Ordination vs. Commissioning

By Al Reimche

We find a number of occurrences in the Old Testament where individuals were called by God for a particular ministry. In the New Testament this same thing happened when Jesus set apart twelve disciples to follow Him and be His first representatives. This also happened throughout the book of Acts in the New Testament church. Within Acts we see the clearest examples of a church commissioning individuals for ministry. Without going into detail the words “laying on of hands,” “ordaining,” and “commissioning” are used interchangeably by different translations in many of these examples.

So, how do we understand the differences in these terms? One person, when asked the difference between ordination and commissioning, stated, “the spelling.” However, as practiced within the Adventist church, commissioning has some inherent restrictions as compared to ordination. A commissioned pastor is only approved to pastor within the conference where he/she is currently working. Though there are some additional restrictions, these can usually be dealt with by asking for approval from conference administration. Ordination, on the other hand, carries global recognition. As a result, ordained individuals can serve at any location as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. There is no salary difference between those who are commissioned or ordained, (at least in the Oregon Conference), and commissioned pastors can serve in all the departments of the conference including all areas of administration, except for the role of president. 

As stated earlier, ordination is globally accepted within the Adventist church, whereas commissioning, though approved by our world church, is limited to areas that are more accepting of God’s call to all without gender distinction. We believe that all persons who demonstrate their response to God’s call in their lives should be blessed by His church to continue that calling. We can only look at the exterior of a person as 1 Samuel 16:7 states. Commissioning does not give the call, that is God’s part; and commissioning doesn’t act on the call, that is the person’s response to God’s call. Commissioning only acknowledges the call—it is based on what we observe in the life of the person called. Commissioning, or the laying on of hands as the Bible describes, it is just an acknowledgment by the church that we have witnessed the calling of God in an individual’s life and we are approving her/his representation of the body of Christ to the world.