I was asked this question yesterday, and I wasn’t sure how to answer. I’m speaking at a church on Sunday and it’s one of those places where only people who are ordained can give the benediction. If I’m not ordained, I have to finish the service at the Lord’s prayer. The Japanese churches that we work with recognise me as a pastor, and allow me to give the benediction, but this is a church outside our network. So what should I say?
I think probably I’m not ordained, because what they want is someone who is ordained as a pastor in a denomination. But it didn’t seem to matter which one, and I’m sure that the requirements are different across denominations. If I was ordained in the Universal Life Church, I’d be able to say truthfully yes, and nobody would ask any questions. But I haven’t done that, and it seems like a bit of a fudge anyway.
So in the strict sense I haven’t been ordained as a pastor—no other pastor has put their hand on my head and said “bang, you’re a pastor now”, or whatever it is that happens at ordination. But on the other hand, I have been commissioned as a missionary—after a sufficient period of professional training and personal testing—in a Christian mission agency. Is that materially different to having been ordained as a pastor after a similar training and probationary period? I don’t know. As Bosch pointed out, the distinction between mission agency and denomination is pretty weak. They all do the same stuff: start churches and run them.
t has in recent years become customary to devote an enormous amount of energy to theological discussions about whether missionary societies are legitimate agents of mission. Is mission not rather to be regarded as an expression of the church? Without denying the merit there is in such a discussion I would like to suggest that, within the framework of the paradigm spawned by the Enlightenment, there was not much to choose between the organized church as bearer of mission and the mission societies. The point is that, in Western Protestantism, the church was increasingly fractured into a great variety of denominations which, phenomenologically speaking, were not decisively different from missionary and other religious societies. Denominations, too, were organized on the voluntary principle of like-minded individuals banding together. They were, in a sense, para-church organizations.
Thinking about it more, it would be strange to regard me as not being ordained, when what I am trying (and commissioned) to do here is to plant churches—a network of churches, in fact—and appoint leaders for those churches; that means in any meaningful sense of the word, I can ordain others without having been ordained myself. Surely this is wrong.
I tend to think that if the answer to a simple yes-or-no question is so complicated and unclear, then the problem is with the question itself. The reason for asking the question was that only Special People, who have had something spiritually happen to them, can give a blessing to other people. It is based on the assumption that leading a church is not a role, but a quality, fine, but it also sounds very, very much like magical thinking. Bosch again:
In practice, most denominations in mainline Protestantism today are muddling along with an understanding of the ordained ministry vacillating between the traditional Reformation definition and a view closer to that of Catholicism.
So what did I do? I said no, not because I think the answer to the question is no, but because it’s easier just to say no than to be a smart-arse and reject the premise of the question. The only difference it makes, practically, to me or to anyone else, is that the congregation of some church in Japan won’t get a blessing from God this week. Sorry, guys. Hopefully my sermon will make up for it.Subject tags: theology