church and conference fellowship.
    5. Ordination is the acknowledgment of a call to function as a pastor within a congregation or the wider fellowship. Therefore, the call of God to which the person is responding must be confirmed by the congregation or have come through the larger church.
    6. In viewing leadership functions, ordination is understood as creating a relationship in effect as long as a person serves a congregation, commission, or institution in that designated leadership role. Ordained persons exercising designated leadership roles at retirement will be identified as "retired ministers" by the General Conference.
    7. Since each congregation is seen as a manifestation of the ecclesia of God, and since persons who serve as pastors generally serve more than one congregation during their life, it is proper for representatives of district and area conferences to be involved in the examination and ordination of the person. This does not take away responsibility from the local congregation for examining the candidate and participating in the ordination or commissioning.
    8. To be ordained, a person must have skill interpreting the Bible, ability to preach and teach, leadership qualities, love for people, and be full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
    9. A dynamic and flexible leading of the Holy Spirit according to local needs and gifts of members means that sometimes several ministries and gifts will be combined in one person. Ideally, leadership gifts will be shared among various persons, who may or may not be ordained. Affirming that in Christ there is neither male nor female and that God is no respecter of persons, neither race nor class nor sex should be considered barriers in calling a minister (Matthew 28:7; Luke 10:38-42; Acts 18:26; Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 11:5; Galatians 3:28; 1 Timothy 3:11 ).
    10. Affirming also the mercy and forgiveness of God, no sinful act should permanently disqualify a person from serving a congregation. The local congregation in cooperation with area conference representatives needs to discern the spirit and examine the life of the person being considered for leadership. When errors are confessed, they are not remembered by God and should be forgiven by His church. An ordained person should give ample evidence in life and attitude to stand before the congregation as an example of God's redeeming love at work.
    Committee on the Ministry

    General Conference Mennonite Church

Context of the Statement

This statement, approved at the 1974 convention of the General Conference Mennonite Church, evoked little discussion and was approved by a hand vote. It received little notice in the church press.

The statement reflected the "priesthood of all believers" emphasis that was particularly strong in the 1970s. It also (in paragraph I) opened the door to the ordination of women to pastoral leadership.

As a "statement of direction" it was not binding on regional conferences or local congregations.

Context written by Sam Steiner, June 2000