Last night I preached at a diocesan ordination service in which four men were ordained as deacons. I do not think it helpful to reproduce the whole sermon as the whole sermon is also the way it was delivered, and the small ad libs within it as it progressed. But at the heart of the sermon was a theological argument for one understanding of ordination rather than others. The essence of the argument is that some understandings of ordination lurk in our church - more strongly lurking in some periods and places than in others - which do not measure up to Scripture itself, in this case to Acts 6:2-6 and the development of ministry recounted there.
"At least two mistaken views of ordination have been toyed with in the life of our church. They may even be lurking undetected in some of our minds tonight.
I am going to call one view ‘bureaucratic.’ Ordination, on this view, is a quaint way of becoming an Anglican minister. It is really just an administrative step with symbolic actions in order to become a minister. Other churches make ministers in other ways, but this is the Anglican way, so we need to go through it in order to be a minister in this church.
The other view I will call ‘mechanical.’ Ordination, on this view, is part of a system of salvation. Guarantees of salvation via baptism, absolution and eucharist rely on ordained priests to make these actions valid. Being made deacon tonight is a necessary step on the way to becoming priests. Once made a priest one can contribute as a working part of the machine of salvation.
I suggest that neither such view is true to Scripture. In our readings tonight we are confronted with God as the author of mission and chooser of missioners – the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, Stephen, Philip and others. Ordination is responsive obedience to God ordering the life of God’s mission.
In the Acts reading, the needs of God’s mission determine who is chosen to assist the mission in its growth and development. The initial order of ministry, the apostles, cannot cope with growth and its consequences. A new order of ministry, in today’s words we might say, ‘a new layer of leadership’ is developed.
Those ordained neither go through a necessary bureaucratic procedure nor become part of a machine of salvation. Hands are laid on them to draw them deeper into the dynamism of God’s work in the world, as well as to set them apart for specific tasks in the life of the church.
The view of ordination here in Acts is dynamic, not bureaucratic or mechanical: the Holy Spirit works flexibly as the church develops new needs; and the Holy Spirit works powerfully and unpredictably through these seven ordained men."
I went on to observe that Acts never describes these seven deacons as actually serving at table! They perform miracles and preach the gospel powerfully. Discerned as full of the Spirit, after ordination they have an even greater fullness of the Spirit.