When I began looking for an Anabaptist congregation, I was immediately drawn to the San Antonio Mennonite Church here in the Alamo City. Truth be told, I probably would have stayed within our house-church if it weren’t for the fact that many of our families were moving. But as necessity compelled me to search for a tribe, the Anabaptist emphasis on Jesus discipleship, servant minded non-violence, and its history of persecution welcomed me. I’m glad we found a home in the MCUSA.
Having grown up as the son of an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, I was frightfully aware of the denominational politics our family encountered having served under two SBC Presidents. But Anabaptism offered more than that, with less, or so it seemed.
Theda Good’s recent ordination seems to have served as a sort of catalyst in the ever growing divide between the young and old, urban and rural MCUSA membership. But from my location, these reactionary reverberations seem to find their epicenter on the conservative side of the aisle while the almost certainly inevitable LGBTQ ordination seems to originate on the progressive side. Regrettably, I feign to even use the binary language associated with progressive versus conservative politics, but it seems that such language indicates that we have already bought in to the us vs. them mentality that dominates our American culture.
What about the Third Way?
I’m perplexed as to why we’re having this conversation in the first place. Looking at arguments from “both sides,” I keep asking myself, “where is Jesus in this?” I see Jesus in the calls for humility and servanthood. I see Jesus in the cautionary language encouraging dialogue instead of schism. But I don’t see Jesus in the Soddom and Gommorah rhetoric, and neither do I see it in the practice of ordination.
As I realize I have probably already lost most of my readers at this point, please allow me explain. We find no precedence for ordination in the New Testament, and the Old Testament structures of priesthood are hierarchical and hereditary. Is it any wonder that the term takes its name from the Latin “ordo,” –to set in rank, row, or order? Although this ecclesial tradition certainly arrives from the Catholic Church, its precedence can be seen in ancient Rome, as a distinctive hierarchy differentiated the order of senators from the order of plebes. According to ecclesial practice, to ordain is “to invest with ministerial or priestly authority.” But such a distinction is never made in the New Testament.
Would we be hearing of schism and Sodom if it weren’t for ordination in the first place? Throughout the NT, we do find a precedence of the laying on of hands–as distinct from the exact terminology used for doing violence. Christian laying on of hands is synonymous with healing, blessing, and the reception of the Holy Spirit. This laying on of hands is also referred to by the author of Hebrews 6, where its practice is mentioned in conjunction with the basics of baptism, resurrection, and faith in God. But perhaps most pertinent to the situation at hand, the most often quoted passages concerning “ordination” are often found in 1 Timothy, 4 where the author admonishes Timothy to remember the giftings he received when the elders prophetically laid hands upon him.
Yet 1 Timothy also instructs that slaves should respect their masters, even moreso if those masters are also Christians (ch. 6), and 1 Timothy also instructs that all women should not braid their hair, wear gold, pearls, or expensive clothing (ch. 2). While we’re at it, the author of 1 Timothy clearly states that he does “not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (2:12) but that in church “women should learn in quietness and full submission.”
Our local MCUSA congregation happens to be pastored by a woman. It is hard to imagine that just 30 years ago or so it would have been unthinkable to expect an announcement that anyone but a straight, white, male would be ordained as a Mennonite pastor. Yet here we are, and our pastor’s gifts are self-evident to all who are blessed by her ministry.
Yes, it seems we pick and choose which admonishments from Scripture we want when touting of schism and Sodom. We’re quick to throw stones at those of a different gender, race, or sexual orientation than we. But when I take the words of the Sermon on the Mount seriously, I wonder how many straight adulterers the MCUSA has ordained, since to lust after a woman is tantamount to adultery. In short, those wishing to jettison Theda Good’s ordination on the grounds of Scripture must also be willing to remove all women from the pastorate and enforce strict hair and dress codes in all churches of the MCUSA.
Ordination seems to prop up power over others instead of empowering all. It is a tradition from an age of violence and classism. It specifically distinguishes the laity against the clergy, denying the priesthood of all believers. While it may have its practical benefits according to the ways of the world, it seems unscriptural to me.
Instead of propagating the hierarchical power structures that also define the culture of this world, what would the MCUSA look like if we practiced a Third Way? Instead of laying hands on someone in violence, what if each congregation simply affirmed the Holy Spirit in others? After all, it is the duty of humans to affirm, but it is the freedom of the Holy Spirit to anoint.
Tyler Tully is an emerging voice within the Neo-Anabaptist movement. A speaker and author based out of San Antonio, Texas, Tully is a graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University with a BA in Religious Studies and Theology. He is currently pursuing an M.Div. from the Chicago Theological Seminary. You can also follow him at his blog, The Jesus Event and on Twitter.
Given the response of the article, both positive and negative, I wanted to clarify a few misconceptions concerning my appeal. First of all, I’m not advocating for a disregard of any leadership roles. These roles are clearly functional and apparent in the Scriptures. But they are not hierarchical–they are organic. The Body of Christ operates as an organism, each member bringing different charisms and abilities, yet each operating in conjunction with the holistic context of their identity together. The key word is Body. Secondly, there seems to be a giant misconception regarding the difference between ordination and the local affirming or enabling of leadership roles and gifts. This probably stems from Christendom’s preoccupation with identifying leadership as hierarchical, holding “ordination” as an apriori interpretation of church leadership. This just isn’t the case. It does not follow that every leader must be ordained, and it does not stand to reason why anyone planting a church, serving, operating, or evangelizing must first be ordained (or ever).
Finally, I wanted to briefly point to the historical context regarding ordination and where it comes from in the NT and in the history of Christendom. The term “pastor” appears only once in the NT (Eph. 4:11) while derivatives of the term “poimenas” (shepherd) do arrive in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2-3. There are many other leadership roles than that of pastor, which I have already argued is not necessarily synonymous with Christendom’s ordination. The term “priest” is used many times in the NT, and each time it refers to the entire Body of Believers–the priesthood of the saints. It is of great consequence that the NT never uses any secular word to describe these authorities or leaders in the Church, and neither do they refer to these leaders using terms associated with priestly titles from the OT (e.g. hiereus). Three times the NT offers us episodes of elders being recognized by their congregations (Acts 14:23, 1 Tim. 3:1, Titus 1:5). Contra to the KJV, the term for “appoint” in these passages is not “ordain,” but according to many scholars, simply means to endorse, affirm, or blessing what has already been done by the work of the Holy Spirit. The affirmation points to function, not to office. Regrettably, this begins to change after the time of the Apostles.
By the time of Hippolytus, ordination had been turned into a rite. By the 4th century, it was formalized using clothing, vestments, and ritual patterned after the Roman custom of civil appointment–even down to the very words used to install them into office. Viola and Barna write, “Up until the second century, the church had no official leadership. That it had leaders is without dispute. But leadership was unofficial in the sense that there were no religious offices or sociological slots to fill.”  But during the time of the Apostles, Christian practice was distinct from its pagan counterparts in that it offered no sacrifices, held no hierarchy of priests or offices, with no temple to speak of but their own bodies. The point is that all roles were organic, functionary, and communal–a new family and a new Kingdom–a new way of doing life that rejected the hierarchies of the world. Everyone had a role, and each supported each other in these giftings.
It is not until the time of Ignatius that we see Christians begin to argue for offices and hierarchies concerning geographic locations. In fact, Ignatius argued in his letters that the bishop should be treated as Christ Himself, is the highest authority in the Church, and that each local congregation should do nothing without the approval of the bishop himself.  By the end of the third century, this one bishop rule (monoepiscopate) was the norm almost everywhere. It is Clement of Rome who first distinguishes between the leaders the laity (the term he used)–between the leaders and the non-leaders.  And Tertullian is the first to refer to these leaders as the clergy–(from the Latin clericus, taking its name from an allotment). During the time of Cyprian, bishops began to be referred to as priests, working over the bishops or elders at each local congregation. It is to Cyprian that we owe the doctrine of spiritual authority, as he argued that bishops were accountable to God alone. Constantine built upon Cyprian’s language, and created the “clergy” and “clerics” as a separate and higher class than the plebeians.
History is rife with examples of writings indicating the classism associated with ordination. However, during the time of the Reformation, many (including the Anabaptists) rejected these unBiblical hierarchies. That is not to say they did not have leaders, and it is not the same as stating that ordination is synonymous with leadership. Distinct from the Magisterial Reformers, the Anabaptists not only advocated for the priesthood of each individual believer, but the corporate priesthood of all believers. It was the Anabaptists who affirmed the activity and roles of every believer present during times of corporate worship. (This does not mean they did away with functions and leadership). Yet Luther was so set against this practice that he condemned Anabaptists to the “pit of hell,” and passed laws naming this Anabaptist practice as a capital offense.  It was the Protestants who maintained the doctrine that ordination remained only for a privileged leadership–a group that was expected to fulfill priestly duties. This identity would later develop into a very real sense of the ordained pastor serving as a mediator between God and man.
But all of this is really off point. My original intention remains to show the MCUSA need not operate by the ways of this world. If ordination stands as a stumbling block, we should remove it. Let each individual congregation is capable of appointing its own leadership, but it need not require ordination.
 Frank Viola & George Barna, Pagan Christianity, (109).
 see Ignatius’ epistles while en route to Rome, which are full of this rhetoric, Early Christian Writings: the Apostolic Fathers (75-130)
 Marjorie Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View, (38).
 Peter Hoover, The Secret of the Strength: What Would the Anabaptists Tell This Generation?, (198).
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