The High Stakes of Ordination

On Saturday (Sept 21, 2013) I took vows to be a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). I was, at that time received into the Blue Ridge Presbytery and formally accepted the call to be Lead Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church. As I stood before my brothers and took the vows that so many have taken before me I was struck both by the sobriety and privilege of that moment. It was the culmination of a months long process of study, the level of which I had not experienced since completing seminary in 1994.

The process of transferring my ordination as a Southern Baptist to the PCA consisted of six exams covering my knowledge of the Bible, theology, Presbyterian church polity, the sacraments, church history, and PCA history. There was also an exam addressing my conversion, call to ministry, and Christian maturity. The completed exams totaled over 100 pages.

In addition, a committee of the Presbytery administered an oral exam over the material covered in the written exams. At the recommendation of that committee I stood before the Blue Ridge Presbytery for yet another oral exam. For a man who tends toward anxiety, this was exhausting in every conceivable way. After one-and-a-half hours on the floor my back was killing me and my nerves were fried. But, by God's grace, I had good recall and my brothers in the Presbytery affirmed my call.

The high point of the entire process was the taking of vows. I was asked to make 8 promises before the Presbytery. Those promises are as follows:

1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures: and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity?
4. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
5. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?
6. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?
7. Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make you overseer?
8. Are you now willing to take the charge of this church, agreeable to your declaration when accepting their call? And do you, relying upon God for strength, promise to discharge to it the duties of a pastor?
It was a moving experience to stand before my brothers in the Presbytery and take those vows. After months of study, stress, and exhaustion I was certainly relieved. But I was also grateful to have had the experience. I knew I was participating in something very important, the origins of which stretch back to the days of Moses.
In Exodus 32, Moses records the events surrounding the people's worship of the golden calf. It is at that time that the first ordination service is recorded. And it is, literally, a matter of life and death:
 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”
(Exodus 32:25-29 ESV)

After responding affirmatively to Moses' question, "Who is on the Lord's side?" the Levites are instructed to take their swords and kill those involved in the gross act of rebellion. After killing some 3,000 fellow Israelites, the Levites are informed that they have just been ordained in the service of the Lord. Ordination is no small thing. And while I am thankful for living in this particular period of redemptive history, ordination, while practiced differently, is no less serious.

How grateful I am to be a part of a body that treats ordination as a matter of life and death. The stakes are that high.