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Question and Answer

Laying On of Hands at Ordination

Question:

Is it imperative for laying on of hands to take place in order for an elder to be ordained? I attended a service where this was not done (perhaps it was overlooked).

Answer:

An answer:

1. No. There is much division on this topic. My "No" answer is given on the basis only of what the Lutherans, Continental Reformed, Anglicans of the Reformation times, and Presbyterians have historically held to be essential in ordination according to their creeds and books of government.

2. Some history on this matter: Going back 150 to 80 years ago, the Northern Presbyterian Church, USA held the laying of hands to be important only in the ordaining of pastors. Usually the elders who were elected to serve in the local congregation's session were ordained and installed by the local pastor without the laying on of hands.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church continued this practice. Some places began to lay on hands not only on those to be ordained pastors but also those to be ordained ruling elders.

In 1978 the OPC spelled out more details in a revision of its "Book of Church Order" and specified the laying on of hands in the ordination of elders (including ruling elders).

The OPC Directory for Public Worship, Chapter 6, sections A, B, and C, do not mention laying on of hands in the ordination of Ministers, Ruling Elders, and deacons, but the following statements are made:

6.A.1. The ordination or installation of a minister shall be performed in accordance with the provisions of Chapter XXIII of the Form of Government.

6.B.1. The ordination or installation of ruling elders shall be performed in accordance with the provisions of Chapter XXV of the Form of Government.

6.C.1. The ordination or installation of deacons shall be performed in accordance with the provisions of Chapter XXV of the Form of Government.

The laying of hands is mentioned in those two Chapters. See the OPC Form of Government, Chapter 23 ("Ordaining and Installing Ministers), section 10:

10. If these questions have been satisfactorily answered, the candidate shall then kneel, and by prayer and the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, according to the apostolic example, he shall be solemnly ordained to the holy office of the gospel ministry ....

See also the OPC Form of Government, Chapter 25 ("Electing, Ordaining, and Installing Ruling Elders and Deacons"), section 6.d., which specifies the laying on of hands for the ordaining of Ruling Elders and Deacons:

d. When the members of the church have answered this question in the affirmative, by holding up their right hands, the candidate shall kneel and be ordained by prayer and with the laying on of hands to the office of ruling elder or deacon.

3. In conclusion, the OPC since 1978 has been specifying the laying on of hands for the ordaining of ruling elders. But, note well: the OPC has not gone to the step of saying that without laying on of hands no ordination of elder or pastor is valid. This is because the Apostle Paul has taught in Galatians 1:1, 11-12, 15-17; 1:18-2:10 that the Spirit of Christ's call is the ground of exercising the office to which Christ has called his herald.

The laying on of hands that even the Apostle Paul practiced, 1 Tim 4:14, is ancillary. Note also that in Acts 14:21-23 that, as the Apostle Paul was strengthening the churches from his first missionary journey and ordaining elders in them, laying on of hands is not mentioned, as it was in Acts 9:17 and 13:3.

The Reformers, Luther and Calvin, etc., rejected the Medieval doctrine of "ex opera operato", that the laying on of hands by the bishop gave the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Medieval claim that such could never be lost or taken away. The corruptness of morals and doctrine of so many bishops and priests in the early 1500's manifestly made known the falseness of this doctrine. The Reformers' position was simply "that no person ought to publicly teach, to preach in the church, or to administer the sacraments, without a regular call." (1530, Augsburg Confession", Article 14). The Reformed, the Presbyterians, and the Lutherans maintained the need of an educated ministry and opposed the uneducated ministry of the Anabaptists and the irregular churches of the "enthusiasts" (a.k.a. fanatics). Here the laying on of hands is ancillary, not imperative.

Pastorally, it is good that you are paying close attention to what is going on. I pray that God would raise up men after His own heart in the OPC eldership.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

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Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

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