Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ordination and Anointing the Sick

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Ordination and Anointing the Sick:

Q: Do churches outside of Roman Catholicism practice Ordination and Anointing of the Sick? Are they considered Sacraments in those churches?

There is a wide spectrum of sacramental theology among non-Catholic Christians. On one end of the spectrum, the Eastern Orthodox recognize all seven Roman Catholic Sacraments (and allow the possibility for even more). The Anglican tradition recognizes two Sacraments, but considers the other 5 to be Sacramental Rites. Lutherans recognize at least two Sacraments, but do not specifically limit the number, and most in the Reformed tradition recognize only two Sacraments. Finally, at the opposite end of the spectrum, those in the Baptist and Pentecostal traditions typically recognize no Sacraments, but do still practice Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “ordinances.”

Specifically regarding Ordination, its use varies widely among the different protestant traditions, and even within them, but it is still retained as a practice in many denominations. There is Biblical evidence for the practice in the many cases, especially in Acts and 1 & 2 Timothy, where it speaks of the Apostles “laying hands on” those who would become pastors. In the Lutheran and Anglican traditions, Ordination is a requirement to perform certain ministerial duties, but is not considered a Sacrament.

Other denominations may make use of ordination for some, but not all, ranks of their clergy. For example, they may allow recognition as clergy and placement into pastoral duties without completion of the full requirements for ordination. They would consider those clergy with lesser training to be licensed or certified for ministry, while reserving ordination only for those clergy who have completed the full educational requirements and have been thoroughly examined by church authorities. In such cases, clergy are often required to complete a probationary period of several years before becoming eligible for ordination.

Still other denominations may not practice ordination in any formal sense. These either take a more corporate approach to certifying their clergy where they license them either permanently or for repeated terms of a definite length. In other cases, denominational officials may practice what amounts to self-ordination where any person who feels they have been called to engage in ministry is recognized as clergy by the denominational authorities.

When it comes to the Anointing of the sick, there is Biblical evidence for the practice found in James 5:14, where it says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (ESV) Based on this verse, the use of oil in prayer, especially prayer for the sick, is found on both ends of the spectrum of Sacramental theologies, although not as frequently in the middle.

On one end of the spectrum, Lutherans have a tradition of using this practice, although not requiring it or considering it sacramental, and many Lutheran pastoral texts provide a ceremony for anointing the sick with oil during prayer.

On the other end of the spectrum, the use of anointing is also frequently, but not uniformly, found within the Pentecostal tradition, where physical contact as an element of fervent prayer tends to be highly valued. I am not personally aware of instances where anointing is used commonly among those in the middle of the spectrum of Sacramental theologies, such as Methodists and the Reformed.

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