I'm aware that not all Christian denominations call the leaders/pastors of local congregations "priests" (as Catholics, Orthodox, some Anglicans, and apparently some Lutherans do, perhaps among others); but it seems that most of them, at least, have some sort of person (called a minister, elder, pastor, or other similar term) to shepherd local congregations.

For those that do, but that do not have a specific sacrament of ordination/holy orders, is there some other ecclesiastic procedure that marks out a person as having that stature within the denomination - perhaps an "ordination" but not a sacrament in the Catholic sense?

If this is scoped too broadly, let me apply it specifically to those denominations in the Reformed tradition.

  • I love this question! Although even with the scope limitation you put at the end that's still wayyyyyyy too broad, I'm sorry to say. Some denoms require seminary, others don't. Some denoms require ordination from a previous pastor, others don't. Some denoms only ordain from within their local congregation, others don't care. There's not really a set doctrinal list even for Reformed.
    – LCIII
    Jul 17, 2014 at 15:34
  • Hmf. I feel like if I scoped it much more narrowly, I'd just be asking a question that I could probably look up on a website or by talking to someone at a (more or less) local church. Any suggestions about how to re-scope? Jul 17, 2014 at 15:41
  • You are asking a great question: How do nonsacremental, non-heirarchical denominations identify and ordain pastors and other leaders. This is perfectly answerable. Jul 17, 2014 at 15:42
  • Perhaps I should edit it as another one of my "overview" thingies? Jul 17, 2014 at 15:43
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    For some major Presbyterian denominations, see this.
    – adipro
    Jul 17, 2014 at 20:14

1 Answer 1


Baptists and many evangelicals reject the notion of a sacremental "priest" that is somehow in essence different than mere laity, but still ordain their ministers. A "priest" confers the idea that the person is specially endowed with the ability to stand between man and God. Those who subscribe to the idea of the "priesthood of all believers" do not believe that any intermediary is necessary. That said, they still typically note that God gave "some to pastors and teachers" and so that gets recognized.

Ordination (such as my own), typically comes about after:

  1. a candidate has expressed a desire to be set apart for ministry,
  2. has some amount of training (although not always a degree), and
  3. a vetting process wherein a board (usually from outside the local body) examines the candidate

The ceremony itself typically involves:

  1. a sermon (come on, we're talking preachers here!) about what ordination means
  2. a laying on of hands
  3. a prayer
  4. a proclamation that the ordinand has been set apart for God's work.

I've seen the laying on of hands restricted to one elder, be open to all ordained visitors in attendance, or even to all in the congregation. Like most baptist & nondenominational things, there is no set liturgy - but it feels better if you have the elements above involved.

My ordination (like most Baptist ordinations) says that it was conferred by Long Branch Baptist Church. Technically, no other church, be they Baptist or otherwise, is under any compulsion to honor it, but in practice, I have never had an issue. One will note, if one reads their diploma, typically it just states that the professors here have found the student worthy of a degree. Technically my ordination is my church recognizing that I have been set apart by God in the same way. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no human authority that can remove it, other than my church.

When I went to the courthouse to be given the right to marry couples, the certificate was considered valid. Later, when an Episcopalian lay member of a prison ministry group questioned my clergy credentials (I was retired, and he was being a bit of a jerk), another Episcopalian priest vouched for my credentials, saying I was duly ordained. In interfaith settings, most sacramental priests understand the difference between a Baptist minister who has actually used his ordination and the guy off the street that just bought an ordination certificate online. In practice, I tend to tell people I am ordained and have a Masters of Divinity, since not all Baptist ministers do. It is a cue to those who understand the value of the M.Div, although in the IT world, a lot people still think I just got a certificate. When I tell them it took 8 years, and that I pastored a church for 4, then I get the "ooh"'s of recognition.

  • Does the potential variation in the ceremony limit the "transferability" of one's recognition to any extent? Or does that matter - perhaps churches or organizations that might not recognize one's ordination are precisely those one wouldn't feel comfortable working with anyway? Jul 17, 2014 at 16:10
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    My suspicion is that if I was ordained by the FSM church, most Baptists wouldn't recognize it. Jul 17, 2014 at 16:20
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    @AffableGeek Well, because there is only one requirement for such an ordainment. Just send a check. There might be a few other bones of contention. I'm not sure ;)
    – user3961
    Jul 17, 2014 at 17:45
  • I'd imagine the "bones" would stick in a few people's throats :-) Jul 18, 2014 at 18:51

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