Ordination and the preservation of the faith

One of the purposes of ordination, Andrew Davison writes in his book, Why Sacraments?, is to preserve the faith that has been handed down to us:

The Church has an ordered ministry for several reasons. One is to teach and preserve the faith. Timothy, a young elder or bishop, could trust the Christian faith he had received because he knew those from whom he learned it, namely Paul and perhaps other apostles and their delegates: ‘continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it’ (2 Tim. 3:14). Timothy then faced the task of entrusting the faith to others in turn: ‘what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well (2 Tim. 2:2). Teaching is a vital part of the ministry of the Church. Since the ordained minister takes a place in the wider whole, this ministry is exercised with accountability, so that the faith can not only be propagated but be propagated faithfully, and therefore preserved.

In the early Church, the teaching role of the bishop developed in clear contrast to the Gnostic cults that were also taking form. While the Gnostics taught secret, esoteric knowledge to the enlightened few (the root is in gnōsis, Greek for ‘knowledge’), the Christian bishop taught in public, seated where all could see him in the cathedral (from cathedra, Latin for ‘seat’). To this day a list of the succession of bishops is displayed in a cathedral to show that we know ‘those from whom [we] learned’ the faith (83-84).

Now, of course, it is important to recognise that ordination does not guarantee that the faith is preserved at is handed down. Only the Spirit of God can do this. But the structures of the Church are there to maintain order and provide accountability, particularly as authority is only granted to its ministers following a time of preparation and examination. And because of that, ordination certainly helps to ensure that the faith is preserved.

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